Both sides can find something to cheer in Tuesday’s election results. Democrats won the House and the rebuke of President Donald Trump they so desperately wanted, even as they fell short of a “blue wave.” Trump can rightfully say his last-minute barnstorming helped protect the Republican Senate majority.
The president has gamely declared it a good night. In reality, Trump’s presidency and his path to re-election grew more difficult after Tuesday.
The results reaffirmed the notion of a 50-50 America, and that’s now reflected in a Democratic House and Republican Senate. Here’s what to expect from divided government in Washington:
1. Trump’s re-election bid starts today, but it took a blow
The three Rust Belt states that propelled him to the presidency — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — all elected Democratic governors and senators. If Democrats can hold those 46 Electoral College votes along with the states that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, they’ll win the presidency two years from now. Suburbanites and women showed Democrats a path back to the White House: run sensible candidates who talk kitchen-table issues like health care. Trump’s signature legislative win — the tax cut — barely registered with voters, and a split Congress means few fresh achievements to run on. Trump has a lot to lose if the economy goes downhill at some point before the next election. Some economists are already raising the possibility of a recession by 2020. And Trump could be running under a cloud: His team seems ill-prepared for the cyclone of investigations and subpoenas headed his way, and whatever Special Counsel Robert Mueller has in store.
2. But Trump’s night had a silver lining
He showed his Trump mega-rallies still have potency in rural, Southern and Western states. His rallies boosted Republican Senate candidates in North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri and Texas. Republicans picked up governorships in the two most important states in a presidential contest: Florida and Ohio. Trump gets some of the credit for those wins, showing he can run hard in those states in 2020. Trump did little or nothing to expand his base, but by keeping the Senate, he showed his supporters are still there and willing to follow him.
3. Conservatives have reason to stick with Trump: Judges
Conservatives dream of stocking the federal bench for a generation, including the Supreme Court. A bigger majority means fewer nail-biters on nominations as the caucus waits on a single GOP senator like Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski for the deciding vote. Other Senate confirmations get easier, too. That will come in handy for the expected post-election house-cleaning. Replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions or Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, two of his most endangered Cabinet members, may not be as fraught.
4. Embattled Trump aides will head for the exits
The question is when, not if, the president gets rid of Sessions. And Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, never a Trump favorite, could take the fall for a failure to stop the flow of migrants across the Southern border. Trump has also had to fend off questions about the possible departure of Defense Secretary James Mattis. Resignations will happen at the White House, but they’ll more likely be the result of exhaustion among Trump’s staff than a presidential shake-up.
5. House Democrats will push a broad anti-Trump agenda
Now dead: The GOP Tax Cut 2.0, along with any further attempt to repeal Obamacare. Now very much alive: the subpoena machine that will torment Trump, on Russia, his businesses, his 2016 campaign, his decision to send troops to stop the migrant “caravan” and maybe even a bid to see his tax returns. First order of business: H.R. 1, a sprawling good-government bill on voting rights, ethics and campaign finance. Then onto shoring up Obamacare and negotiating cheaper drug prices for Medicare.
6. Nancy Pelosi will be back as House speaker . . .
But she’ll have a hard time taming fellow Democrats. A top Pelosi priority will be keeping a lid on investigation overreach and overheated impeachment talk, which some of her more liberal members may want to indulge — but which could backfire with many Americans, including Democrats.
7. 2018 was the Year of the Woman — not just symbolically
About 100 women were elected to Congress, the most in history. That included the first two Muslim women — Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who’s also the first Somali-American woman in Congress. Ayanna Pressley will be the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, and Republican Marsha Blackburn will be the first woman Tennessee has elected to the Senate. Women with national-security expertise flipped several GOP-held districts for Democrats. In New Jersey, former Navy pilot Mikie Sherrill defeated Republican Jay Webber. Outside Richmond, Virginia, former CIA agent Abigail Spanberger defeated one of the most conservative members of the House, Representative Dave Brat. And in Norfolk, Virginia, retired Navy officer Elaine Luria defeated incumbent Republican Scott Taylor, a former Navy SEAL.
8. Keep an eye on. . .
One big winner: Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who’s an odd mix: a progressive populist who supported Trump’s effort to renegotiate the Nafta deal. He could teach his party how to win on the trade issue. One big loser: Beto O’Rourke, who lost to Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz. A Democratic voter favorite, O’Rourke may run for president in 2020, even in defeat. The would-be governors: Andrew Gillum had Democrats thinking they could win Florida, but he fell short to Trump favorite Ron DeSantis. Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams isn’t conceding in her race against Republican Brian Kemp. Both Gillum and Abrams sought to be the first African-American governors in their states. Republican up-and-comers include Josh Hawley, 38, who defeated incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri, and South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, who becomes the state’s first female governor.
9. Stymied at home, Trump will likely look abroad
The president has a lot of latitude to act alone on foreign policy. He’s heading into a busy foreign policy period, with trips to France this weekend and the Group of 20 summit in Argentina at the end of the month, when he expects to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The House has little say over foreign policy — only the Republican-led Senate votes on treaties, for example. Chinese leaders seem open to a trade deal in Buenos Aires, and so does Trump. But Trump is free to continue to ratchet up tariffs on China or other economic competitors, abandon international agreements like the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, and negotiate with adversaries such as Russia and North Korea.