US politics outlook 2018: Mueller probe, do-or-die midterm election will define Trump reign

For those peering into the US crystal ball in 2018, there will likely be two persistent drumbeats all the way stretching right up till 2019 - the path of the Robert Mueller-led investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged dealings with Russia and the midterm elections in November 2018. The countdown has begun.

Mueller would likely have closed the investigation ahead of the midterms which will be a referendum on the man leading America’s most xenophobic political movement in history and US President Donald Trump’s biggest political test yet.

2018's defining face-off will be this one - Donald Trump versus Robert Mueller's investigation / AP

2018's defining face-off will be this one - Donald Trump versus Robert Mueller's investigation / AP

The November 2018 midterm election is not a clutch of scattered political fights; every seat in the US House of Representatives that makes and passes federal laws is up for re-election. In the House, the odds are stacked in the Republicans' favour - they control 239 seats while the Democrats have 194. Democrats will have to hold on to all their seats and win an extra 24 to regain control of the House. The number of elected House members proportionally represent the population of the 50 American states.

The Republicans control the Senate too but by a far thinner margin than in the House -  52 Republicans versus 48 Democrats which means Democrats need at least three more seats to retake the chamber. Of 13 most competitive races in 2018, nine are held by Democrats and four by Republicans. The Senate has 100 members, 2 from each state, who are elected to serve for a term of 6 years.

After an extraordinary year of stoking racial tension at home and discrediting world leaders and multilateral institutions, the US President faces his biggest political battle in the November 2018 midterms. If the Democrats do well, they will pounce on any red meat that’s available via the Mueller investigation in a bid to skewer Trump.

Conservative institutions and personalities are either unwilling to go against Trump or protect the President defiantly. Populist firebrand Stephen Bannon is one such, already out on the campaign trail defending Roy Moore, who is fighting several allegations of sexual misconduct and a Washington establishment that wants him to lose the Dec. 12 election.

Bannon, like Trump, is savaging national Republican leaders in an impassioned call to rally voters behind embattled candidates and causes that are fundamentally opposed to conservatives and even plain decency and dignity of political office.

Bannon, known best for his former role as President Donald Trump's chief strategist, is going around calling GOP leaders in Congress "cowards".

"The days of taking it silently are over. They want to destroy Judge Roy Moore. You know why? They want to take your voice awayIf they can destroy Roy Moore, they can destroy you," Bannon said. This rallying cry will only get louder, Trump's loudest advocates will look to light a match in every troubled corner, inciting fear, doubts and anger at all manner of non-whites and outsiders.

The Republican Party is at war within but a looming election means the house of cards can't be allowed to fall apart either. The Republicans control both the Houses of Representatives and the Senate in the US Congress.

The Senate races are a bit different and there too, the Republicans remain strong despite all the polls over an entire year showing Trump’s numbers going south. Rural voters hard done in the Obama years are still rooting for Trump or often just plan anti-Democrat or anti-Hillary.

If the Republicans hold on to what they have and / or increase their share in the midterm elections, that will deliver a sharper edge to the rest of Trump’s term, allowing him to pass sweeping changes to laws that align with his America First anthem and possibly cement his place for a 2020 run.

Also, if Trump gets a majority in both houses yet again, it’s all the more likely that any dirt from the Mueller investigation on Trump will be trashed. Yet, the weight of history is against a Trump sweep. At little over 90 % of midterm elections since the civil war have ended up with the incumbent government’s party losing seats.

Another data point, for what it's worth, is that Presidents with ratings lower than 50% have not done well in the mid-terms. Trump is in the 30s.

If the House turns blue, Trump’s power to make, change and twist existing laws into an America First contortion will become severly limited, paving the way for a fresh barrage of executive orders.

Even a Democrat controlled House will not be able to rein in Trump politically but middle of the road conservatives agree in private conversations that legislative gridlock offers a more tolerable hiatus until the next election than the prospect of Trump being in total control.

Until the midterms, expect to hear more of this pet Trumpism, which goes to the heart of his appeal to the whites and plays to their worst fear of an assault on whiteness: “The Democrats are really looking at something that is very dangerous to our country,” he said. “They want to have illegal immigrants - people that we don’t want in our country. They want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime. We don’t want to have that.”

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Updated Date: Dec 07, 2017 03:55:17 IST

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