Recently I’ve been receiving e-mails from Newt Gingrich, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and other Republican honchos. They want a contribution for the midterm elections. Being an “enemy of the people” – as U.S. President Donald Trump again called journalists this week – my inclusion on the mailing list is obviously inadvertent.
But the missives are instructive. This week, one arrived from House majority whip Steve Scalise, showing the GOP to be in panic mode with only a week to go before the midterm vote. “The Liberals have raised a BILLION dollars,” Mr. Scalise wrote. “That’s not a typo. They’re outraising us in competitive House districts by 300%, and by 200% across the board.”
What’s noteworthy is how he refers to the Democrats as “Liberals.” More sting with the “L” word. “We need help,” Mr. Scalise went on. “If we don’t step up now, we could lose Trump’s Majority.”
They need help, and then some. Sounding like he was almost conceding defeat, Bill Stepien, White House political director, said in an internal memorandum last week that “House Republicans’ goal this year is to minimize their losses.”
As of Tuesday morning, FiveThirtyEight, the polling aggregator, put Democrats’ chances of winning the House of Representatives, which requires them taking 23 Republican seats, at more than 85 percent. These type of odds, we recall, were posted prior to the 2016 election and turned out to be resoundingly erroneous.
But does lightning strike twice? Don’t bet on it.
At the same time, the website puts the chances of the Republicans holding their majority in the Senate at slightly more than 82 per cent.
A split decision is in the making, one which will set the stage for a searing confrontation in the two years to follow. Those who think polarization reached a peak in the first two years under Mr. Trump might wish to recalculate. With each side controlling one chamber, it will likely worsen.
With their House majority in sight, the Democrats have already set about preparing a rash of probes targeting presidential corruption.
If predictions come true, the new head of the House Intelligence Committee will be Adam Schiff. Expect him to hold hearings on suspected money laundering at the Trump organization. This could get ugly. In respect to the Russian collusion controversy, Democrats on the committee have many witnesses they want to hear from who Republicans refused to call. They will pursue Trump-Russia ties even as the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller continues to do so. This could get ugly, too.
Over at the Ways and Means Committee, Democrats would have the power to force the release of Mr. Trump’s tax returns and are intent on doing so. This could get ugly, three.
And it will only escalate. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will pursue Mr. Trump on possible violations of the emoluments clause which prohibits Trump-owned businesses from accepting payments from foreign governments.
All will be made easier thanks to a sweeping subpoena authority which Republicans, in the face of bitter Democratic protests, brought in three years ago. Subpoenas used to require bipartisan support. No longer.
And that’s without even mentioning the fury that will unfold as House Democrats go about blocking Mr. Trump’s legislative initiatives, something they lacked the power to do in the last two years.
If his party maintains control of the Senate, Mr. Trump will not see the midterms result as a defeat. By historical standards, he’ll have a point. These electoral tests often see the governing party doing worse. Check the midterm results of 1994, 2006, 2010 and 2014.
A recalcitrant Mr. Trump will find no reason to abandon his principles or his approach. A demagogic nativist he’ll remain – and Republicans will man the ramparts in his defence.
Republicans who keep their seats in the midterms will be primarily hardcore loyalists from deep red conservative states. The party is reasonably satisfied with the President’s policy record: the sweeping tax reform, the immigration crackdown, deregulation, new funding for the military and the creation of a Supreme Court conservative majority.
As for the way he runs his operation, party faithful are not overly concerned. A Quinnipiac poll to start the year showed that 72 per cent of Republicans say Mr. Trump is “a good role model for children.” (Only 1 per cent of Democrats, on the other hand, answered in the affirmative).
If the vote delivers a split decision next Tuesday, the national schism will broaden. The reactionary right versus a more empowered elitist left. A powder keg that will threaten to explode all the way till November, 2020.