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MIDTERM MUSINGS WHAT DO THE RESULTS OF THE 2018 ELECTIONS MEAN FOR TRUMP, FOR AMERICA, AND FOR ISRAEL?

By: Machla Abramovitz



As disappointed as Trump supporters feel after the November 6thmidterm elections, they can take comfort in the realization that the outcome could have been far worse. Had Republicans lost the Senate, there is little question that the Democrats would have brought articles of impeachment against Trump and convicted him, regardless of whether or not his actions actually warranted impeachment. Such a move would have removed from office the most pro-Israel and Philo-Semitic president in US history.

Thus, while Democrats – for good reason – celebrate the election’s results, still, this wasn’t even close to the “blue wave” many of them anticipated, despite the Democratic Party’s massive fundraising advantage in the House. In all, the Democrats gained around 33 seats in the House, seven governorships and over 330 State legislators, including the New York State Senate, giving them complete control of New York State government. Regardless, Democratic gains are significant, though not unusual. Historically, the out-party gains seats in the midterms, and these results fell well within normal range. Despite the Republicans’ vulnerability – they defended 41 seats with no incumbent on the ballot – their losses might have been more devastating.

Republicans were less vulnerable in the Senate, which gives greater voice to rural voters who comprise a large part of the Republican’s base. Also, Democrats defended only ten seats in states that Donald Trump won handily in 2016; incumbents always have an advantage over newcomers. At the time of writing this article, the Republicans gained two seats in the Senate for 2019, as the GOP will have a 53-47 edge, provided they can also win a special runoff election for Senate in Mississippi. Some analysts credit President Trump’s intervention for maintaining control of the Senate: every riding that he canvassed voted Republican, unlike Obama, whose canvassing efforts didn’t pay off.

A comfortable majority in the House doesn’t guarantee that Democrats will win the presidency in 2020, or even hold Congress. For example, in the 2010 midterms, the Republicans won a significant victory in the House and made some gains in the Senate, but President Barack Obama was reelected in 2012.

Given the booming economy, can President Trump be blamed for losing the House?

“Not necessarily,” says political scientist and Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR) Senior Fellow Harold Waller. “Almost any midterm election leads to a decline in the president’s party’s standing in the Congress,” he explains. “I blame him for the way he’s conducted the presidency. He gave the Democrats a target that they wouldn’t have had with a more conventional president. Some voters were certainly motivated to vote against Trump by their hatred of him, but these voters tend to vote Democrat anyway. President Trump is an asset in some ways and a liability in others. He’s a brilliant, tireless campaigner. His intervention staved off for the Republicans a worse result, losing its Senate majority.”

 

Bracing for “Trench Warfare”

So, where does the Republican agenda go from here?

Analysts feel that this division of powers will result in legislative gridlock. Most House legislative initiatives will die in the Senate, while Republican legislative agendas won’t even see the light of day. The Democrats will also use the power of its Committees to their maximum advantage.

“It’s going to be intense trench warfare between the House and the President for the next two years,” predicts Waller, who coauthored together with Brent Sasley the book, Politics in Israel: Governing a Complex Society.

Democrats are sure to bury Republican investigations into the FBI and Justice Department’s alleged abuse of powers in leaking names to the media. They will also aggressively investigate Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia, his finances, and whether he is profiting from his position. Democrats will issue subpoenas forcing Trump administration officials to testify under oath. How can Trump protect himself from this barrage of attacks?

“I suspect that the White House staff will invoke executive privilege to avoid testifying,” Waller says. “This harassment will probably be used as an issue in the 2020 campaign. The best Trump can do is to hire smart lawyers to stymie the Democrats legally. He may have to go to court. He may also appeal directly to the public to raise sympathy. As to whether he will release the documents pertaining to the Russia probe as a counter measure, I don’t know. The Republicans have been asking him to do so for months, but he hasn’t complied. Presumably, there is counter-pressure from the intelligence community.”

Will Trump Face Impeachment?

As for impeachment, Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House who is likely to now resume this position after the Democrats’ takeover, campaigned on not pursuing this option unless it could be done on a bipartisan basis, which won't happen. However, should she be reelected Speaker, she may not be able to withstand the clamoring within her far-left caucus pushing for radical action against Trump, despitethe fact that, given Republican control the Senate, impeachment efforts would be a waste of time and energy.

“After President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the House on obstruction of justice and perjury charges [in December 1998], the Senate was unable to convict,” Waller reminds us. “It voted 50/50 on the former and 45/55 on the latter. To remove a President from office, the Senate needs 67 votes, a two-thirds majority. I suspect that if they do vote to impeach Trump, it will be a similar outcome unlessthe Democrats present persuasive evidence that he did something that warrants a conviction. Unless President Trump committed fraud while in office – my view is that impeachment is supposed to deal with acts committed while in office, and not on how Trump filed his tax returns before that – the Senate will defeat any impeachment vote.”

Beyond the legislative deadlock, and making life miserable for President Trump and those close to him, Democrats can do little else to impact Trump’s agenda. The President retains control over judicial appointees, who are confirmed by the Senate. Under Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republicans were exceedingly successful in getting conservative judicial nominees confirmed; not just the two Supreme Courtjustices – Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – but also a rafter of Court of Appeal judges and District Court judges. Trump has a better record regarding the number of judges approved in his first term than any of his recent predecessors.

 

What About Israel?

As for foreign policy, the power remains firmly in the hands of the Executive. Whereas both chambers have foreign policy committees, the upper chamber retains more power – albeit limited – in that it confirms the personnel of the Executive branch, which includes State Department ambassadors and officials. The lower chamber’s role is mainly ceremonial: it can invite foreign dignitaries to address the House, such as when the Republican-controlledHouse invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the Iran deal, in 2015. On the other hand, budgetary bills allocating monies to foreign countries pass through both houses and are signed by the President. Can a Democrat-controlled House impact financial aid to Israel?

“It’s possible,” Waller acknowledges,
though he adds, “I surmise that any attempt to cut aid to Israel probably won't work. A few Democrats defecting won’t matter; all the Republicans and many Democrats favor aid to Israel. Besides, the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is Elliot Engel of New York. He’s solidly for Israel. Some of the new House members may carp about the magnitude of the annual Israel aid package, but I think it should go through. I don’t think in the short run a Democratic House will negatively impact Israel. It’s what happens in the long run that is worrying, given the party’s shift towards the left.”

A shift to the left means a shift away from Israel. Just how far the Democratic Party shifted in that direction became crystal clear to Waller in 2012 during the Democratic Presidential Convention, when the platform committee left out a provision referring to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It was reinstated only in response to clamoring by pro-Israel groups, and even then, not without considerable jeering from the audience. For Waller, this event symbolized the extent to which the convention delegates moved away from a pro-Israel stance, a perception dramatically confirmed when, three weeks beforeleaving office, Obama abstained from Security Resolution 2334 that demanded an immediate halt to Israel’s building of homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with few protests from Democrats.

A recent Pew Research Center poll confirmed the Democratic Party’s tilt away from Israel, indicating that fewer Democrats sympathize with Israel today than over the past few decades. The poll found that in the last two years, support for Israel among Democrats stood at just 27 percent, with 25 percent supportive ofthe Palestinians.

 

Israel Haters in the House

Today, young, far-left candidates who reject any of Israel’s defensive measures against Palestinian aggression, or even its very right to exist, are welcomed into the party. Some ran as House and Senatorial candidates, such as Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District’s Leslie Cockburn, Pennsylvania District I candidate Scott Wallace, and California 50thDistrict’s Ammar Campa-Naijar, all of whom were defeated. Cockburn coauthored a book entitled, Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the US – Israeli Covert Relationshipthat promulgated the anti-Semitic trope that Israel controls America’s foreign policy. Wallace was criticized for financially supporting
anti-Israel groups, and Campa-Naijar called his grandfather, one of the terrorists responsible for the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich, a “legend,” and receives financial support from CAIR, an Islamist organization funded by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Other Israel-hating candidates were in fact elected. Ilhan Omar, now representing Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, calls Israel an “apartheid state,” supports BDS (the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement), and believes that Israel conspires to prevent international criticism of its actions. During the last
Israel-Gaza war, she outrageously tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them to see the evil of Israel.”

Then there is Palestinian-American socialist and BDS activist Rashida Tlaib,who ran unopposed in Michigan’s 13thCongressional District and recently spoke at an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rally in Detroit. She is a close associate of Dawud Walid, a local CAIR director, who stated in a sermon, “Who are those who provoked the wrath of Allah? It’s the Jews; it’s the Jews!” At her victory celebration, Tlaib delivered her acceptance speech with a Palestinian flag close at hand.

“The election of these two women represents a worrying trend,” says political scientist Julian Bauer from the Univerite de Montreal au Quebec. “They may be exceptions; still, I worry that their vile anti-Israel and anti-Semitic opinions become mainstreamed and made palatable.”

Another troubling example is Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, newly elected Congresswoman for New York’s 14th District, who revealed an appalling ignorance of the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during an interview on PBS’s The Firing Line. When pressed to explain her harsh criticism of Israeli polices, Ocasio-Cortez was unable to substantiate her claims. And this past spring, she characterized the IDF’s killing of over 60 Palestinians attempting to storm the Gaza-Israel border as “a massacre.” During a recent interview with the left-wing news program Democracy Now, she refused to confirm that she favors a two-state solution.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a potential 2020 Presidential candidate, is also significantly reshaping the Democratic Party’ attitudes towards Israel. Gillibrand actively supports Women’s March leaders such as Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour who are proudly anti-Zionist, if not outrightly anti-Semitic. Mouthing intersectional terminology, Sarsour recently proclaimed Zionism and feminism incompatible. Gillibrand also justifies her relationship with
anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan who compared Jews to termites and recently chanted “Death to America” while in Iran. “It’s a shonda[travesty] that a state such as New York elected Kirsten Gillibrand as Senator when she is drifting away from any support for Israel,” Waller says.

He similarly questions the commitment of old-school Democrats holding high profile positions in the Party, such as Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein, Jerry Nadler, and Adam Schiff, among others, wondering, “Will any of them stand up for Israel the way [U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations] Nikki Haley stood up for Israel? I doubt it.”

Despite this shift away from Israel, most US Jews continue to vote Democratic. Waller explains, “Liberal US Jews loathe Trump and remain committed to the domestic agenda of the Democrats. Many don’t fully appreciate the extent to which the Democratic Party moved away from the pro-Israel cause.”

Bauer, however, isn’t as concerned. He believes that should the Party continue tilting to the left and conferring power on these radicals, they will assuredly lose the next election. “Most Americans are centrists, and don’t relate to their far-left progressive agenda.”

Waller disagrees. Significant developments in Florida, a critical swing state, might shiftthe balance in 2020. The state recently passed a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to convicted felons (except for those convicted of violent crimes) who have served their sentence and probation time. This amendment enfranchises over a million-and-a-half people. Whether they all register and show up to vote, remains to be seen. Still, Democrats are sure to sign them up and drive them to the polls. Consequently, Waller says, it’ll be almost impossible for a Republican to win a statewide race in Florida unless the Republican Party is revitalized.

“The Republicans must broaden their appeal and attract African American and Hispanic voters to the Party,” he warns. “There are possibilities. African Americans are thriving economically under Trump. Republicans must abandon their image as a lily-white party of the rural areas and embrace the diversity of the US. The racial composition of the US has changed dramatically. It’s going to continue changing because the immigrants who are coming in are not European. Whether Trump and the Republican Party are open to that remains to be seen.”

Not doing so might lead to a Democratic victory in 2020, that would very likely have a significant, negative impact on US-Israel relations.