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What The Midterm Elections Mean For Trump And The GOP


Here are some realities of the 2018 election results. Republicans held on to power in some key places, like Florida and Ohio, where they keep the governor's chair, not to mention the United States Senate, where they added to their majority. Democrats took over seven governorships from Republicans in key places, like Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan. They won the House of Representatives, which was the one nationwide vote, and Democrats in that vote carried a substantial majority of voters, something like 7 or 8 points. Of course, some votes are still being counted. So what does all this mean? One perspective we're hearing comes from Chris Buskirk. He is publisher of the website American Greatness, which has been supportive of the president. Good morning. Thanks for coming by, Chris.

CHRIS BUSKIRK: Oh, it's my pleasure.

INSKEEP: Good to see you once again. So if you're President Trump - I know the president has been tweeting today that it's a great victory, and they held onto the Senate. You smile slightly. But if you're President Trump, your side loses the popular vote here and loses the House and also loses statewide races in key swing states that Trump won in 2016. What do you make of that?

BUSKIRK: Well, I think the question here is, what's the base-line standard that you're looking at? And the way I was thinking about it last night and this morning, too, was, if you look back at midterm elections for first term - or even second term presidents, for that matter - this is sort of a reversion to the mean. I'm...

INSKEEP: Oh, they stink for the incumbent president. Sure.

BUSKIRK: They always stink. You know, George W. Bush in 2002 did well, but that was an anomaly. It was right after 9/11. But nonetheless, they stink if you're in power. I'm not one of these people who thinks that you win by losing. You don't. A loss is a loss. But on the other side of the balance sheet is the Senate. So Republicans look like they'll probably wind up netting plus three seats in the Senate, which, in that sense, is an outperform, whereas on the House side, that's a loss. And so it's a bit of a mixed bag.

INSKEEP: But I'm wondering what the country is telling President Trump. This is a president who won without winning the popular vote. But he won the electoral vote, of course, by getting victories in key states like Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania. And here, you have Democrats winning the popular vote again in the House and also capturing statewide races in those key states. Do you have to worry if you're the president about where the country is headed?

BUSKIRK: I think so. I think you definitely worry about that. On the other hand, this was not the massive repudiation of the 2016 election that a lot of people were predicting a year ago or so. And so in that sense, you'll think about the - you think about the attacks on the president and some of the, I think, overly optimistic projections that were floating around out there, and you think, OK, we got through our first midterm, and now, yeah, are we worried? Yeah; of course we are because we've got another election in two years. And who are we kidding? The presidential election started, I think, about six hours ago.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

BUSKIRK: You know, so that campaign was - is going to be in full swing here. And you've got to think - you got to say, OK, what do we learn here? One of the things I think the president learned, though, is that his base is very much intact. They turned out in numbers that people didn't think were possible at the beginning of this year.

INSKEEP: I have to say, you think about a state like Texas, where Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat, brought out almost 4 million voters. And if - I'm going by memory here, but I believe Ted Cruz got more than 4 million voters. In all, it was more than 8 million people out there and close to the presidential election rate for a midterm election. That's kind of unbelievable.

BUSKIRK: It was an amazing turnout in Texas. And you saw this in a number of states out there, where just the - like, I live in Arizona. The early vote in Arizona exceeded the 2014 total vote, so - when you compare midterm to midterm. So there was - there - we knew there was going to be a big Democrat turnout this time. Turns out, there was a huge Republican turnout, too. So if, like me, you think that people turning out to vote's a good thing, I guess maybe that's something that is positive.

INSKEEP: How significant is it that Democrats will have subpoena power?

BUSKIRK: It's very significant. I think that the temptation to overreach is going to be extreme. I know that there are probably people thinking, what do you mean, overreach? This is what we voted for; this is the - this is the necessary check on presidential power. A lot of people in the country do not want to see impeachment. And it is going to be very tempting for Democrats to try and pursue that and try and spend the next two years doing nothing but subpoenaing everybody who has seen the president or talked to the president for the past five years.

INSKEEP: Just got off the line with Elijah Cummings. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, which does investigations, and is now expected to be the chairman. And I said, do you already have two years' worth of work lined up? And he said, more than two years.

BUSKIRK: I knew you were going to say that - yeah, probably five years.

INSKEEP: Yeah, and including looking at things like the Emoluments Clause - is the Presidents business within the bounds of the Constitution? Do you think the president is ready for that kind of scrutiny?

BUSKIRK: Well, I think he's put together a team in there that is trying to get him ready. And this is, I think, unprecedented. One of the things that I know I'll - we'll miss is Devin Nunes at the House Intelligence Committee. And I know that he's very polarizing figure, but, you know, look; without him, we would not have known about the politicization of the DOJ or the FBI. It's going to go the other way with Adam Schiff. Adam Schiff is going to...

INSKEEP: Oh, he'll be the head of the intelligence committee.

BUSKIRK: Adam...

INSKEEP: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Right.

BUSKIRK: Correct. And so he will be all over anything that has the name Trump on it.

INSKEEP: Chris Buskirk, always a pleasure talking with you. Thanks so much.

BUSKIRK: Thanks.

INSKEEP: Chris Buskirk is publisher of the website American Greatness.

NPR congressional correspondent - correspondent or reporter, Kelsey?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Reporter (laughter).

INSKEEP: OK. But correspondent sounds grander. We'll call you that. Kelsey Snell is here and has been listening along. What did you hear there?

SNELL: I think that Chris landed on something that I've been hearing from Republicans for months now, which is that this idea that Democrats will have the temptation to overreach is actually a good opportunity for Republicans. I spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month about this, and he basically said, bring it on. If Democrats want to go deep into investigations and want to start having conversations potentially about that other I word, impeachment, that it's actually a really big benefit for Republicans, who can reach out to the base that they think is still there and say, look; this is what we warned you about; these are the Democrats we told you would be coming for all of the things that you like about this president.

INSKEEP: Let's remember a little bit of history. In 1994, Bill Clinton was president. Republicans took both houses of Congress, shut down the government, were widely seen as overreaching. And in the end, Bill Clinton outmaneuvered them and was re-elected in a landslide.

SNELL: That's precisely what McConnell pointed out as well.

INSKEEP: OK. Kelsey, thanks so much, really appreciate it.

SNELL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.