In the 2018 midterm elections, as the polls closed and as the news began to report the results, it became clear that Democrats would regain control of the House of Representatives and that Republicans would pick up seats in the Senate. The results proved to be moderately predictable, where pollsters such as Project FiveThirtyEight correctly predicted that Democrats would retake the House and Republicans would hold or even gain seats in the Senate. The 2018 midterms have created a unique situation for the Republican party and President Donald Trump. Although Democrats have created a divided government, Republicans and the President still have quite a few strategies they can use to accomplish their goals and prepare for the 2020 election using two vital tools: judicial nominations and the economy.
The President and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have made it a top priority over the past two years to reshape U.S. courts, filling them with younger, originalist judges, many of whom are Federalist Society members, who can serve for a lifetime upon appointment. So far, the Senate has approved 84 of the President’s judicial picks, including a record number of appeals court judges. Luckily for the President and Majority Leader, per Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, the President is only required to receive the “advice and consent of the Senate,” essentially making the Democratic House majority irrelevant. Even though Democrats did gain the majority in the House as predicted, the number of Senate seats picked up by Republicans was a clear victory for President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They can now proceed through confirmation hearing at a brisk pace without worrying about one or two senators breaking from the party. The Senate’s unique power allows McConnell to turn a blind eye to whatever Democrat-backed bill comes his way and push for more lifetime judicial appointments to be filled by jurists who will long outlast the tenure many House and Senate members will serve. As long as McConnell continues to approve of Trump’s appointments, especially those for the Supreme Court and appeals courts, voters will continue to turn out. According to the Washington Post, “national exit polls suggest that 1.7 million [voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan] thought that the court was the most important reason to cast [their vote for Trump].” It is clear that a combination of playing the long game of judicial appointments, as well as incentivizing voters in 2020, is still feasible even with a Democrat-controlled House.
Even though cut-and-dry partisan legislation cannot be passed under a divided Congress, President Trump has gained something just as great to prepare him and Republicans for 2020: a scapegoat. Some financial experts are worried that another financial crisis is on its way and could reveal itself soon. Recently, the economy has been booming under the president’s tax and regulation cutting policies: the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, GDP is growing at over three percent, consumer confidence is at a high, and millions of jobs have been created, all in just two years. President Trump has loved taking credit for the nation’s recent economic boom, tweeting, “The economy is booming like never before.” If the economy were to falter and the Congress was exclusively controlled by Republicans, the President would have no legitimate body to shift blame to but his own party. However, with a Democrat-controlled House, the President now has an official ruling body that could be blamed for a faltering economy.
Hypothetically, President Trump could look back to H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which helped bolster the economy by lowering taxes, easing the tax burden on individuals and businesses. He could state that the bill passed without Democratic support in the House or the Senate, and that it was exclusively the Republicans who created the current growing economy. From this, he could shift the blame toward House Democrats for obstructing his economic agenda to keep the economy growing at its current rapid pace. In another situation, if the future economy continues to boom, Trump will most likely maintain the status quo of taking credit for economic growth. Regardless of the future scenario, Trump’s rhetoric demeaning Democrats and praising himself and Republicans have the potential to undermine Democratic performance in 2020. Though this is a normative judgment, it is certainly a realistic scenario.
The “blue wave” Democrats expected in the Midterms turned out to hit a brick wall in the Senate and be a mere ripple in the House. Although Democrats now have power in the House, they lack control over the destiny of the country and Trump’s agenda since they cannot touch one of Trump’s biggest successes, his judicial nominations, and cannot take credit for a booming economy, which if halted, could be blamed on oppositional House Democrats. Democrats should be worried that their stint of control of the House will be futile, placing themselves in a position that would maintain the status quo of how Americans view their party, at best, and at worst, cause Americans to turn against them. Overall, Democrats may be in trouble in 2020 if Trump continues to do what he does best: appoint judges, cheer on the economy, take credit, and shift blame.