Uncertainty and expectations on the upcoming US midterm election

By Shi Weicheng
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, November 6, 2018
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U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally for Republican Senate candidate Mike Braun at the County War Memorial Coliseum Nov. 5, 2018 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. [Photo/VCG]

Today the U.S. will have its 2018 midterm election, which is regarded as the most crucial midterm election in American history. How voters choose could either further divide or re-unite an already fractured society that's already fraying at the seams. Pundits are already out in full force and assailing voters with news, polls, and predictions at every turn.

Things are still uncertain and it's been hard to accurately predict any result. Nobody knows whether this could be the beginning of another "civil war," and how Americans will make their judgment and choice on the controversial political figures in this race. The only certain thing is that there are already record-breaking early voters who cast their votes before the Nov. 6 polling day.

Political heat maps for the hotly contested states -- Red Republican states to Blue Democratic states -- frequently appear on cable news outlets. The midterm election has become a nightly top news story and the term "historical significance" dominates the discussion whenever media talks about the possible results of the coming election. 

So what should we watch out for in today's midterm election? How will it influence the U.S. in the future? Will Trump change his policy after the election? It seems certain that this will be another political drama, which is not rare in America since Trump took office. The following will be the core concerns in this election.

First, is it a referendum on Trump? 

How Americans vote will be an indication of whether they still support the policies and rhetoric from the Trump administration. It will be interesting to see whether those candidates, especially in the tight races, will win after President Trump endorses them. Rather than simply voting for the candidates, it could be more accurate to say that the election will be a referendum on Trump. 

Trump seems to have already realized the midterm election's importance, and has recently been heavily involved in national rallies for Republican candidates, fiercely criticizing Democrats and tweeting some untruths. Trump has even taken out new "weapons" and has tried to scare voters using unsubstantiated cases and stories to attract more votes. For example, Trump said that terrorists are on a caravan to the US-Mexico border, which is a threat to American security. It's evident that the upcoming election is simply a yes or no vote for Trump and his policies.

Second, will the Democratic Party take control of Capitol Hill?

If American voters turn their trust to and give power to the Democratic Party, the Senate and House could both be controlled by the Democrats. President Trump will then face an uphill battle, and his "MAGA" slogan and purpose will be severely challenged. Should this happen, the current administration will definitely have to adjust their domestic and foreign policies. 

However, it seems less possible in theory for the Democratic Party to win both the Senate and the House based on the current deadlock in the key elections. Therefore, a much more plausible result is that the Democrats dominate the House but wins a minority in the Senate. In that situation, the political wrestling will enter a more complex phase and while Trump will not be a "lame-duck" president, he will lose the much needed support from the House, and find more difficulty executing his vision in the remaining two years of his first term. 

Third, how will the Republican Party step down from its height of power?

In reality, things at present aren't going so good for the Republican Party. Although they won the White House, the House and the Senate in 2016, their victory hasn't reshaped what they wanted during the initial two years, at least in terms of rebuilding American society. On the contrary, Republicans are rapidly entering a "political wilderness" during the Trump era. The result is that the Republican Party could quickly evolve into a Trump party within the next two years. 

Therefore, this midterm election is thought to be a possible closure to the absolute control of the Republicans in DC. The core question is how the Republican Party will lose -- will it be a marginal or dramatic loss? If the Republicans can't retain control of the House or Senate, losing one or both could symbolize that they had failed during the past two years, which would bring more pressure on Trump's nationalist-style policies and reform.

Last but not least, how does American society re-balance its social split in the current political chaos? How does America adjust itself within its system?

The current political situation in the U.S. is highly unusual and full of uncertainty. Some of Trump's policies have indeed caused the bifurcation, which has dented American confidence in the future. This is why there is now a noteworthy slogan, "even one vote matters." The main issue is whether enough Americans will vote to re-balance this situation and build a new hope for their country.

In sum, whether this will be a continuous drama or not, the result will be out today, something not only American people are waiting for, but also the rest of the world. For many countries, it will be a new starting point to adjust their methods and strategies in dealing with the Trump's administration. At least, based on today's results they will know whether or not to continue their current approaches.

Shi Weicheng is a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University in SAIS China Studies. His research fields include U.S.-China relations, IPE and emerging global governance.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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