Smart Ideas: The Fiction of the "Senate Popular Vote"

Also: Obamacare won, despite Obama.

Sen.-elect Josh Hawley of Missouri with his wife, Erin, waves to supporters after giving his victory speech in Springfield, Mo., on Tuesday.
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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Nov. 7, 2018, 8 p.m.

Senate races are run on their own terms, not on national scale

Jesse Walker, writing for Reason

Since the election results came in on Tuesday night, some observers have been keen to point out that while Democrats won millions more votes for Senate than Republicans, it was the GOP that picked up seats. There are at least three problems with this way of thinking. First, because only a third of senators were up for reelection this year, "you'd need to bring in a bunch of ballots cast in 2014 and 2016" in order to properly compare the parties' respective vote share. But that brings us to the second point, which is that the "U.S. does not hold one big race between a generic Democrat and a generic Republican to determine which party should control each chamber. It holds individual races between individual candidates, each with his or her own strengths and weaknesses." Third, and perhaps most importantly, this kind of argument "speaks to a deeper rot in the way many people look at our politics. For all the partisan sorting we've seen over the past few decades, there still is a fair amount of regional variation in the parties." It's why centrist Republicans can win governorships in the Northeast, or Joe Manchin can keep a Senate seat in West Virginia. "To pretend that we were simply watching two national races last night is to erase an immense amount of American variety."

What does Trump’s foreign policy look like with a Democratic House?

Richard Fontaine, writing on Twitter

Congress’s powers to control spending, authorize force abroad, and approve trade agreements and ambassadorial nominations often have “an indirect effect on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.” Still, the Democratic takeover of the House could portend some serious changes. “An obvious candidate here is trade.” House support for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement is far from certain, given typical Democratic skepticism of trade deals. “The new politics dims even further the flickering possibility that the United States will anytime soon reenter [the Trans-Pacific Partnership], and may make other deals harder.” The takeover will also “solidify the preexisting moves toward a lower defense budget.” Trump is already planning to request $16 billion less for fiscal 2020. One policy area on which House lawmakers and Trump might agree: China. “Both Democrats and Republicans have largely welcomed a more confrontational approach to Beijing, and the business community has offered quiet support. … Trump has a relatively free hand to remain tough on Beijing, and worries that he will cut a symbolic trade deal and relax the pressure currently exceed anxiety about the dangers of U.S.-China confrontation. The possibility of bipartisan support on China policy is strong.”

Obama’s protégés failed––but Obamacare didn’t

Steve Goldstein, writing for MarketWatch

“Most of the candidates Barack Obama stumped for lost on Tuesday night.” Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, and Sen. Bill Nelson are all facing defeat (although the latter has not conceded). “But the landmark legislation that unofficially bears [Obama’s] name had a terrific night.” Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah all decided to expand Medicaid. “At the end of the campaign, even President Donald Trump was singing Obamacare’s praises, sort of. ‘The Democrat plan would obliterate Obamacare,’ he said, before quickly adding, ‘which is good, but leave the bad parts behind.’ With Democrats in control of the House, Obamacare will last as the law of the land for at least two more years.”

Former President Obama and Democratic Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams at a campaign rally at Morehouse College in Atlanta on Nov. 2 AP Photo/John Bazemore

Republicans pay the Trump tax

Ezra Klein, writing for Vox

“Unemployment is at 3.7 percent right now. The economy is growing. … For the House popular vote to swing this hard against Republicans under these economic conditions reflects a profound political failure on Donald Trump’s part.” This isn’t a new idea. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, Vox’s election forecast—based largely on economic data compiled by political science experts—predicted that the Republican nominee would win, but showed that Trump trailed well behind what the so-called fundamentals would predict. Trump’s rise to the presidency “was a remarkable political achievement by any measure, and yet he is substantially less popular than a politician in his position should be. He’s a political genius and a political underperformer, all at the same time.” This has followed Republicans into the midterms. “Rather than reaping the rewards of a booming economy, [they] are facing a blistering electoral repudiation.”

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