Sun. Oct 13th, 2019

What’s next for Democrats after Midterms?

The 2018 US midterm elections was a milestone win for the Democrats, with the party taking back the House of Representative for the first time since losing it in 2010.

And with the last of the disputed results finally concluded last week, what does all this signal for the upcoming 2020 Presidential election? The IAS Gazette looks at five issues that could figure prominently over the next two years.

Immigration

Immigration was placed as a top priority in the Republicans’ midterm campaign, with President Trump having set the tone by describing the recent caravan of migrants as an ‘invasion’.

Observers should expect more of the same in the lead up to 2020, and Trump could be using the same rhetoric – as he did in 2016 and this midterms – to garner votes for his bid to a second term.

The Democrats’ majority in the House might be able to prevent the rolling out of anti-immigration laws as well as legalising immigrants covered by the ‘Dreamers’ act, but their real challenge lies in preserving votes among an electorate that has grown increasingly hostile towards such migrants.

But if there was a takeaway from the 2018 US midterm elections, it’s this: the Democrats’ best chance of winning could lie in electorate turnouts. More Americans are engaging and voting. Latinos voters in particular were pivotal to the Democrats taking back of the House, with Blue Latino votes at an overwhelming rate of 73%.

If the Democrats wish to take the White House, a repeat of this record-breaking statistic is vital.

Healthcare

Republican efforts in repealing Obamacare turned out to be a big plus in Democrat’s performance this midterms.

For their part, Democrats have done well in retaining Obamacare, and their House victory seemingly indicates voter disapproval of GOP efforts at potentially removing coverage for preexisting conditions, maternity care, as well as rise in medical costs.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be the youngest woman ever elected into Congress following her midterm election win | Femalista

The Democrats’ return to the House also gives them greater leverage over domestic policies in particular, which would put paid to any direct repealing efforts.

An alternative option for the Trump Administration would be to dismantle Obamacare through small, administrative maneuvers, such as the rewriting of health plan rules by shifting control of insurance standards from federal to state governments. With such maneuvers falling largely outside the domain of Congress, it will prove one of many potential obstacles for Pelosi and co.

In that regard, Democrats will do well to undo those efforts by bringing forward healthcare once again as a winning issue to gain back the White House come 2020.

The Midwest

Like in 2016, the Midwest will once again take centre stage as a decisive battle ground, particularly the traditionally blue states of Michigan, Wisconsin, as well as neighbouring Pennsylvania. Democrats will undoubtedly stand a better chance by gaining back these states, which propelled Trump to the presidency by the slimmest of margins.

In this regard, winning the blue-collar vote will be crucial. In 2016, “non-college” White voters in these three states that voted Republican were 47, 54 and 44 percent respectively on election day. However, that the Democrats won these states in last month’s senate race gives the party cause for optimism. Turnout among non-white voters – especially African Americans – was especially strong in these regions, and Democrats will need to rally support from these groups if they are to prevail in 2020.

In terms of map strategies, Democrats are left with two basic options for 2020: take back the upper midwest, or build on promising signs in the sun belt states across the south.

The latter stretches from Arizona, where Democrats grabbed their first Senate seat in 30 years and a majority of congressional seats, to Texas and Georgia, where the party commands decent support.

Voter Suppression

Voter suppression has played a part in the history of the US since its founding. During the days of the Civil War, many Southern states and some Northern states introduced literacy and ‘good character’ tests to prevent African Americans from exercising their newly won right to vote.

Ilhan Omar, center, speaks to supporters at Kalsan Restaurant in Minneapolis | Carlos Gonzalez / Associated Press

Today, states like Georgia have introduced a modern spin to this old relic. Since 2012, an estimated eight per cent of polling locations have closed the state, with these locations predominantly within minority and poor areas.

The ‘exact match’ voter ID law was also passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature last year, which stops voter registrations if there are any discrepancies in ID – down to dropped hyphens – with government records . To date, the law has put on hold 53,000 voter registrations, among 70 per cent being black voters.

But the Democrats are no stranger to such controversial tactics either. In New York, voter suppression comes in the form of closed primaries and party switch rules that exclude ‘independent voters’ from participating in major parties’ primaries. Such voters are required to switch party registration at least eight months in advance before the primary, with some of them being minorities that may be likely to vote Democrat.

Certainly, one should expect voter suppression to rear its ugly head come 2020, but some states have at least done well in implementing checks. Nevada has established automatic voter registration, Maryland and Michigan will allow election day registration, and four states (Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah) have created independent redistricting commissions, which aims put an end to partisan gerrymandering.

For the Democrats, independent groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) can help ensure that the Party stay true to its commitment to strengthen democratic institutions.

Indeed, for voter suppression to have a lesser effect in 2020 and beyond, progressive forces must overcome the obstacles of federal politics and solve this problem one county and state at a time.

Foreign Policy

While there is hope that the Democrats’ House victory will trigger some foreign policy reevaluation on climate change and human rights, it seems unlikely on recent evidence.

Since the midterms, the White House has dismissed a key government climate change report and has also refused to be drawn into debate on Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s shocking murder.

However, Iran could turn out to be the defining moment in US foreign policy in the coming two years, with the stakes considerably high and outcomes seemingly broad.

With one chamber ceded to the Democrats, Trump will increasingly feel the squeeze on his domestic interests and may turn his attention to foreign policy – especially on Iran and China – in order to compensate. Thus far, sanctions on Tehran have already been revived, and it is likely the president will turn up the pressure.

At last week’s G20 summit, the US and China agreed to suspend fresh tariffs for three months, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry stating that talks were in place to “remove all tariffs”. But the bipartisan consensus on Trump’s China policy means that trade tensions are likely to remain, even if it is turned down a notch.

Democratic Senator elect Doug Jones greets supporters during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama | Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

In the longer term, working class Americans may experience the deepening effects of the trade war and if this happens, trade will become an important issue in the 2020 presidential elections. Already tariffs on Chinese imports appear to have affected several basic consumer products such as shoes and apparel.

Continued trade tariffs will mean prices hikes which will greatly affect lower income earners. In fact, a recent study indicates that a 10 per cent increase in tariffs on imported goods would cost the poorest 20 per cent of earners US$300 a year.

Overall, the significance of the Democrats’ victory in the House of Representatives will be limited primarily to the domestic arena. America’s foreign policy, as a whole, will remain largely immune to the congressional power shift.

Beyond Washington, Michael Cohen’s guilty plea last week could have repercussions on the Republicans in 2020, and their House majority means the Democrats can now look further into Trump’s alleged Russian ties. Any talk of impeachment should however be taken with a pinch of salt, given the Republicans’ majority in the Senate.

In 2016, Trump campaigned under the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Aside from the administration’s bold moves in foreign policy, the consensus from most literati is that such greatness has proved elusive, even if growth markers have risen. Rather than leading from the front, it is political polarisation and unilateralism that have become defining features of the US under this president.

In two years’ time, voters will head to the ballots and decide if America has indeed reclaimed its greatness. Given the midterm results and Cohen’s revelations, there are many who will only be too ready to write the president off. But like two years ago, Democrats must be careful of belittling their adversary, and it would be folly to make the same mistake two years hence.

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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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