Is anyone surprised? Donald Trump tried to turn a split decision in the midterm elections into a triumph. Not just a win but “such a very Big Win!”
He may not be saying that when reality strikes, when newly empowered Democrats come at him on an array of fronts. On the Mueller inquiry’s findings, on his tax returns, alleged money laundering, his legislative agenda.
Mr. Trump did fare better than many other presidents in midterm elections. But he lost the big prize, the House of Representatives. He lost governorships, he lost suburban America which won him the general election. He congratulated himself, deservedly so, for growing his Senate majority. But he had a huge advantage going in. Only five Republican senators were running for re-election as opposed to 20 Democrats.
The midterms ended one-party rule in Washington. They will make Mr. Trump’s success with his reactionary agenda more difficult. They are therefore most welcome to the Canadian government and Canadians generally, most of whom see him as a pox on the presidency.
While voices of reason and civility didn’t get the full repudiation of him that they wanted, the President is weakened.
Canadians and their government align more closely with the Democrats on a whole range of key issues. On immigration, health-care, climate change, income distribution, gun control, trade and on many aspects of foreign policy.
On trade, Democrats have protectionist tendencies but are a far cry from the America First proclivities of Mr. Trump. You wouldn’t have found Democrats slapping on steel and aluminum tariffs, threatening auto tariffs, calling NAFTA the worst deal ever, blowing up a G7 summit in a fit of pique.
No president has treated Canada and its leader with more disrespect than this one. Not Richard Nixon in his dealings with Pierre Trudeau, not John F. Kennedy who warred with John Diefenbaker, not Herbert Hoover who hit Canada with harsh tariffs.
The newly revamped continental trade deal still has to be ratified by Congress. Canadian officials weren’t concerned about a Democratic takeover of the House. They expect the deal to be approved as they did before the election.
The Democratic House will pose problems for Mr. Trump’s anti-environment agenda, a fact that will cause no weeping north of his border. The Democrats will take a less dim view of the Trudeau government’s plan for imposing a price on carbon. The state of Washington, it should be noted, voted against a carbon tax on Tuesday.
In the next two years, Mr. Trump will have far more pressing things to worry about than Justin Trudeau. Canada has received an unprecedented degree of notice in this capital because of Mr. Trump’s reckless rhetoric and actions. Now the northern neighbour will return to its traditional status of being an afterthought.
Mr. Trump controlled all three branches of government. But having lost the House, he will now, as Barack Obama adviser David Axelrod noted, have to spend most of his time on his own defence. But Mr. Trump says he is ready for Democratic investigations. “Two can play that game” he said on Wednesday, threatening to investigate his opponents for leaks of classified information.
But the Democrats, who will have to be careful of overreach, have so much more ammunition. The Mueller report on Russian election collusion is likely to be tabled soon. It will be no surprise if it contains incriminating revelations, and it will be no surprise if the Democrats follow up aggressively on it, now that they have the power to do so.
Mr. Trump’s crude, duplicitous, divisive manner of operating created a lot of disdain in Canada. As voters noted in exit polls on Tuesday, his conduct was a big factor in their voting against him. It certainly wasn’t the roaring economy. The fact that the President had the best economy in decades working for him made the Democratic gains all the more unlikely.
Given Mr. Trump’s interpretation of the election results, any change in his modus operandi is unlikely. He will continue to be the tabloid president. His approval ratings have fallen short of 50 per cent since coming to office – and again in the midterms. Given the headwinds he now face, including a softening economy, the trajectory is likely to worsen. Canadians will have more reason to cheer.