In my coterie of election-watching U.S. expats, there are admittedly zero Trump acolytes and only one or two who will own up to a smidgen of sympathy with his hot-button positions, for example, against immigration and abortion.
But among this rather uniform group, reaction bubbling up after Tuesday ranged from depression (“How did we get so many extremists in our country?”) to near elation (“We finally put a two-body system back in place” and “Sending 100 women to Congress is a sea change”).
I suspect the depression was based on the hope that Trump’s election was a fluke and that now, in 2018, he would be put in his place. But the Democrats’ failure to dominate the Senate Tuesday and their loss of some high-profile races—Beto O’Rourke in Texas, who advocated for Dreamers and says the border “is not a threat…[but] an opportunity whether you measure it in trade or jobs or economic growth,” stood out as a tear jerker — signified to this bummed-out group that the election results were not a rebuke of the president and, therefore, gloom was in order.
Still, my own perhaps Pollyannish reaction, which landed me firmly in the happy camp, was due to two striking results early in the night. One was the long overdue slapdown of a Florida law, in place since the end of slavery when whites saw with a shock that blacks made up 60 percent of the state’s registered voters. This law had forbidden voting by people once convicted of a felony, including walking through a posted construction site and launching helium balloons.
The other result Tuesday, just as marvelous, was the early defeat of Kris Kobach for governor of Kansas. Trump had come to Kansas to campaign for Kobach, his choice for the now-disbanded “voting fraud commission,” and the two guys joined forces denouncing an upcoming “invasion” by the ragged band of refugees that is struggling north across Mexico. But what really got my attention about Kobach was that he rides around in a Jeep with a machine gun mounted on back, marking him as one of those “many extremists in our country” who so depress my friends.
Immigration is the second biggest issue among Americans. And the general, post-election sense among many U.S. expats here seems to be that Trump’s anti-immigrant crusade benefitted those Republicans who jumped on his anti-caravan caravan.
“Trump whipped up a frenzy about immigration,” one local American lamented. “It helped Ted Cruz when Trump embraced him.”
Bolstering that view, Trump himself has been pointing the finger at some Republicans who, he claims, lost because they spurned his embrace and refused to host one of the pre-election pep rallies he held around the country, in which he focused on the refugee caravan.
But in truth, the answer to whether Trump’s emphasis on the caravan worked is unclear. After all, there was Kobach’s loss to Democrat Laura Kelly, despite a huge bear hug from Trump.
Perhaps Kobach lost simply because the sight of him parading his machine gun (which, incidentally, is a replica) pricked Kansas consciences. “God help them [illegal immigrants],” one Kansan reportedly said, agog at the spectacle.
Or perhaps he lost because Governor-elect Kelly pragmatically explained that she was not on board the caravan scare and that, although she favors secure borders, she believes a comprehensive immigration policy is the way to get them—and, in any case, the Kansas meatpacking industry needs immigrants.
Similarly (and also in Kansas), Trump’s anti-immigrant policies not only didn’t help, but in fact killed the re-election attempt of Republican Kevin Yoder, who chaired the House subcommittee on Homeland Security and lost because of voters’ anger that he didn’t fight the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In addition to Kobach’s and Yoder’s defeats, exit polls also undercut the notion that “Trump love” was a boon to Republicans. Overall voter turnout clearly set records across the United States this year. Yet preliminary CBS surveys Wednesday showed that only 25 percent of those voting voted in order to support Trump, while a much larger group—40 percent—said they voted in order to oppose him. And ABC polls found that just 44 percent of voters approved of Trump’s job performance, while 55 percent disapproved.
In line with these suggestions that antipathy toward Trump was high, pundits at Time attribute the GOP gains in this election to a “favorable election map for Republicans” rather than any flowering of voter approval for the president. Indeed, the New York Times chimed in, Republicans lost the House because centrist voters, who in 2016 found Trump “a barely palatable alternative to Hillary Clinton, were unwilling to give him enduring political loyalty.”
Other exit polls show that almost half of U.S. voters (48 percent) believe that Trump’s immigration policies are too tough.
All of which suggest that, contrary to the president’s gleeful Wednesday tweet claiming “tremendous success” and contrary to reports that his anti-immigrant rallies brought new believers into his fold, soaring voter turnout and the Republican loss of the House reflect an intense backlash against Trump and may well cause us to doubt that his stance as a savior against the immigrant “invasion” worked in swaying voters to his camp.