Saturday Politics: Pre-Election Anxiety

Nov 3, 2018
Originally published on November 3, 2018 10:46 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Americans head to the polls Tuesday, but more than 30 million people have voted already. President Trump's name isn't on a single ballot, but he still managed to make himself the preeminent issue for many voters who will decide control of the House and Senate. NPR's Ron Elving, senior editor and correspondent on the Washington Desk, joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: First, my friend, a bit of pre-analysis - what does the fact that 30 million early votes already been cast mean?

ELVING: You know, in a typical midterm, voter turnout drops by roughly one-third from the most recent presidential election. And this year, though, turnout may be much closer to a presidential level. And in part, as you say, that's about the president - not on the ballot anywhere but on voters' minds everywhere - not least because he has insisted on it. And it's hard to imagine this president having it any other way.

SIMON: President Trump's been campaigning very hard ahead of these elections. And despite having good - even great - economic numbers, he's been sounding a trumpet about immigration.

ELVING: It's worth noting that given all that good news about the economy, the president has chosen to fixate on the border issues and a caravan from Honduras that he and his media allies call an invasion. He has sent several times as many troops to the border as there are people in the caravan. And that's even counting all the children and the elderly. And this week, he announced he would personally end birthright citizenship, which is in the Constitution. And he said he would do it by his own executive order.

SIMON: Ron, what do you believe are some of the effects of putting this anti-immigrant drumbeat into American politics?

ELVING: It seems to be raising the heat on what was already a pretty feverish enthusiasm among the most passionate people in both parties. And when I say both parties, I mean, the pro-Trump and anti-Trump parties - calling them that because the current conflicts blur the old lines between traditional Republicans and Democrats. Our political landscape has been rearranged by this president. And that helped him in 2016. We shall see if it helps him next week.

SIMON: With humility, which parties or party do you think will wind up in control of the House and Senate after Tuesday?

ELVING: A consensus has emerged around the polls and the structural considerations - that is, which seats are on the ballot in what parts of the country - and it says Republicans will keep control of the Senate, perhaps picking up a seat or two more than they lose. But the Democrats will get the two dozen seats they need as a net gain to retake the majority in the House for the first time in eight years. Now, they could get more, a few more or perhaps a dozen more. And they could fall short. After all, we're talking about 435 separate elections around the country. But the expectation now is that they will get the two dozen they need.

SIMON: I have heard politicians of both parties say that this is the most important election of our times. And without trying to discourage anybody from exercising their democratic duty to cast a vote, I'd like you to take a bit of a long view on this election because you've seen and reported on a number of the most important elections of our time.

ELVING: We won't count the numbers, Scott. But if the Democrats don't gain control of the House, it will be seen as a tremendous validation to the president and encourage him to push harder than ever on his agenda. So we are told that everything is riding on this one midterm vote. And it is important, maybe the most important in decades. And everyone should, vote. And everyone should work hard to support their candidates. But there will be a morning after. There will be consequences that are neither foreseen nor intended. There always are. And sometimes, an incumbent president is better off running for re-election if his party does not control Congress. So there are lots of unknowns now. And there will be much to revisit after the voting is done.

SIMON: That certainly happened with President Clinton and President Obama, didn't it?

ELVING: Four of the last five presidents who have been re-elected were re-elected when the House was controlled by the other party.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.