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A House Divided

Donald Trump is obsessed with 'winning', so what would losing the midterms mean for him?

Would the US President care, and should he?

Midterm Option 2

EVERYTHING ABOUT DONALD Trump the politician, Donald Trump the businessman and Donald Trump the person suggests that his primary concern is one Donald Trump.

Stating this isn’t partisan or controversial, it’s a clear-headed analysis of his words and actions. One he may even agree with himself if he reflected in an honest moment.

Indeed, even his presidential doctrine of “America first” gives an indication that his view is to look after oneself above all others.

The midterm election period must therefore be a curious time for the US president.

A time when he is not seeking election himself, but when his Republican colleagues know that his words – as much as their own – could determine their chances.

It means that Trump perhaps has an obligation to think of them before himself and in the best interests of his party. But is this something he can do?

For the past number of weeks and in the days left until Tuesday’s midterms, Trump has been and will be on the campaign trail.

In the six days up until election day he will visit a total of eight states, holding the type of rallies with which we have become familiar.

Election 2018 Trump Trump at a campaign rally in Missouri. Charlie Riedel / PA Images Charlie Riedel / PA Images / PA Images

He’s been doing it for months now, delivering a greatest hits of his stump speeches with crowds cheering his name and the slogans he got elected with.

“Build that wall” and “lock her up” have all got an airing over the recent weeks.

But while these rallies have ostensibly been about building momentum for Republicans, the content of his speeches, his tweets and other public utterances suggest they are not his primary concern.

Even at the rallies in question, it is Trump’s name that is front-and-centre. Not those running, whether it be Ted Cruz in Texas or Martha McSally in Arizona.

UPI 20181022 Trump's name and not Cruz's is prominent at a pre-election rally in Texas. PA Images PA Images

Trump built his presidential run on his hardline immigration stance and, as another election approaches, he’s doing it again.

His racist claim linking Mexican immigrants to rape was the moment which brought him to the fore of the Republican primary, a position he never let go before ultimately winning the nomination.

Now Trump has found a new way to appeal to the same voters that brought him the 2016 election. The caravan of migrants moving through Guatemala and Mexico towards the United States has allowed him to again push the fear button and play to his core supporters.

His baseless claim that the caravan contains “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” allowed him to portray the issue as a security one and not a humanitarian one, ultimately seeing him sending troops to the border.

The rhetoric has worried moderate Republicans who are facing a difficult battle to win and hold seats in Senate and House races. This is partly because national issues like immigration don’t always translate to local votes, where issues like family healthcare do.

But in typical fashion, Trump has doubled- and trebled-down on his anti-immigration pitch. He says he plans to end birthright citizenship for persons born in the US, something which is enshrined in the Constitution.

When Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan gently repeated this fact, he earned a full-throated Twitter rebuke from Trump.

Hardly the picture of party unity a week out from the midterms.

PastedImage-75097 Twitter Twitter

Should he care?

Whether Trump truly cares about helping his Republican colleagues or not, a separate question is to what extent he should. It concerns what effect a loss of the House or the Senate would mean for his presidency or his chances of re-election.

Firstly, what must be pointed out is that a president’s party losing control of congress during their term is a regular occurence.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, Republicans made huge gains in the midterm elections in 2010, winning back control of the House from the Democrats and tightening the gap in the Senate.

During George W Bush’s second term, the Democrats flipped control of the House of Representatives in 2006. Twelve years before that, Republicans performed the same trick and won the House while Bill Clinton was president.

The upshot of this is that if the Republicans were to lose the House while Trump is in office, it follows a pattern of each of the last three presidencies.

It would make Trump a continuation of the trend, rather than an exception, but would it matter?

The Democrats losing control of Congress during Obama’s first term certainly hamstrung his presidency, but by then he had introduced The Affordable Healthcare Act and passed the stimulus package which jump-started the US economy out of recession.

The question for Trump and Republicans is whether they feel they have used their numerical advantage well enough until now should they lose Congress on Tuesday.

And of course, the elephant in the room for Trump is how a change in the numbers could affect any future impeachment proceedings. Something which would require a majority in the House and two-thirds majority in the Senate to pass.

But while talk of impeachment may be speculative and would also require serious findings against Trump first, the more immediate problem would be how defeat would look.

For a president who puts so much stock in “winning”, and who promised his supporters as much only last month, defeat would certainly matter.

Not only would it dent his own personal brand of winning at all costs, but it would also lead to questions as to whether Trumpism is the way forward for his party.

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