The world awoke yesterday to the US mid-term election results with one question in mind - will Donald Trump be re-elected? As I have argued consistently since he took office, the answer is no. Nothing about these results, and everything about the immediate aftermath, makes me more certain.
2020 betting unmoved by mid-term signals
Many a hot take mused that Trump was in reasonable shape. Our 2020 Presidential Election odds moved slightly in his favour, with 2.6813/8 now available about him winning a second term. An understandable reaction if simply comparing the situation to recent cycles. Obama, Clinton and Reagan all won a second term despite losing the House of Representatives in their first mid-term.
The problem with such comparisons is they are based on normality. On less divided times, when more voters swung between elections. Nothing since Trump entered politics in 2015 has been normal. These elections weren't normal and the fast unfolding events across the Atlantic are unprecedented.
Even before all the votes have been counted, Trump ramped up his war with the media at this astonishing press conference, and sacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions - who, significantly, was not even allowed to stay until Friday as he wanted. According to this presidential historian, we are looking at a scandal ten times bigger than Watergate.
Democrats' House sweep was a rejection of Trump
Before dealing with the future, let's look at these results. First, any idea that retaining the Senate equated to a draw for Republicans is fantasy. That wasn't a national race, with only a third of seats in play, on a very favourable map. In contrast all 435 House seats were up and the Democrats overcame systemic bias, partly due to gerrymandering, to win a majority.
They won the popular vote by around 7.5%, with the swing most marked in precisely the sort of suburban district that ultimately determine general elections. They also swept several governorships (including deep, red Kansas) and state legislatures. The turnout was historic, with the rise most stark among millenials, women and minorities. In what was effectively a referendum on Trump, a clear majority 'disapproved' and just shy of half 'strongly disapproved'.
Rising turnout trends leave no room for error
Trump's victory in 2016 was a geographic, statistical fluke. He lost by 2.9M votes and victory in the three tightest, neighbouring states - PA, WI and MI - was by less than 80K combined. As reported in 2017, the targeting of would-be Democrats in this region, with fake anti-Clinton news in order to suppress their vote, is at the core of Mueller's Russia/Cambridge Analytica investigation. It worked.
Nationwide, there was little to suggest Trump improves Republican chances. His vote share was 1.1% lower than Mitt Romney earned in defeat four years earlier and only 0.4% higher than John McCain managed when losing by a seven-point landslide in 2008. His 46.1% was 3% lower than the GOP House share on the same day.
A repeat of a 2020 share in the same ballpark is realistic, even probable. There remains little evidence - beyond perhaps farmers hurt by the trade war with China - of the Republican vote switching. But without converting extra voters, they will lose because the groups among whom turnout is rising fast overwhelmingly vote Democrat.
Trump will never be the type to convert opponents. His support has always had a very low ceiling and those strong disapprovals are entrenched. Under a different leader, this could have been a great set of elections for Republicans. The same exit poll showed 68% were happy with the economy. Conventional indicators matter less during the Trump era - everything is about him.
Far from solidifying or gaining support in the states they must win, Republicans went backwards. They lost the governorships in each of those three aforementioned states - where Trump's approval has fallen sharply since taking office.
Trump's divisive approach is poor long-term strategy
To win again, Republicans need to change path but Tuesday made that impossible. Trump fired up the base with his extreme rhetoric and mass rallies, and will feel vindicated by the Senate performance in seats that did not reflect the median electorate. In yesterday's press conference he derided and abused lifelong conservatives who had not embraced him closely enough and lost. He now has total control of the party.
That spells both short and long term trouble for Republicans. The only evidence that Trumpism works electorally is the 2016 result - driven by his unique persona. Imitators both in the States and Europe have struggled to cut through in anything like the same way. One of Tuesday's most stunning results was the defeat of Kris Kobach, who led Trump's discredited commission on voter fraud. Dana Rohrabacher - aka Putin's favourite congressman - also bit the dust.
However in the current climate, the 2020 election is a long way off. So is the new Congress, which takes office in the New Year. A constitutional crisis is exploding by the hour. As predicted on Monday, the drama has been immediate.
Sessions sacking sparks constitutional crisis
In replacing the recused Sessions with loyalist Matthew Whitaker, Trump is evidently trying to silence and sack Mueller. Apparently the Special Prosecutor has been ready to present initial findings for weeks and may have already subpoenaed the president himself. An almighty battle in Congress and perhaps on the streets awaits.
Nobody can be sure what happens next but legal experts have speculated for months that even sacking Mueller would not kill the investigation. There are sealed indictments awaiting and breadcrumbs scattered around for local prosecutors to restart.
However, let us assume that Trump gets his wish, and Mueller is silenced. In this case, the new Democrat House will immediately subpoena everybody relevant to get the information released. Such blatant disregard for the rule of law, let alone what they uncover from multiple investigations, will make first-stage impeachment inevitable.
Democrat House likely to pursue impeachment
I recommended backing this at 2.466/4 months ago and at 2.26/5 it is now a cracking bet. Trump's actions are making it inevitable. Remember, this is a bet merely on the House passing one article of impeachment.
To complete the job, the Senate would need to back it by a two-thirds majority. Given the total lack of evidence that a GOP-controlled Senate would impeach their own, this easier first target represents a much better value betting option than To Leave Before End of 1st Term at 3.711/4.
This will dominate Trump's last two years in office and I cannot see how his standing will be enhanced by it. His re-election bid will not involve an upbeat MAGA vision - it will be a daily war with his personal foes, against a backdrop of massive corruption and investigation. If he tries, he will be thrashed. I'm sticking with my earlier prediction - he will retire and spend his last year in office doing a victory lap at his rallies, selling merchandise and preparing for the next commercial venture.
It will probably take two years but Tuesday represented the beginning of the end of the story of the century. For now, remain alert to the emerging drama and spare a thought for those us who have been utterly transfixed for the last three years. Sleep is at a premium.
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