America’s friends and allies couldn’t do it. Nor could America’s potential enemies. Neither could his wife, children or White House staff. It took the American people to reign in Donald Trump.
What the results of the mid-term elections will mean for his presidency will depend on Trump himself and his willingness to compromise, at least in terms of domestic issues. Internationally, it may give authoritarian political leaders and movements who took heart from Trump’s election pause for thought. At the very least, Trump’s loss of significant legislative power will make it harder for those groups to represent themselves as part of what his former confidante Steve Bannon called a “globalist populist movement”.
Trump, as is his wont, is claiming victory, pointing to the fact that, while his Republican Party lost in the House of
Representatives, it actually gained in the Senate. Democrats’ success in regaining control of the House is also tempered by its failure to win high-profile governorship races in the key states of Florida and Ohio.
In practical terms, though, that will make little difference to what Trump faces over the next two years of his presidency. The outcome of the elections now leaves him facing a
divided Congress which is likely to make pushing through his policy objectives more difficult, at least those that require legislative changes.
Without control of both the legislative and executive branches of government, some of Trump’s more contentious plans surrounding healthcare, gun control, and gay rights are now likely to be dead in the water.
That is exactly what happened to Barack Obama. At the beginning of his administration in 2008, Democrats ruled both the Senate and the House but intra-party rivalry prevented Obama from pushing through regulations on climate change.
At an international level, Trump may be viewed as politically wounded, unable to enforce his will at home or in international disputes. But foreign leaders would be wise to hedge their bets as mid-term elections are not necessarily an indication of what is to come and, without a notable Democrat challenger on the horizon, there is every chance that Trump could be re-elected.
There is also every chance that Democrats may be unwilling to reign-in Trump’s combative instincts in his trade
war with China as there is already a bi-partisan consensus in the US to meet that country’s challenge to American international pre-eminence.
However, if Trump were to place tariffs on the EU or withdraw his country from the World Trade Organization, Democrats would be likely to intervene in order to prevent a trade war with America’s traditional allies.
The vote does not represent the resounding censure of Trump that many of his foreign critics hoped to see. However, the loss of the House of Representatives exposes him to political danger from which the Republican Party has so far protected him. That means that, if he is to survive, Trump will have to listen to something other than his own voice.