Commentary: 2018’s Split Decision Goes to Donald Trump and His Senate Republicans

by Jeffrey A. Rendall


“Donald Trump is the projected winner of the 2020 presidential election.”

The call didn’t come from any news desk – or even a professional paid prognosticator like Karl Rove – but you can’t help but predict the president, when faced with the soon to be over-the-top antics of a Democrat House majority, will enjoy making the best case ever for his reelection to the White House in two years.

Why? As a minority, House Democrats hid behind the GOP majority’s procedural moves and establishment-controlled direction of legislation. But under the glare of impending Democrat control they can no longer cower in the background lofting rhetorical grenades at Republican members while ducking back into their caves to try and weather the return flak storm.

Fox called the House for Democrats around 9:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday, taking much of the drama out of the evening where the lower chamber was concerned. It was a curious forecast considering polls hadn’t even closed on the west coast – but the experts know best, right?

Meanwhile, Republicans increased their margins big-time in the senate. Fairly early on Indiana went for GOP challenger Mike Braun over liberal pretender Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly. The GOP’s Rick Scott carried a slight but healthy lead over Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida. Ted Cruz took Texas. Marsha Blackburn prevailed in Tennessee. North Dakota went GOP. Arizona leans towards Martha McSally. Missouri cast out liar Democrat Claire McCaskill. Montana shows Republican Matt Rosendale clinging to a narrow lead.

Practically everywhere President Trump campaigned GOP Senate candidates won (Nevada being the only exception). Republicans look to have at least 53 and more likely 54 seats.

In the House, the days of Democrats cloaking their ever-increasing radical legislative agenda are over. Not only will Democrats be severely hindered to pass any major legislation they could offer Trump an additional platform to highlight his veto power. The president will more easily make his case on how Democrats stonewall progress on the nation’s priorities.

Nancy Pelosi can’t get away with this one. If the screechy California crone is indeed handed the Speaker’s gavel once again the nation’s attention will be on her – and will relieve a great deal of pressure off Trump. Democrats can’t resist the temptation to investigate the administration to the hilt – which won’t be popular in a lot of quarters. With a solid Republican majority in the Senate now impeachment remains a Democrat pipedream – but they’ll probably do it anyway!

Clear the way for Maxine Waters, new chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee! She’ll demand resistance to Trump from America’s banks.

How did Republicans lose the House? They blew a major opportunity to light a fire under the base by naming Jim Jordan as the would-be next Speaker. Uncertainty caused by a leadership vacuum and the prospect of a nasty internal fight likely cost the party votes. Who knows, a point or two would’ve made a huge difference in a bevy of tight contests, right?

The media will certainly kick President Trump for the GOP’s midterm losses but overall the party did well enough. As for how Trump will handle the new political situation, perhaps he’ll find a way to “tone it down.”

The president previewed his new style on Monday at Fox News, America’s red-hot economy is the envy of the world, and it is only getting stronger every day. A strong jobs economy helps working Americans lift up the people they love: children, parents, friends, and neighbors.

“A strong jobs economy also means that our government can protect the American people with the strongest military in the world, protect Medicare and Social Security for our great seniors, protect Americans with pre-existing conditions, and protect our borders.”

“With your vote for Republican candidates, we can keep our economy growing and our nation on the right track. With your vote, we will keep lifting millions of our citizens from welfare to work, dependence to independence, and poverty to prosperity. And together, we will build a future of safety, security, prosperity, and freedom for all our citizens.”

As would be expected the president’s closing argument didn’t include any final jabs at Democrats or the media. The tone of his pitch was markedly different than what we’ve heard from him on the trail – a lot less “us versus them” rhetoric and much more positive reassurance that keeping Republicans in office would pay dividends for Americans in the same way they’ve benefited the past two years.

It didn’t work in the House. Time to move on.

One can only speculate whether Trump penned the piece himself or asked an aide with a more measured tone to handle the word-for-word sentence scripting. But you can’t help but think if Trump hopes to boost his favorability rating and improve his already considerable reelection chances for 2020 that he should adopt a more upbeat approach to his message.

After all, a terrific economy has a lot going for it. When the objective numbers are in your favor there’s not much to detract from them. If you don’t believe it just ask the Democrats. As a party they avoided mentioning economic growth, the unemployment rate or consumer confidence in the past six months. No wonder Democrats could tout nothing other than healthcare, healthcare, healthcare – what else did they have to offer?

Trump would do well by looking at his political prospects empirically. For a man who appears obsessed with how much people like him (at least outside of the media and establishment ruling class circles) heretofore Trump has been remarkably averse to changing his modus operandi. Sure, many of his closest allies (think people like Corey Lewandowski) urged him to keep being Trump – but reality suggests if he’s ever to climb above the magic 50 percent approval rating he needs to do more than secure his base.

For arguments sake we’ll put Trump’s job rating at 45 percent, with 90 percent of Republicans giving a thumbs up to his performance thus far. This leaves 10 percent of GOPers holding out… for something. With Trump doing well in realizing longtime Republican agenda items this stubborn one-in-ten refuses to jump onboard the president’s train. This group claims they don’t like his actions – too passive in foreign policy, they dislike trade tariffs and sanctions, etc. – but what they’re really angry about is ‘tone’ and ‘unpresidential’ behavior.

Should Trump shift a bit and lay off the blatantly negative tweets and more outlandish statements, over the course of time he might win over a good portion of these folks. Just a small swing in his own party could easily boost his overall nationwide approval to over 50 percent. And if that’s the case he’s a virtual shoe-in for reelection, especially when Democrats nominate some far-left wacko like Elizabeth Warren to run against him.

The hardcore liberal Democrats are completely lost for Trump. This is the gaggle of losers who still maintain Russia stole the election for the GOP in 2016 and/or the president only ran for office to enrich himself and his family. These people never liked Trump to begin with and wouldn’t give him the time of day much less consider granting him another term.

But there’s hope for Trump to gain ground in the mushy middle. These are the ‘moderate’ educated white suburban voters who appreciate many of his policies but aren’t wild about his personality. Imagine if Trump altered the way he uses Twitter just a little, adopting a few ‘rules’ regarding topics that are fair game and those that are off-limits. He could easily see his fortunes rise a few points with independents. If that were the case Trump would be hard to beat.

Whether a president like Trump – or any commander-in-chief – should feel compelled to change himself politically to save his congressional delegation is not how the system was intended to work under the Constitution. For a variety of reasons America’s Founding Fathers included stringent checks on executive power – so the president can’t dictate without permission from Congress.

But over the course of the 20 century presidential authority increased in the public’s mind to the point where congressional candidates are closely linked – for better or worse – to the man in the Oval Office. It was certainly true this year when no Republican escaped the Trumpian shadow. Democrats preyed on uninformed voters to make it appear a vote for a GOP House candidate was in truth a vote for Trump’s “tone.”

It’s a crock, but what else could we expect? It’s been this way for a long time.

Jay Cost wrote at National Review, “Starting with the presidency of Andrew Jackson, the president came to be the dominant figure in American public life. This tendency waxed and waned over the 19th century, but the rise of mass communications and the growth of federal power during the 20th century created the mammoth executive office that now exists. The president draws the attention of the people toward him and away from Congress, the courts, and the states. So even though Congress remains at the center of constitutional government, it is the president who dominates public opinion.”

“It is in this way that the president can influence Congress so enormously. He does not do so directly, for the constitutional safeguards are basically insurmountable. Rather, he influences Congress through the people, who do have direct control over Congress.”

“Is this a good way to organize public affairs? I think not. The plain fact is that the president does not have the constitutional power that the people assume that he does. The Framers were far too Whiggish to give the president any kind of authority approaching that of a king. Real change in public policy comes inevitably through Congress, and Congress alone. If we want our government to function better, we should do the work of evaluating members of Congress more carefully, rather than using congressional elections as a proxy vote on our opinion of the president.”

Reality says congressional elections shouldn’t be a proxy vote. If the past two years are any indication, Congress, to a large extent, has gone its own way on the most salient issues of our times.

A good portion of 2017 was consumed with the Republican congressional majority’s failure to deal a death blow to Obamacare. Conservatives in both the House and Senate argued earnestly for a straight repeal to fulfill the party’s promises to provide relief for all Americans – but the ‘moderate’ faction (led by the late John McCain) killed the idea. A relatively small minority of the majority stalled efforts to ditch the law and replace it with something market-friendly and sure to improve the economy.

Then there was endless debate over a tax cut which passed without a single Democrat vote and above the objections of a handful of RINOs who couldn’t see their way clear to publicly back a measure which studies showed would cut taxes for the middle class despite the minority party’s furious smear campaign. Democrats hoped to brainwash the gullible into believing cutting tax rates was only meant for corporations and rich people.

Lastly, there was immigration, which the establishment Republican leaders completely botched. Despite majorities in both the House and Senate the GOP poohbahs wouldn’t push through a bill that funded Trump’s border wall, recognized some form of legal status for the “DREAMERS” (a compromise, by the way) and reoriented the system towards welcoming skilled workers from around the world who could help American businesses expand.

In all of these areas Congress was a hindrance, not a help to Trump. The president invited Democrats to be part of the negotiations but ‘Chuck & Nancy’ only sought to score political points. Speaker Paul Ryan’s wishy-washy views on amnesty and open borders heavily influenced the end product. Conservatives never really had a chance to rework the system because GOP leaders wouldn’t cooperate.

A new Congress means new barriers and new opportunities for Trump in the next two years. The new mix of conservative Republicans promises to be more combative than last Congress and of course there will be a new House chief for the GOP and (maybe?) a new leader for Democrats too. It all starts again in earnest in two short months.

One area that won’t be altered much by this year’s election returns is the federal judiciary. Trump has been amazingly effective at placing principled originalist conservatives at all levels (District, Appeals and Supreme Court). Will the good times keep rolling?

With a larger Senate majority in 2019 Republicans will likely take generous advantage of the chance to improve the nation’s federal courts for decades to come. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell isn’t considered the most principled conservative in the world but he’s done a more than respectable job of confirming judicial nominees.

Adam Cancryn wrote at Politico, “The White House’s relentless focus on remaking the nation’s courts has injected a new and permanent strain of conservatism into the judiciary, seating dozens of Republican judges positioned to play a pivotal role in the most contentious cases of the next four decades — from abortion rights and affirmative action to environmental protections, financial regulations and presidential power…”

“Trump’s judicial picks are more conservative than most, say supporters and critics alike. And in many cases they are younger than the norm, meaning some could sit on the federal bench for the next 40 years or more. In October, Senate Republicans advanced the appellate court nomination of Allison Jones Rushing, who graduated from law school a little more than a decade ago and at age 36 is one of nation’s youngest judicial appointees.”

Ah yes, the courts are now safe. Conservatives will rue the loss of the House but the sun rose this morning and overall, things look better than they might have been. The ‘blue wave’ only got Republicans damp, not drenched. There’s more than enough reason to continue the fight.

We may not even realize there’s a change until Speaker Nancy Pelosi sits behind Trump during 2019’s State of the Union address. It’ll be weird, that’s for sure.

Donald Trump will act like nothing’s different after all of this… but will everyone else? American politics is at best an unpredictable exercise. 2018 proved to be about what most people thought – lots of surprises and upsets… and pollsters who’re eating crow today. The next two years will be fascinating to watch.








Reprinted with permission from

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