Esteemed Associates, I want to open this post by stressing the importance of a principle that the average American does not comprehend, but that I want all of you to comprehend from having been in my American Government classes: elections for Congress are every bit as important as those for the presidency, and in the context of elections for Congress, political parties matter a great deal, because the most decisive factor determining what legislation gets passed in Congress is not the personalities of the individuals, or even their policy preferences, but rather, which party holds the majority in each chamber. And with that in mind, here’s another important point: the state legislatures have a lot of control over the drawing of the congressional districts. For that reason, elections to the state legislature are on that same level of importance, and political parties matter there too. One of the learning objectives of my Government classes is that, if students have ever before thought that congressional and state legislative elections were of inferior importance to presidential elections, students won’t think that from now on.
With that in mind, the Democrats are hoping that Trump’s low approval rating will translate into a chance for them to win back not only the Senate, but the House, the latter having been a lost cause in the most recent elections. The Democrats are hopeful even for districts that have seemed securely Republican up until now. And the new round of congressional elections has already begun, because Trump created two vacancies in the House by appointing House members to positions in his administration: Mike Pompeo of Kansas, now the CIA director, and Tom Price of Georgia, the new Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The Kansas election has just taken place. The Republican candidate won, but by a considerably closer margin than would have been expected before (Politico story, New York Times story, both dated April 11, 2017). The election for the Georgia seat is still ahead (story at thehill.com, April 10, 2017).
It’s usual for the president’s party to lose some number of seats in the midterm congressional elections (which in this instance are coming up in 2018); how dramatic the shift will be remains to be seen, but both parties are looking to these off-season special elections as a bellwether for how their prospects look. As things stand now, the Republicans are still holding their ground, but not easily (further story from thehill, also April 10, and please also see the headlines on the constantly updated news feeds linked to this OpenLab site).
Wherever your own political allegiances lie, whichever party you want to be in the majority, please be aware that which party has the majority in Congress is at least as crucial to policymaking as which individual inhabits the White House. Congressional elections are important, and in those elections, political parties are important.