Tuesday 20 November 2018

Yuval Levin: 'A tale of two weak parties - elections only highlight sorry state of US politics'

US President Donald Trump. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo
US President Donald Trump. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Yuval Levin

In the wake of an election, we naturally tend to be struck by the strength of the winning side. We look at who now has momentum in politics, and ask what sort of mandate has it won? But the peculiar mixed result of Tuesday's midterms should help us see the distinct and troubling character of US politics now: it is the weakness of all sides, and the strength of none, that shapes this moment.

This was evident in 2016, too. Both major party presidential candidates were broadly unappealing people, and each was well-suited to lose. The question was who would turn off more voters. The binary character of presidential elections left us looking for explanations of the outcome in President Trump's distinct strengths, but when you examine his razor-thin victory in a few decisive states, it's his opponent's weakness that really tells the tale. And Trump has since governed as a weak president alongside a weak Congress.

Tuesday's elections revealed the same pattern. Republicans had a very friendly Senate map, with 10 Democrats facing re-election in states that Trump won handily. Republicans walked away with roughly three more seats, giving them a slightly less narrow majority in a body that still requires 60 votes for real legislative work. Meanwhile in the House, the Democrats had an opportunity for major gains throughout the country, but they made modest gains in friendly suburbs - winning almost exclusively districts that Hillary Clinton won two years ago. In essence, each party won some marginal voters powerfully turned off by the other, but neither found a way to meaningfully broaden its coalition - which is what it would take to really show strength.

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