The drama of US President Donald Trump’s time in office has centered around whether an extremist president would be able to carry out an extremist policy agenda against the will of the majority of Americans. So far the answer has been no, and the midterm elections make it far less likely.
Yet, Trump’s rising frustrations could push him over the edge psychologically, with potentially harrowing consequences for the US’ democracy and the world.
None of Trump’s extremist policy ideas have received public support. The public opposed last year’s US Republican-backed corporate tax cut; Trump’s effort to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare; his proposed border wall with Mexico; a decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement; and the imposition of tariff increases on China, Europe and others. At the same time, contrary to Trump’s relentless promotion of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), the public favors investment in renewable energy and remaining in the Paris climate agreement.
Trump has tried to implement his radical agenda using three approaches. The first has been to rely on the Republican majorities in the two houses of US Congress to pass legislation in the face of strong popular opposition.
That approach succeeded once, with last year’s corporate tax cut, because big Republican donors insisted on the measure, but it failed with Trump’s attempt to repeal Obamacare, as three Republican senators balked.
The second approach has been to use executive orders to circumvent Congress. Here the courts have repeatedly intervened, most recently within days of the midterm elections, when a federal district court halted work on the Keystone XL pipeline, a project strongly opposed by environmentalists, on the grounds that the Trump administration had failed to present a “reasoned explanation” for its actions.
Trump repeatedly and dangerously oversteps his authority, and the courts keep pushing back.
Trump’s third tactic has been to rally public opinion to his side. Yet, despite his frequent rallies, or perhaps because of them and their incendiary vulgarity, Trump’s disapproval rating has exceeded his approval rating since the earliest days of his administration.
His current overall disapproval rating is 54 percent, versus 40 percent approval, with strong approval from about 25 percent of the public. There has been no sustained move in Trump’s direction.
In the midterm elections, which Trump himself described as a referendum on his presidency, US Democratic candidates for both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate vastly outpolled their Republican opponents.
In the House races, Democrats received 53,314,159 votes nationally, compared with 48,439,810 for Republicans. In the Senate races, Democrats outpolled Republicans by 47,537,699 votes to 34,280,990.
Summing up votes by party for the three latest election cycles (2014, 2016 and 2018), Democratic Senate candidates outpolled Republican candidates by about 120 million to 100 million votes.
Nonetheless, Republicans hold a slight majority in the Senate, where each state is represented by two senators, regardless of the size of its population, because they tend to win their seats in less populous states, whereas Democrats prevail in the major coastal and midwestern states.