Midterm results are usually bitter for sitting presidents. Donald Trump, however, managed to strengthen his grip on the Senate, allowing him to spin his loss of control in the House of Representatives as something of a victory. But the reality is that the next two years will prove to be a monumental struggle.
Whereas previously a Republican-controlled house could quash movements against the president and make it somewhat easier to pass policy, the Democrats can now make things difficult. And they are determined to do just that.
Indeed, progressives arguably have something to smile about for the first time in what feels like forever. More women ran for Congress than ever before – and a record number were elected. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Jared Polis winning Colorado made him the first openly gay man to be elected as a state governor.
But while progressives can congratulate themselves and start thinking about the (slim) possibility of removing Trump in 2020, both Democrat and Republican neoliberals have a lot less to be happy about.
In an election widely billed as a referendum on the president, Cas Mudde points out that Trump moved the campaign away from the booming economy – aided by neoliberal policy (tax cuts, red-tape bonfires) – onto his own brand of right-wing nativism. That’s where he thinks the battleground will be in 2020, and it’s exactly where he feels most comfortable operating.
Sensible, neoliberal policy and policymakers will be the ones to suffer for it. Thoughtful GOP incumbents like Barbara Comstock lost, and – despite running Ted Cruz close – so did Democrat Beto O’Rourke. Old-school, freedom-loving Republicans were replaced with Trump’s new breed – Ron DeSantis in Florida, Brian Kemp in Georgia, and Katie Arrington in South Carolina. The changes and results are bound to make the GOP more “Trumpian”, as the internal brakes on his suspect ideology get changed, and this will do nothing but increase polarisation and push the Democrats further left.
After all, if Beto O’Rourke, widely regarded as a potential presidential candidate, can’t beat the devil Ted Cruz, surely all that’s needed is a radical socialist candidate? And so the demise of the Democrats continues.
For the first time, there will be just as many – or more, depending on the issue – socialist Democrats in Congress, as there are neoliberal, “Blue Dog Democrats”. And the victory for the left-wing candidates will only convince the party’s base to push more towards socialism. The sounding of the death knell for neoliberal Americans will not only hurt the Democrats electorally – socialism is the antithesis to everything the American dream stands for, and the obsession with rooting it out is making a comeback – but it will hurt ordinary Americans as the pursuit of economic freedom goes out the window.
America has been shaped, for the better, by a compelling neoliberal platform. In the 1970s, the US economy was over-regulated, sluggish, and unconducive to free enterprise. It’s fundamentally true that open welfare payments led to something of a dependency culture. It’s neoliberalism that has helped to pull record numbers of Americans out of poverty, encourage them into work, and foster the culture of innovation and enterprise that has led Silicon Valley to new heights.
Most Americans are crying out for a party that will guarantee a strong safety net in healthcare, the retention of individual liberties, more hard-earned money staying in people’s own pockets, a sensible immigration policy that reflects the needs of the market, and the exciting, innovative culture that has made America the economic superpower that it is.
Trump’s nativist, protectionist agenda can’t achieve all of that, and neither can a socialist revolution in the Democrats. The only way to ensure freedom for individuals and businesses is to keep markets open. The hammer blow dealt to neoliberalism in this election will, however, only push each of the major parties in the completely wrong directions.