“Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!” said Trump before turning in for the night. “Tomorrow will be a new day in America,” said Nancy Pelosi, now likely to be speaker of a Democrat-controlled House. For once, both are right. Both have their victories to celebrate and defeats to mourn. Trump lost his 42-seat hold of the House and the Democrats look set for a 20-seat majority. But the Republicans did surprisingly well in the Senate, strengthening their majority with several unexpected and important victories. Overall, it’s a blow for Trump – but not a crushing one. And far from the ‘blue wave’ that the Democrats had once hoped for.
Where Trump campaigned, turnout rose and he did well. He avoided the suburban areas, where the Democrats did best, but he seemed to inspire large turnouts in the areas he did visit. He was in Florida last week, where Andrew Gillum seemed on course to become the state’s first black governor – but the Republicans held on. In Texas, one of the most-watched races, Ted Cruz had been expected to fall to a ridiculously well-financed challenge from Beto O’Rourke (he’d broken fundraising records by taking in $70m in the last quarter alone). Cruz won.
The US press is pretty united on saying this is mixed news. “The vaunted blue wave that Democrats had hoped for failed to fully materialise” says the New York Times. The intensity of the swing against him in suburban areas is striking, but the failure of Democratic governor candidates in the south was it adds, “a sign that steady demographic change across the region was proceeding too gradually to lift Democrats to victory.” Fox News spots a “Kavanagh effect” saying that the Democrats who opposed Kavanaugh in swing Senate seats were all defeated.
A Democrat-run House will certainly strength the headwinds against Trump in Washington. Democrats now have subpoena power and can launch all kinds of investigations and harassments while stopping some Trump initiatives (like crackdowns on illegal immigration). But impeaching him, says Pelosi, is not on the agenda.
Trump’s objective was never, really, to win. It was to deny the Democrats that ‘blue wave’ and as the BBC’s Jon Sopel observed, there was no Democrat tsunami: just some gentle lapping at the shore. And for all of their wins, the Democrats have still failed to find an anti-Trump. Nancy Pelosi embodies the timewarp that the American left finds itself stuck in. Democrats finish the midterms with no gods and precious few heroes. All told, Trump will be emboldened by these results.