What’s at Stake for Trump in the Midterms

(Bloomberg) -- When the same party controls both the U.S. presidency and Congress, ambitious legislation can happen. Look at the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, passed under Democrats in 2010, or the bill that cut $1.5 trillion in taxes that was passed by Republicans at the end of 2017. The congressional elections coming on Nov. 6 could bring one-party government to a halt — and potentially spell all sorts of problems for President Donald Trump, a Republican — if it’s a “wave election” that breaks in favor of the Democrats.

1. What’s a wave election?

There’s no precise definition, but the term is used to describe when a political party makes major gains in the House of Representatives, the Senate, or both. Generally speaking, congressional wave elections have occurred at the midpoint of a president’s four-year term — when the president isn’t on the ballot — and have usually benefited the party that doesn’t occupy the White House, which right now is the Democratic Party. And in a wave election, the closest races tend to break one way.

2. How many seats are being contested this year?

All 435 House of Representatives seats and 35 of the 100 Senate seats. At the moment, Republicans hold a 235-to-193 edge in the House with seven vacancies, including five in districts most recently held by Republicans and two in districts most recently held by Democrats. In the Senate, Republicans have a 51-to-49 advantage.

3. Can Democrats win control?

The Democrats are better-positioned to win control of the House than the Senate, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Government of historical data, election maps, public polling and campaign fundraising. Democrats have had strong showings in elections to fill vacancies in the House since Trump became president. The Senate poses a steeper challenge. There, Democrats would have to retain all or almost all their current seats that are being contested — 26, including two held by independent senators who typically vote with them — and seize two or more Republican-held seats. There are only nine of those on the ballot this year, and six are in states Trump won by large margins.

4. Why do waves happen?

One theory is that anger energizes citizens, so those opposed to the president and his policies are more motivated to turn out at the polls than those happy with the status quo. The backlash can be severe: Since the end of World War II, the president’s party has had a net loss of 26 House seats and 4 Senate seats on average, out of the one-third of Senate seats that come up for election every two years.

What’s at Stake for Trump in the Midterms
What’s at Stake for Trump in the Midterms

5. What are polls saying?

That the public is in a sour mood about where the country is headed. Trump’s approval rating, 44 percent in a Gallup poll Oct. 14, is near the lowest of any president at this point in his term since 1945. The less popular the president, the more seats his party tends to lose.

6. What’s at stake?

Potentially a great deal. Even if only one chamber flips to the Democrats, Trump’s ability to get major legislation passed would likely be thwarted, and his administration would likely face new or re-energized investigations, perhaps including subpoenas, by congressional committees that would switch to Democratic control. Those investigations include whether the Trump campaign colluded with a Russian effort to undermine the 2016 election; Democrats could also seek to review Trump’s tax returns. A Democratic Senate would become a formidable obstacle to any new Supreme Court appointments by Trump. And a Democratic House could be emboldened to start the process of trying to impeach Trump.

7. How would impeachment work?

A president can face impeachment for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The House would have to determine whether there was cause and then vote by a simple majority to send articles of impeachment — formal written charges — to the Senate. The Senate would hold a trial; if two-thirds, or 67 Senators, vote to convict, the president is removed from office. But this has never happened. In the two previous impeachment votes — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999 — the Senate fell short of the two-thirds required. Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974 when it became clear that he would be impeached.

8. Are Republicans worried about losing their majorities?

House members haven’t said so, but many are heading to the exits. Led by current House Speaker Paul Ryan, who’s retiring after serving 20 years in Congress, there are 50 Republicans and 22 Democrats who are retiring or seeking other office, or resigned or died earlier in the current 115th Congress. (Some of the ones who resigned have since been replaced by members who are seeking re-election.) Three Senate Republicans decided not to run for re-election; no Democrat chose to leave.

9. Do Republicans have any advantages?

Yes. Those include favorable electoral maps drawn by Republican-dominated state governments after the last census in 2010. And Republican candidates are running on the nation’s strong economic growth.

The Reference Shelf

  • Democrats have been more politically active than Republicans in 2018, according to Pew Research Center’s August survey.
  • Bloomberg news on how the midterm congressional campaigns have been the most expensive on record.
  • In Bloomberg Opinion, Albert R. Hunt points to six House seats to watch for a Democratic wave.
  • A QuickTake explaining the process for presidential impeachments.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.