US Midterm Elections and Their International Consequences

On November 6, 2018, the midterm elections to the US Congress will be held in the United States. The Republicans are expected to lose majority in the House of Representatives. How can the results of these elections affect the US foreign policy, Russian-American relations and political situation in the United States?

Both the election campaign and election results obviously confirm a continuing tendency towards split and, to some extent, radicalization of the positions in the American political life. The struggle between Republicans and Democrats now concerns almost the entire spectrum of values and substantive issues. 

Democrats are extremely mobilized for this election, among the candidates there is an unprecedented number of women and a new generation of American veterans who have military experience in the conflicts of the 2000s

The trend towards polarization of the American politics will only intensify and the midterm congressional election is a step towards a decisive battle for presidency in two years. It is only a rehearsal. But since the Democrats are likely to prevail in the struggle for the lower house, Donald Trump will find himself in the same position as Obama two years after his election, when the Republicans got the majority first in the House, and later in the Senate. Therefore, the policy towards paralyzing the presidential administration will continue. Democrats, if they are lucky and will be the winners in the struggle not only for the lower house, but also for the upper one, will try to initiate the impeachment procedure. Even if it does not end in their success, the process of constant pressure on the president and new charges against him should logically lead to the next presidential election.

From the point of view of the internal political life in the United States, the demand for ideas of social justice becomes obvious. There is a tendency to the “left-winging” of American politics, which was not traced four years ago. During the new political period senator Bernie Sanders and his entourage will probably be even more in demand and will be able to make a significant competition to the Democratic mainstream. 

It is possible that it is Sanders or one of his supporters who will be nominated for the presidential election from the Democratic Party

Another prominent feature of the American political life is its increasing “self-absorption” in domestic problems. Even the largest international initiatives of Washington are primarily consequences of the internal political struggle. There is a kind of overspill of the American domestic affairs on international relations. The clearest manifestation of this is the Russian-American relations, which are affected by the “witch hunt” – the search for Trump’s collusion with the Russian authorities. In the near future, the results of the Mueller Commission investigation should, in theory, set the record straight.

No major breakthroughs can be expected in the US-Russian relations after the midterm elections. 

Democrats have now turned into an anti-Russian party, which never happened before, and the Republicans are already sharply hostile towards this country

Changing some persons in the upper or lower house of Congress will not change the existing consensus. At the same time, it is necessary to raise the question that Russia should work more substantively with the US Congress and finally open its representative office in Washington, which would lobby for its interests. It means that Russia should promote important points in public and foreign policy discussions, and participate in the formation of a narrative which develops in America in relation to this country.

After the election, Congress will continue the sanctions policy. Sanctions are in their own way a new normal for Russian-American relations, and they are only intensifying. The frontline of pressure against Russia with the help of socio-economic levers has been already tested and will continue to be used. 

Russian Ball and Chinese Brick: Why Russia Is Perfect Target for Western Sanctions
On September 17, 2018, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion on the prospects for US trade and sanctions wars, presenting the Valdai Paper, titled “Global Trade War? Contradictions of US Trade Policy in the Trump Era.” The author of the paper, Alan W. Cafruny, Professor of International Affairs on the faculty of Government, Hamilton College, took part in the discussion via video link.
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© Valdai Discussion Club

However, the United States’ tactical concessions to individual Russian corporations, which meet the US demands, and restructuring the ownership of the holdings, create an impression that the economic strangulation of Russia is not the target of America. At the same time, it creates a strong unfavorable background in bilateral relations and in fact makes Russia hostage to any speculation and provocation that comes from the West. In this regard, Russia becomes a victim of sanctions pressure. This forces the Russian authorities and big business to work out ways to remove important assets and interests from the influence of the West.

Anti-Russia Sanctions: A Fall Lull?
After the high-profile events of August, an unusual lull befell the battlefields of the sanctions war. The sanctions have ceased for the time being to be a direct cause of volatility in the stock market and foreign exchange markets. Investors are now waiting for November when the Americans are to declare more sanctions over the chemical incidents (Syria and Skripal), citing the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991.

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It is noteworthy that in the context of the election campaign in the United States the topic of the trade war with China was put on the background. Before the midterm elections a consensus was found with Canada and Mexico on a new trade regime on the continent. Even the topic of the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty did not become a major phenomenon in the pre-election debates. 

Deployment of Medium and Short Range Missiles in Europe
The US intention to withdraw from the  INF Treaty throws the Russian-American relations back to 1979, when the deployment of medium range missiles began in Europe.
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On the contrary, sharp domestic policy issues such as migration, gun ownership, taxes, and social security reforms came to the fore. The controversies intensity is so acute that some observers do not even rule out explosive growth of political violence.

Regardless of the results of the midterms, the current political crisis in the United States will continue at least until the 2020 presidential election. However, the opposite thing may happen – the crisis will become a permanent feature of the American politics.


Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.