AMERICA’S BIG CHOICES

AMERICA’S BIG CHOICES

Yesterday, Americans turned out in droves to vote in midterm elections, returning control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats for the first time since 2010 and leaving Republicans with a narrow majority in the Senate. The vote was widely seen as a referendum on President Trump’s first two years in office.


Well, the verdict is in. Democrats have picked up at least 26 seats in the House – more than the 23 needed to take back a majority there. The Republicans won at least 2 seats in the Senate, which they will continue to control, but the loss of the lower house is a major setback. As Republicans retreat to lick their wounds and Democrats prepare to use their restored House majority to check the president’s agenda, here are the three big questions they now face.

Run to the center, or cultivate the fringe? With the midterms in the bag, both parties will now start to position for 2020. In doing so, Democrats must choose between striving to pick up disaffected moderates or embracing the activist wing of the party. While the activists may have energized turnout this week, it was suburban moderates who helped to expand the map for Democrats. In 2016, Trump won independent voters by four points. Last night, independents broke for Democrats by a margin of 13 percentage points. The choice of which group to cultivate in 2020 is a fundamental question about the Democratic Party’s future.

Republicans in Congress face a similar dilemma: facing an electoral setback, do they double down on Trump’s America First agenda and divisive brand of identify politics? Or are major setbacks in purple states viewed as an inducement to try to win back the middle?  It may depend on whether the election ends up being perceived as a referendum on Trump’s governing style or on the specific policies backed by Republicans in Congress. The question of who controls the post-election narrative, the White House or Capitol Hill, will also be important in determining how the results are interpreted.

Who is our standard bearer? Democrats have until the beginning of the next Congress in January to agree on their party’s nominee for speaker of the House, and numerous candidates are already jockeying to position for presidential bids in 2020. The Democrats’ debate over speaker will be an early indicator of whether the party will go down an establishment or more activist path.

The Republican leadership, for its part, now faces the crucial decision of whether to hew more closely to Mr. Trump or to try to extricate the party from its president. Moderates may now see good reason to resist the president’s more controversial pronouncements and policies — having achieved the objectives of passing a major tax cut and appointing two Supreme Court justices. But other Republicans will have won re-election by embracing the president, and they may elect to follow his lead instead. We will soon find out whether an establishment Republican is willing to pose either a primary or third-party challenge to President Trump in 2020.

What about Trump? If the question for Republicans is whether to run from Trump, for Democrats, it’s how aggressively to pursue him. As fellow Signalista Alex Kliment noted yesterday, the House’s return to Democratic control gives them broad subpoena and investigatory authority, and it’s likely to result in a slew of investigations into Trump and his family. The results of the Mueller investigation will only add fuel to that fire, depending on what the special counsel finds.

This all means that once the new Congress is sworn in, Democrats will have a wide array of political levers to pull to go after the president. In the extreme, Democrats could even push for impeachment – although the high bar for conviction by the Republican-controlled Senate virtually assures that any attempt to oust the president from office would fail. But that strategy isn’t risk-free: push too far and it could re-activate the Trump voters who stayed home during the midterms when it comes time to vote again in 2020.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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