On election eve, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman penned an article with a title I wish I had written, “The Last Exit Off the Road to Autocracy.” He was talking about the looming path to an autocratic government if Republicans retained control of the U.S. House. Perhaps Paul was being a bit melodramatic — but the voters took that off ramp. Where will it lead? Expect some serious oversight of President Trump’s corrupt administration.
Ballots are still being counted, with a number of races still too close to call. Although the “blue wave” wasn’t quite powerful enough to flip the Senate, Democrats took firm control of the U.S. House, retook over 300 seats in state legislatures and won the majority (27) of the state attorneys general. They also gained seven governorships and eliminated super majorities that Republicans held in several state legislatures, including North Carolina’s. Not bad – not bad at all.
According to Michael Cembalest, an executive at JPMorgan Asset Management, Republican losses in the House — when compared to the strength of the economy — are the worst midterm results for a president’s party in at least a century. And those losses would have been much greater but for the 2011 gerrymandering in numerous Republican-controlled states.
In spite of a large voter turnout for these midterms – always good for democracy — GOP gerrymandering made winning much harder for Democrats running for Congress. Just look at the results in Ohio: Although Democrats comprised 48 percent of the vote, they managed to win only 25 percent of the state’s seats in the House, the same percent they have held since 2012.
Still, ballot initiatives resulted in great progress on redistricting reform and other measures to strengthen our democracy. Colorado, Michigan and Missouri voters approved proposals that will result in fairer redistricting in 2021. Michigan and Nevada voters approved automatic voter registration, with Michigan also enacting same-day registration. And with the election of Democrat Anita Earls to the state Supreme Court, North Carolina judges will be able to strike down the GOP’s radical gerrymandering.
Fortunately, some of the worst Tea Party Republicans will no longer walk the halls of Congress next year or infect its processes. Far-right Rep. Dave Bratt (R-Va.) was defeated. Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) chose not to run this year. These last three gentlemen chaired the House Committee on Oversight during President Obama’s tenure. They conducted nasty, politically motivated investigations of Democrats that Republicans will sadly rue when they face scrutiny by that committee come January.
Obviously, this election rattled Trump. The next day he effectively fired U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointed one of his loyal operatives, Mathew Whitaker, as acting attorney general. Critics are arguing that Whitaker is not only biased and unfit for the job, his appointment was unconstitutional because he was not confirmed by the Senate. Again, Trump dares Congress to check his abuse of power. Will that happen? It may depend on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He is totally focused on appointing more conservative judges so I don’t have high hopes.
The fear is, of course, that Whitaker will curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. That’s exactly what Trump wants. McConnell, however, has consistently refused to allow a vote on legislation to protect Mueller, audaciously claiming that there is no need for congressional action. But retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Az.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that approves judicial nominations, is not buying that. He promised to vote against all nominees unless McConnell allows a vote on a measure to protect Mueller. We shall see.
Although the Trump sycophants that currently control Congress would probably let Whitaker do his dirty work on Mueller with faint objections, come January it will be a much different story. Democrats will command the powerful House Judiciary Committee. Whitaker’s record of nefarious activities and crooked business ventures show that he’s not very smart but he surely knows the perils of hamstringing Mueller and obstructing justice. We’re talking possible jail time here — so I don’t believe Mueller will be thwarted. It’s probably too late for that anyway.
There is no doubt in my mind that 2018 will be noted as the year democracy began to fight back against Trump and the GOP. If Republicans had retained control of the House, Trump would be king of Capitol Hill. But they didn’t — they were crushed. As a result, Trump is feeling threatened and acting erratic. He may no longer be seen as an asset Republicans feel compelled to support. In the Senate they have 12 more seats to defend in 2020 than Democrats. I believe these GOP senators would rather throw Trump under the bus than lose their cushy positions. The Donald is in trouble and this nation will be the better for it.
Make no mistake, we are not out of the autocratic woods yet. Much work will be required to remove the cancer that is infecting this presidency and threatening our democracy. But that fight has been well started and I’m confident it will succeed.
According to former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, one Russian newspaper reacted to the Democrats winning control of the House by complaining that “our agent in the White House failed us.”
All together now: THANK GOD!!