Midterms: rocky road ahead for Republicans; Dems plot course
The post-midterm fallout: Cranky Trump, a divided US government, new faces on the political scene.
WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump must have been spoiling for a fight Wednesday when he woke up to a harsh new political reality: a divided Congress, newly empowered Democrats and maybe even a powerful new presidential challenger.
While a surge of opposition didn’t swamp the Senate, where the Republicans actually made gains, Democrats turned the tide in the House of Representatives, forming a majority that gives them more power to subpoena cabinet members, investigate the president’s ties to Russia and compel the release of his tax returns.
But to hear Trump tell it, the midterms represented an “almost total victory” for his party.
By turns conciliatory and combative, Trump put on a vintage performance Wednesday in the East Room of the White House—listing Republicans who lost after rejecting his campaign help, sparring angrily with reporters and offering to work with Democrats only if they stand down on their investigative threats.
“They did very poorly,” he said of a number of Republican incumbents who turned down his support, several of whom he mentioned by name. “I’m not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it.”
Within hours of the end of the 90-minute news conference, another prominent name was gone: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who submitted his resignation Wednesday “at (Trump’s) request” after months of being vilified and embarassed publicy by the president for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
Whenever the subject of Russia or taxes came up Wednesday, Trump sounded like he was issuing an ultimatum.
“They’ve got nothing, zero. You know why? ‘Cause there is nothing,” he said of the Democrats, suggesting that he would push Senate investigations of Democrats’ conduct if they try the same thing with him.
“They can play that game, but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate, and a lot of very questionable things were done, between leaks of classified information and many other elements that should not have taken place.”
One thing that clearly didn’t change overnight was Trump’s contempt for the media, particularly CNN.
“You are a rude, terrible person,” Trump said during one especially heated exchange when CNN‘s Jim Acosta tried to steer the line of questioning towards the ongoing Russia investigation.
“The way you treat (press secretary) Sarah Huckabee is horrible and the way you treat other people are horrible. You shouldn’t treat people that way.”
Tuesday’s vote ushered a number of new and diverse faces into Congress, including the first Muslim, Indigenous and Korean-born women, while voters in Colorado made Jared Polis the first openly gay man to be elected a state governor.
And it might also have freed up another Democratic superstar to take a run at the White House: the charismatic Beto O’Rourke, who was edged out in his bid to represent Texas in the Senate by Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.
O’Rourke capped off a remarkably strong campaign with a concession speech that sounded much more like a call to arms.
“We are great people: ambitious, defined by our aspirations, the hard work that we are willing to commit in order to achieve them,” he told supporters in his hometown of El Paso.
“Every single one of us—Republicans, Democrats, independents, from the biggest of cities to the smallest of towns—the people of Texas want to do and will do the great work of this country.”
Before Tuesday’s result, O’Rourke had said he had no plans to seek the presidential nomination in 2020.
Asked if she believes him, University of Texas at Austin politics lecturer Victoria DeFrancesco had a simple answer: “No.”
“Had he won, then 2020 would have been tough for him to justify,” DeFrancesco said in an interview. “He is a fantastic fundraiser, he has a great message and if you watched his concession speech—I’ve never seen a concession speech like that. That was basically a campaign speech. So you can read between the lines.”
Of course, no shortage of Democratic hopefuls are waiting in the wings, all representing segments of the demographic and ideological formula some believe comprises the perfect candidate: elder statesman Joe Biden, visible minorities Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and political veteran Elizabeth Warren, among others.
“I think he’s as strong of a candidate as anyone else, but it would not be a cakewalk, because there are a lot of other talented people out there,” DeFrancesco said.
“You could boil it down to two camps: some say, ‘Let’s play to that middle,’ and others will say, ‘No, let’s fortify the bases.’ So I think the next 12 to 18 months are going to be about defining which of those two visions wins out.”