Threat of gridlock spoils Democrats’ ‘revenge’ in US midterms

People react to the election returns at an event hosted by Democratic House leaders in Washington, D.C. Keystone

What do the results of the US midterm elections mean for the country and the world? Swiss press reactions suggest it all depends on what President Trump does next: will he double-down his attacks on the Democrats and any other perceived enemy, or consider seeking compromises? 

This content was published on November 7, 2018 - 09:54

Democrats seized the House majority from Trump’s Republican Party on Tuesday in a suburban revolt that threatened what’s left of the president’s governing agenda. But the Republicans gained ground in the Senate and preserved key governorships, beating back a “blue wave” that never fully materialised. 

“Relief was palpable in both parties that their worst fears hadn’t been realised,” said the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper. “Only one thing could be said with certainty after these midterm elections: the Republican Party has definitively given itself over to Donald Trump. Thanks to him it wins where he’s strong – and it goes down where voters reject him.” 

Whereas college-educated voters in the nation’s suburbs rejected the president’s warnings of a migrant “invasion”, blue-collar voters and rural America embraced his aggression. 

“The fact that the Republicans lost so many seats in the House of Representatives despite a booming economy is the deserved punishment for following a form of politics in Congress that amounted to nothing more than unconditional submission to the president,” the Tages-Anzeiger wrote. 

“Since [Trump] entered the White House, Republican lawmakers have done nothing to curb his worst instincts and aberrations. Under their leadership, Congress has to an extent neglected its monitoring responsibility, which has turned the ‘checks and balances’ principle into a farce.”

Two options 

The new Democratic House majority will end the Republican Party’s dominance in Washington for the final two years of Trump’s first term with major questions looming about health care, immigration and government spending. 

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) newspaper warns that this divided government threatens to consolidate the blockade in Congress, as seen during the last six years of the Obama administration, and says that Trump basically has two ways of dealing with this. 

“The first involves him having second thoughts about his much-vaunted abilities as a dealmaker and trying to reach compromises with the House of Representatives, thus keeping the law-making process going,” it said, adding that the chances of this happening remain intact, since the Democrats have an interest in showing voters that they can be constructive, not just obstructive. 

“The alternative would be Trump turning directly to the public with his feared rhetoric and attempting to whip up opinion against the Democrats. This could put pressure on Democrats who depend on floating voters and result in them breaking with the Democratic front of unity in the House of Representatives.” 

This would be “undesirable” for US politics, the NZZ said with understatement. “The current polarisation would increase even further, with only negative consequences for American institutions.” 

‘Sweet victory’ 

Le Temps in Lausanne said that while the Democrats’ victory in the House looked like a heavy blow to Trump, the good news for their party should not be overestimated. 

“The Democrats will certainly be able to launch parliamentary commissions of inquiry, especially into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the suspicions of collusion with the Trump campaign team, and be able to influence the President’s agenda. They could also decide to initiate impeachment proceedings. But the chances of success of an impeachment remain slim: they would have to be able to count on 60% of the votes in the Senate, still in Republican hands. Which is impossible,” it noted. 

“Today, Democrats can enjoy a sweet victory, a little revenge on 2016. Above all, they managed to impose women, young people and representatives of minorities: for example, two Muslim women and two Native American women have entered Congress for the first time. A kind of renewal, a tribute to the diversity of America, which can only be beneficial for them in the run-up to the 2020 presidential race. In fact, this race starts today.”

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