Wednesday, 7 November 2018

A comment on the US Midterm elections (and why the media and the Democrats risk getting it wrong)

I'm guessing most of you aren't geeky or obsessed enough to have stayed up most of last night watching the US midterm election results roll in. I did and mighty good fun it was too. I chose to watch CNN for the simple reason that their presentation of the data (and the chap who talks to it) is really good. I'm not going to comment on the outcome and what it means because, like most of us over here my knowledge of US politics is paper thin. We know now that the result was the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives while the Republicans consolidated their hold on the Senate. It seems obvious to me that this reflects the same pattern as for Trump's election in 2016 with the Democrats piling up votes in places the already won while Republicans sneak back in or win by narrow margins in places - Florida, Ohio, Texas - where they target.

In the short term* the results seem good for Republicans and suggest that the Democrats will have an uphill struggle to unseat Trump in 2020 especially if they make the mistake of this campaign (and 2016) of targeting the wrong places (all that money and attention on a skateboarding chap in a Texas senate race and a couple of rock solid blue seats in the North East because they had strong female candidates). I also wonder whether the Democrats will revisit the mistake the Republicans made in 1994 and spend all their time trying to bring down the President.

The reason I feel the Democrats will again get both strategy and tactics wrong was illustrated by the conversation, once the change in the House was clear, between the CNN presenters. I don't recall the precise details of the interaction between the main anchor and two presenters but, in summary, it asked what the new Democratic House majority should (could? would?) do and concluded that the focus would be on Trump - "maybe they'll get Trump's tax returns" said one, "the i-word - impeachment" said another, "the Mueller business" - you get the gist. The entire focus, or so these pundits suggested, is going to be the continued programme of trying to prove that Trump (or the Russians or a secret cabal under the direction of Steve Bannon) stole the 2016 election, a sort of post hoc vindication of Hilary Clinton.

Maybe this stuff matters but I can't help but think that the people who just elected Democrats to congress did so to get better healthcare, funding for schools, childcare and welfare support. And if their shiny new representatives, having promised all this, then spend all their time shovelling through the arcana of the previous presidential election, this simply plays into Trumps hands. And with the great hopes for Democratic ambitions - bouncy, dynamic modern folk like Beto O'Rourke and Andrew Gillum - falling at the first hurdle it's hard to see where the person to challenge Trump will come from. What Trump wants, because it's what he's best at, is a long, vulgar shouting match over things that really don't matter a jot to the ordinary American.

The problem, however, is that the media - as those pundits on CNN last night showed - wants that long, loud scrap with Trump. Not because it's important but because, in these days of politics as entertainment, it's box office in a way that boring stuff about medicare or housing policy simply isn't. Those latter things really are the things that matter to Americans but the media, just as is the case in Britain, would rather focus on gossip and the shallow and snide world of Twitter than on the big issues facing real people.

*In the long term Republicans have a problem with cities and especially the growing sun belt suburbs that tells me, without some changes in focus and strategy, places like Texas and Tennessee will start electing statewide democrats again.

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