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What Trump's triumph in mid-term poll means

By Macharia Munene | November 12th 2018
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial as part of the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of World War One yesterday. [Reuters]

Congressional mid-term elections in the US are like mid-term college examinations for a sitting president where the voters are the examiners and his political party the subject. If the results show the party gained seats in the House or Senate, then the President is doing well. If it loses seats, it is a warning the party and the President need to wake up. If the results are mixed, and depending on pre-election predictions, the President can claim credit and start fixing the exposed loopholes in readiness for the final exam two years later.

The mid-term elections can have far-reaching outcomes in terms of policy projection, particularly on the president’s foreign policy. In 1918, with Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the White House, voters endorsed the Republicans who then frustrated Wilson’s peace-making effort at Versailles. The new Senate ensured the US did not join the League of Nations, thus spiting adamant Wilson.

The Republicans once again captured Congress in the 1946 mid-term election. They amended the constitution against a dead man, Franklin Delano Roosevelt or FDR, by imposing a two-term presidential limit.

The new president, Harry S Truman, having learned from Wilson’s mistakes, outsmarted the incoming Senate by seeking advice from Senate leadership before making policy statements. The leaders then felt good endorsing tenets of Truman’s foreign policy. Republican Donald Trump has just received his mid-term results and they are not as bad as those of Wilson or Truman. He has Wilson’s adamant attitude and Truman’s political cunningness.

There had been expectations the Republicans would lose big. Trump campaigned hard and the voters gave him a split Congress, Democrats in the House of Representatives and Republicans in the Senate. In the House, Nancy Pelosi regained her position as Speaker with ability to check many Trump policies. Former Somali refugee in Kenya’s Dadaab camp, Ihan Omar, won in Minnesota to give Trump immigration policies a hard time. In the Senate, however, Trump is assured of solid support. The conflicting positions that each House takes might lead to Congressional gridlocks. If it happens, it will be just as the framers of the US constitution in 1787 intended, gridlocks unless it is absolutely necessary. It also serves Trump’s interests of unilateralist behaviour.

There is no danger in removing Trump from office in one of the two possible ways; invoking the 25th Amendment due to perceived incapacity or through impeachment. Although there had been media rumours that it be possible to dislodge him through the former, no cabinet secretary or any other official would be foolish enough to be caught contemplating such a move. They may vent establishment disappointments in silence but they will not engage in coup plots.

Those Democrats who imagined removing Trump through impeachment need to go back to the political drawing board. It will not happen for although they might impeach, there will be no conviction in the Senate. Besides, the Senate was designed to do two things; to protect state interests and to sober up hot-blooded youth in the House. The Senate, therefore, is likely to frustrate the “House” on Capitol Hill more than the “White House” down 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Jamal Khashoggi

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Trump looks good in the aftermath of the mid-term which has boosted his 2020 chances. Since he retained the critical house in terms of foreign policy, the Senate, the danger of frustration in that area is minimal. The win might even help Trump to downplay simmering friction with Saudi royalty. Trump, assisted by Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, believes the US should not jeopardise its national interests by picking fights over the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He is interested in oil and selling weapons to the Saudis.

For countries that had found respectable ways of dealing with Trump’s Washington, it will be business as usual but at an enhanced level. China and Russia will continue to be bemused.

For Kenya, with KQ flying daily to New York, Kenya’s ambassador to the US, Robinson Njeru Githae, hopes the airline will spread wings to Dallas, Washington, and Los Angeles, if only Kenya Civil Aviation Authority could work out the details with the US Federal Aviation Authority. South Korea’s Moon will redouble his efforts as the “middleman” between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jung Un to ensure the two meet again. The others will simply have to adjust to the reality that Trump and his calculated political erraticism may be around for another six years.

Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU

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