Originally published by The Hill, November 12, 2018.
Modern national elections often are pretty predictable. Politicians posture and rain invective upon each other. Network news talking heads chitter incessantly, declaring that if such-and-such comes to pass, the worst will come about. Campaign ads fill our computer and television screens, and telephone requests for donations interrupt our lives. Every election, routine or not, is framed as a life-or-death scenario.
So what actually happened this past election day (besides far too many selfies with “I Voted” stickers)?
Pretty much what any political scientist or diligent pollster would have told you to expect: A first-term president’s party lost seats in the House of Representatives. That’s standard.
The minority party claimed a mandate, and the majority opposed the characterization—as expected.
Despite the pre-election hubbub over judicial nominees, the distasteful tweets and dire prognostications, the 2018 midterms were pretty standard fare.
The really important question, for any lover of liberty, is what the election results will mean for individual rights, separation of powers and the rule of law. And from that perspective, there is a lot to be happy about.
The most important takeaway is that, for at least the next two years, we will have a divided federal government, with the executive branch and Senate controlled by the Republicans and the House controlled by the Democrats.
You may protest, “But, doesn’t this mean the government will be deadlocked and probably won’t be able to accomplish anything?” It sure does.
For everyone except diehard partisans, this should be good news. Given the unconstitutional size and scope of the federal government, the best result we could hope from any national election is gridlock. For the next two years, neither party, increasingly driven to polarized extremes, will be likely to produce major legislation.
House Democrats will be unable to turn the country into a full-blown socialist utopia, though the specter of increased investigation of the president looms. Meanwhile, the GOP Senate is unlikely to move the ball on its own Make America Great Again agenda.
While status quo is not always the ideal, at least it means no further damage to our individual rights or system of government, at least from the legislative branch.
The election results also should temper some of the more controversial elements of President Trump’s agenda, even if the outcome was not the “blue wave” Democrats hoped for. And who doesn’t appreciate a modern executive branch that operates far beyond its proper constitutional boundaries suffering a democratically-enacted setback?
The next best news came from the election results for the Senate. While Republican senators will be unable to take legislative actions with Democratic House approval, they can continue confirming federal judges and justices committed to restoring the separation of powers and (for the most part) protecting individual rights.
So far, President Trump has nominated and confirmed two solid Supreme Court justices and a record number of federal appellate and district court judges. While it is too soon to tell, this remaking of the federal judiciary in an originalist cast may wind up being the most impactful part of the president’s legacy, and will continue for at least the next two years under GOP Senate control.
Finally, some other notable electoral victories might give liberty-lovers cause to celebrate. Republican Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, two of the most pro-liberty federal legislators, won reelection. Libertarian Party candidates across the country saw increased success at the ballot box, including in New York, Wyoming and Washington, D.C. The first Muslim women were elected to Congress, as was the first Native American woman. Also noteworthy was the election of the first female senator from Tennessee, and in Colorado, the election of the first openly gay governor in American history.
While neither major party, strictly speaking, can be said to have “won” the 2018 election, neither is either party really concerned with the most pressing issues facing the American republic: The out-of-control unconstitutional regulatory state, the degradation of the separation of powers between the federal branches of the government, and the routine violation of individual civil liberties.
But at least for the time being, those things can’t get much worse. And unless and until they do, we should celebrate the good news coming out of the 2018 midterms.
Timothy Snowball is an attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, which litigates nationwide to achieve court victories enforcing the Constitution’s guarantee of individual liberty.