What Are The US Mid-Terms And Why Do They Matter?

By Phil Clarke, Editor of The Handbook website Phil Clarke |
5th November 2018

You’ve probably heard about today’s ‘mid-term’ elections in America, but unless you’ve been watching back-to-back seasons of West Wing then you’re likely a little sketchy on what they are, and why they’re important.

Remember back when politics wasn’t crazy? When the word Brexit barely existed (genuinely, it’s only six years old) and Donald Trump was just an American version of Alan Sugar? That’s when we had the last set of mid-term elections and they were pretty brutal for President Obama’s government, with the Republican Party making sweeping gains that, unwittingly, helped set up the 2016 general election for Donald Trump.

So they really do matter.

Fair enough, and what are they?

In Britain, all seats in the House of Commons are up-for-grabs the moment the Prime Minister calls a general election. But in the US, in true gameshow style, there are two rounds of evictions, first the presidential elections, titanic battles like Obama versus McCain, Bush/Gore and, as if you could forget it, Donald versus Hillary.

Then, two years later and just as the dust starts to settle, it’s back to the polls for the ‘mid-terms’ (so-named coz mid way through the President’s term, innit?). This is when all the House of Representatives (an American version of the House of Commons) and a third of the Senate (think House of Lords but without the wigs and ermin) is elected; plus key state governorships, various mayors and anything else various states want to have a referendum about.

So a lot to play for.

And why does it matter?

Both houses are finely balanced right now, and the Republicans – that’s Donald Trump’s party – have razor thin majorities over their opponents, the Democrats. The president needs to maintain control of both houses to force through his agenda. Wait, what agenda?

The president has big plans, including more tax cuts (arguably only for the super-rich) but also dismantling so-called ‘Obamacare’ – which guarantees all Americans have access to affordable health insurance.

Why would he want to do that?

Genuinely it beats me why anyone would want to remove affordable healthcare from vulnerable people, but what’s even nuttier is that millions of those very people voted for Trump at the general election do want to, so it’ll be interesting to see if turkeys really will vote for Christmas today.

Hmm, this article isn’t sounding especially even-handed. What else is at stake?

Well healthcare is the leading item on most voters’ agenda, and politicians on both sides are talking loudly about it, but there are other issues. Like Russia?

Well, for one. If the Democrats are in control, and the ongoing investigation into Russian influence into the 2016 election goes badly against Donald Trump, then they could move to impeach the president.

Impeach?

Yeah, get rid of. President Nixon quit to avoid it while President Clinton’s sexual misdemeanours brought him close (today he’d be #MeToo ground zero, but somehow he’s gotten of as respected elder statesman, funny how things work out). Either way, impeachment is the official process of getting rid of a president.

Woah? Is that likely?

Not unless Robert Muller’s official FBI investigation reveals some really bad stuff (and the stuff we know is already pretty bad, so it’d have to go up quite a few gears), but with US politics so polarised and tribal right now there’s very little chance of getting the two-thirds majority of both houses needed unless it’s, like, awful. But even without this, a majority would give Democrats power to exert serious pressure and, more importantly, scrutiny on a president who seems to need little encouragement to find himself mired in scandal. So it looks like Trump’s sticking around. How’s it looking for women?

Don’t act too surprised that the man who famously advocated grabbing women ‘by the pussy’ hasn’t been too popular with the females. So much so they’ve been protesting far-and-wide, not least because the Republicans recently forced through the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The job-for-life as one of America’s 12 most senior judges was given to the sort-of-definitely-probably sex assaulter after the narrowest of votes in the Republican-held Senate.

But where this gets really important is that Kavanaugh is likely to hold the casting vote in overturning the case called Roe vs Wade – the legislation that makes abortion legal in the US and which US conservatives want removed. Blimey. So it’s a big deal then.

Exactly, and it’s this that has really fired up the Trump #MakeAmericaGreatAgain base, not to mention activists on the left. As an added bonus, it’s also possible that Brett Kavanaugh will be the man who rules on whether to help out his buddy Trump in the case that the Special Investigation on Russia finds its way into the Supreme Court. But a change of parliamentary arithmetic as a result of the midterms would also potentially make Kavanaugh the last Supreme Court Justice until the next presidential election, as any more vacancies that come up are likely to be voted down by angry Democrats. Okay, got it. So what about Trump’s famous wall?

Oh yes, the wall. So The Donald will find it difficult to secure the funds to build his much fabled wall along the Mexican border if he loses today’s election, so it’s unsurprising that he’s made immigration a big part of his election campaign. And, seemingly bizarrely, the Republicans have chosen to spend much of the campaign focussing on a group of about 5,000 impoverished immigrants, around 1,000 miles from the US border, who are determined to reach the US.

Sounds like a legit threat?

Not really. Disregarding the fact they’re 1,000 miles from the actual border, and many of them are children and they’re on-foot, between 20,000 and 40,000 illegal immigrants are caught crossing into the US every single month, and with many more times this number making into The States, so it’s pretty small fry.

Oh, so it’s irrelevant?

Well it’s scaremongering, but it can have real effects. Bear with us here… Republican Congressman Mat Gaetz tweeted that the so called immigrant ‘caravan’ was funded by Jewish billionaire George Soros, a hate-figure to the right. Despite zero evidence to back this up (America is fully post-truth now, nothing on this page makes sense unless you embrace this scary fact), anyway without any evidence behind it, Donald Trump shared the post. Still with us? Because it’s about to get dark: this was then shared on Gab, a social network for white supremacists…

Wait, one of those needs to exist?

Only in America, right? So for some reason this drove one guy so crazy that he announced he was “going in”, then took his assault rifle and three semi-automatic pistols (he had them lying around, and sadly gun control, like so much else, is too much to go into in this feature) and headed to a synagog in Pittsburgh screaming “All Jews must die!” and shooting 11 worshippers. Sheesh, has Donald Trump done anything good?

Well it’s the economy, stupid, and that’s booming. Despite stock volatility over the last few weeks (don’t check your ISAs, folks, it’s depressing), the economy is doing well and crucial jobs data is positive. It also looks like pressure on China (which so far has boomeranged into counter-tariffs that hit Trump supporting states worst) might be about to pay off, while in North Korea Trump’s brinkmanship style seems to have presented an opportunity for dialogue. Meanwhile, his tough line on Iran may not be going down well with US allies, it does play well at home. Alright, alright. So what’s going to happen?

Good question. And we don’t know. You can ride the poll-er-coaster, with polls putting it odds-on that the Republicans will retain the Senate and lose the House of Representatives, but if there’s one thing we know about Trump, not to mention politics everywhere right now, it’s that anything could happen.

And surely it depends what result Vladimir Putin’s planned anyway, right?

You said it…

The US Mid Term Elections take place today and the results should be clear by UK breakfast time tomorrow…

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