Trumpgate could gift the Democrats the jackpot

Trumpgate could gift the Democrats the jackpot

The down-ballot races could result in both Houses going Blue

Donald Trump is not a happy man. That’s not of itself news: Donald Trump is hardly ever a happy man – when did you last see him crack a relaxed smile? But all the same, he’s a particularly unhappy man at the moment. We know this because he’s lashing out at individuals, which is what he does when someone scores a hit on him.

Those hits – the string of allegations of sexual impropriety – and his inability to effectively counter them or move the news cycle on have taken their toll. A month ago, the RCP poll average had Hillary’s lead down to under 2%; it’s now 6.7% and rising. Trump has lost 3½ points since the start of the month. That might not sound much but unless addressed quickly, his deficit will become unrecoverable.

The state polling tells much the same story. The battleground states are nearly all tilting the same ways that they did four years ago, with the exception of Iowa which Trump might win against trend, and North Carolina, which he’s on to lose. Unfortunately for him, North Carolina carries 15 Electoral College votes while Iowa holds just six. And that’s without potential curveballs from places like Alaska, Utah or even Texas (where Clinton closed to just 4% in the most recent poll, which may or may not be an outlier).

I don’t really see how he can win from here. It’s not so much the numbers, bad though they are; it’s that his campaign looks incapable of bridging the gap between where he is and where he needs to be.

More importantly, both Trump and senior GOP figures seem to be readying themselves for a Clinton win too. That’s what the blame game is about on his part and the disassociation game on theirs.

And well might senators, governors and congressmen try to disassociate themselves from their nominal leader. The swing to the Democrats at White House level is being replicated down the ballot too.

Going in to the 2016 Senate elections, the Republicans hold 54 seats to the Democrats’ 44, plus two Democrat-leaning independents. Four gains would see Clinton’s party regain control; six or more would put them in a very strong position. That matters, not just for passing legislation but also because of the powers to approve or reject many of the president’s senior nominees, of which more later.

The seats being contested this time were last fought in 2010, when the Republicans gained six seats, which gives a good indication of what’s possible. Can the Democrats win them back? It’s likely. They currently lead in the Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois races and are within 2% in North Carolina and New Hampshire (though on the other side of the ledger, they may lose Nevada). If the Trump campaign implodes in the final weeks, Missouri and Florida could come into play. At best, the GOP is likely to come out of the elections with a wafer-thin majority; at worst, the Democrats could hold one outright themselves.

The position in the House is, as always, more complex given that all 435 seats are up for election but the generic national polling puts the Democrats about six points clear. Even with the inbuilt advantage the Republicans have from the way the districts are drawn, that should be enough to secure a majority.

Put that all together and if you’re a Republican, you’re potentially looking at a disaster. The threat wouldn’t lie in the scale of the defeats (which wouldn’t be all that big historically) but in the monopoly on power the Democrats would then hold. There’s a lot that a Congress and President can do when they work together.

But above all, there’s the battle for control of the US’s fourth and most important institution: the Supreme Court. Clinton was clear in the second debate about her intention to nominate judges who would take a liberal, socially activist interpretation of the law. A Democrat-controlled Senate would give her the means to do so, until the mid-term elections anyway.

And two years might be all she’d need. The Court’s currently split 4-4 between liberals and conservatives following the death of Justice Scalia back in February, so just the nomination for the vacant seat would tip the balance – which is the main reason the Republican-controlled Senate hasn’t considered Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. But with three justices in their 80s or late 70s, she and her congressional allies might have the chance to leave a much larger mark on the Court; one which would far outlive her presidency.

Those are the stakes being played for next month. Trump as president would no doubt leave a significant impact on America and the world. But the impact he might already have had as a losing candidate might be as profound, if not quite as direct.

David Herdson

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