Jauntiness in the face of adversity is a basic trait in all politicians. The slings and arrows of fortune might leave them mortally wounded, innards spilling onto the floor, but the instinct is always to insist that it’s just a flesh wound.
Perhaps we should instead call this characteristic by what it really is — delusionary. So let’s be a little sceptical of President Donald Trump’s assertion that this week’s midterm elections were “a tremendous victory”. Tightening one’s hold on the Senate but losing control of the House of Representatives and shedding governorships in key states, is at best a draw.
Democrats talking of their “historic victory” is similar hyperbole. Winning back not quite half as many House seats as were lost in Barack Obama’s 2010 midterm elections, after all the optimism and media hype, is a psychological blow.
At best, as Obama’s soberly put it, “it’s a start”. It’s certainly not the “new day” for America that minority House leader Nancy Pelosi claims.
That the Democrats were gung-ho beforehand is not surprising. Midterms are traditionally an opportunity for voters to give the incumbent a chastening wake-up call. In 2010, Obama presided over the loss of 60 seats, then went on to win a second term.
Trump is a racist and a misogynist. Many within a Republican establishment that is dominated by old, white men, are anti-gay, anti-Muslim and anti-semitic. That’s a lot of voting blocs to scratch from your card before the race even starts.
Then there are the demographics. The Republican base is less affluent, rural or urban blue-collar voters — yesterday’s America. The Democratic base is more affluent, well educated, and suburban — tomorrow’s America.
This would be a referendum on Trump, the electorate was constantly reminded. All the Democrats needed to do was marshall a coalition of those naturally antipathetic towards Trump by virtue of their race, religion, gender, youth, or sexual preference, and get them to the polling booths.
Also, outspend the Republicans substantially. And rely on a mainstream media and an influential entertainment industry, both of which are unabashedly, stridently and virtually uniformly anti-Trump.
The results would be a “blue wave” tsunami, the Democrats thought. As we now know, it wasn’t, despite a record midterm turnout of 113m voters, almost half the electorate.
The post-mortem into the mediocre Democrat performance undoubtedly will throw up a dozen immediate causes. They should probe deeper, to consider an underlying disease that weakens their body politic.
If the Democrats are going to thwart Trump in 2020, they will have to, to start with, stop thinking that they have a God-given patent on the truth. There is an odious, sneering self-righteousness in the Democratic Party, as well as its many claqueurs in the media, that is ultimately counterproductive to their cause.
It is encapsulated in the rage with which Democrats respond to “their” natural supporters not voting for them. For example, as it was in 2016 when white women “failed” in their supposed duty to vote for the female candidate, now white women are being excoriated as “gender traitors” for not turning out for Democrat candidates in large enough numbers.
At least two Republican gubernatorial wins, as well as Ted Cruz’s Senate win in Texas, were due to the majority support of white women. The Women’s March admonished them: “There’s a lot of work to do, white women,” it said patronisingly.
Such arrogance and condescension from those who describe themselves as the “progressive” movement and talk about “resistance” — as if their opponents had seized power in a military coup — is as inherently anti-democratic as is the rabid intolerance of the alt-right. It will aggravate the fractiousness and divisions that have come to define US politics.
Trump is undoubtedly in for a rough ride over the next two years. There will be a renewed vigour for the probe into Russian meddling in 2016. Hopefully, it will answer the tantalising question of how some low-rent Russkie bots on Facebook and Twitter could achieve more in 2016 for the Republicans than a $5.2bn budget could achieve in 2018 for the Democrats.
Trump will face tax investigations, impeachment moves and having the budgets of pet projects stalled. Paradoxically, it might come as a relief to him when he can shift the blame for failing to build that infamous and unworkable wall along the Mexican border, onto a Democrat indifference to US security.
Trump, however, comes out of the mid-terms marginally stronger. His rallies were well attended and his charisma clearly gave Republican candidates an edge in some key battlegrounds. The GOP waverers, once keen to distance themselves from him, have been forced to hitch their wagons to his.
In contrast, the Democrats have a growing divide between the young radicals who flooded the party after 2016 and an old guard with a considerably more centrist agenda. If this left-wing gains ascendancy, the Democrats may, because of the quirks of a presidential electoral college based not only on numbers but on geography, find its task more difficult in 2020 than it was in 2016.
Let’s imagine that Trump learns something and becomes a little less confrontational and a little more centrist. Let’s imagine he faces a Democrat who has Bernie Saunders’s ideology, Hillary Clinton’s smugness, and ticks all the minority boxes necessary for media adulation.
Hmmm. Much though it pains me to admit, my money would be on Trump.
Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye