The American midterm elections attracted intense interest in Europe, where much of the political and media establishment are hostile to U.S. President Donald J. Trump, and many had openly hoped that the vote on November 6 would weaken him and his legislative agenda.
Newspapers and magazines across Europe provided saturation coverage of the elections. The overwhelming majority of commentaries and editorials, while customarily vitriolic in tone, grudgingly acknowledged that the midterm results did not amount to the total repudiation of the Trump Administration and may even help the president’s chances for reelection in November 2020.
In terms of transatlantic relations, many observers raised fears that if the Democrats, who won control of the House of Representatives, succeed in thwarting Trump’s domestic initiatives, the president may place more focus on foreign policy and increase pressure on free-riding European allies to spend more for their own defense.
What follows is a brief summary of some of the European media coverage of this year’s U.S. midterm elections.
In Britain, the BBC, in an article entitled, “Midterm Election Results: What it all Means for Trump,” wrote:
“Even handing over power to Democrats in the House of Representatives may have a bit of a silver lining for the president. Now he’ll have someone to blame if the economy takes a turn for the worse (and, given business cycle realities, it might). He’s got a ready-made explanation for why he can’t get anything done in the next two years — and a pitch for what needs to change in the next election.
“Day in and day out, he’ll have a set of clear political opponents to contrast himself with.
“Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama lost control of the House in their first term in office and went on to win re-election.”
The left-leaning Guardian, in an article, “Don’t be Fooled. The Midterms Were Not a Bad Night for Trump,” agreed:
“While there was a Democratic ‘blue wave,’ it was modest, in line with usual midterm shifts, particularly when one party is in charge of all the branches of government. Trump will celebrate this as a victory, which is not without merit.
Another Guardian article, “Democratic Presidential Frontrunner for 2020 Fails to Emerge from Midterms,” observed:
“As many as two dozen Democrats are said to be seriously considering running for president. The sprawling field spans the ideological spectrum of the left and is distinguished by gender, race and age….
“The major fault line is between those who believe the party’s next presidential nominee should be unapologetically liberal who can boost turnout among progressives, minorities, young people and other base voters, and those who believe the party should nominate a candidate who can chart a more moderate course that appeals to independent and undecided voters in battleground states.”
In an opinion essay, Guardian commentator Jonathan Freedland wrote:
“While Democrats in the House can launch investigations, Republicans in the Senate can keep appointing judges. Trump retains the power to put a third justice on the supreme court, as well as packing lower benches with reliable conservatives who will be in place — making decisive rulings on civil rights and the like — for the next 40 years. That could prove Trump’s most lasting legacy.
The left-leaning Independent, in an article entitled, “What Does the Democrats’ Win in the House of Representatives Mean for US Politics?” wrote:
“The Democrats may be in a stronger position than they have been in Congress for eight years, but without majorities in both congressional houses they will still struggle to block many of the Trump administration’s political moves….
“Donald Trump has already registered his 2020 campaign slogan as ‘Keep America Great.’….
“Most presidents who lose one or even both houses in their first midterms go on to re-election — including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.”
The center-right Evening Standard, in an opinion essay, “Midterms Show It’s Going to Take a Lot More to Topple Donald Trump,” wrote:
“There is a difference between an electoral scolding and a tornado of public fury. Even the most partisan opponent of the President would be hard pushed to describe these elections as transformational in character….
“Trump was indeed chastised by the US electorate: but scarcely to the extent that he might have feared, and many hoped. The resilience of his political base and the strength of the US economy — which has recorded growth near or above three percent in five of the seven quarters since he took office — saw him through: bruised but still standing.
“What will it take to topple this man? A lot more than the Democrats have yet mustered.”
In another Evening Standard commentary, “Moral Rage Alone Won’t Win Power,” essayist Ayesha Hazarika observed:
“The big lesson for the Left is that while liberal disgust at Trump was a powerful driver, it isn’t enough…. This is a battle of ideas, who we are and what we believe. Even if you loathe Trump and the Republicans, you know their script. Low taxes, low regulation, jobs, borders, traditional values and guns. Make America Great Again. Not one political geek in the room knew what the core positive Democrat message was, or if one even existed.”
In France, the center-right Le Figaro, the country’s oldest national daily, in an article entitled, “Trump in a Strong Position for 2020,” wrote:
“The Trump Fortress is besieged but its ramparts are solid. By depriving it of its majority in the House of Representatives, but strengthening it in the Senate, Tuesday’s elections normalized a presidency that the Democrats hoped to disqualify as a historical anomaly….
“Although his ability to govern is going to be seriously undermined, the president feels he is in a good position to be re-elected in two years. His fiercest opponents, who dreamed of having his rhetoric and nationalism disqualified at the ballot box, have ended up with a president who has become ‘normal’ in two elections, firmly established at the head of his party and ready to fight in 2020.”
The Journal du Dimanche, in an article entitled, “Donald Trump Lost Midterms, Not the Presidential Election of 2020,” wrote:
“For the next two years, Donald Trump will rule the country with a Democratic House of Representatives, which will be able to block his reforms and launch investigations into his affairs. As he has shown several times since his campaign in 2016, the billionaire is never as formidable as when he is attacked.
“While he has run his political program for two years, he could use the Democratic opposition to tighten even more his base around him: nothing like a common and identified adversary.”
France’s leading business newspaper, Les Échos, in a commentary, “Trump, Beaten but Still Standing,” observed:
“Many commentators around the world have looked at the US election results as a chicken looks at a knife: not knowing exactly what to do with it….
“In fact, Donald Trump never stopped proposing a referendum on his personality and style. His bet is partly won: it is now proven that his election was not an accident. The victory in the Senate, even if anticipated, shows for the first time in a great democracy that a populist can keep power after having begun to exercise it.
“The battle will now rage in Washington on the assumption of a second term of Donald Trump in 2020. But what lessons can be learned from the vote for the rest of the world and Europe? The choice by voters for someone with a big ego as a remedy for the supposed powerlessness of ‘traditional’ leaders is not a parenthesis. On the Old Continent, and particularly in France, where opposition parties are weak, the political and economic elites must realize this.”
In Germany, the center-right Die Welt, in an article entitled, “For the Europeans, Everything Could Now Get Worse,” lamented that Trump might increase the pressure on Europeans to spend more on defense:
“The mood between the US and the EU is likely to worsen further. Put simply, Trump is expected significantly to increase pressure on Europeans to invest the target of two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. Above all, Berlin will face pressure to spend billions and billions of euros, because the federal government is far from achieving this goal.”
In an analysis for the left-leaning Die Zeit, columnist Martin Klingst wrote:
“From a German perspective, the result of these midterms is unclear: Donald Trump’s Republicans lose the majority in the House of Representatives, but expand their majority in the Senate. And even the elections of governors in more than 30 American states are not as devastating for Republicans as expected. Why, one wonders, have voters not punished the unpopular Trump and his party far more severely?
“The answer is simple: Because this election took place not in Germany, but in America, which, by reestablishing a balance of power in Congress, returned to political normality on November 6, despite and because of Trump….
“These midterm elections have also shown: Donald Trump remains an unpredictable and strong opponent for the Democrats. It will not be easy for them to take the president out of office in two years. Almost everywhere Trump fought in this Republican campaign, his supporters have won. By contrast, his party critics have lost.”
The Frankfurter Rundschau, in, “Trump Will Exploit the Weaknesses of the Democrats,” wrote:
“The Democrats have a chance in the presidential elections in 2020 only if they prove their own political ability, drive a coordinated course and advertise with charismatic minds for a change. Currently, the party lacks all three conditions. Trump will exploit this weakness. He will flatter power-hungry faction leader Nancy Pelosi today and demonize her tomorrow. He will lure the Democrats with poisoned offers and defame them as blockers if they refuse.”
Germany’s leading business newspaper, Handelsblatt, in an article, “The Success of the Democrats Will Not Slow Down Trump’s ‘America First’ Policy,” wrote:
“Seldom before has the world followed the congressional elections in the USA with such interest. Above all, people from outside the country wanted to know one thing: Is US President Donald Trump a unique industrial accident in American history or a message for a permanent change of course for the world power? The midterm elections have given no clear answer — at least nothing definitive.
“Although Trump is politically weakened by the victory of the Democrats in the House of Representatives … for the rest of the world hardly anything changes.
“The Democrats share Trump’s protectionist instincts and will particularly support Trump’s aggressive course on China. Even Europe cannot hope for support from the now-Democratic-dominated House of Representatives in the fight against Trump’s punitive tariffs. Trump has enough leeway to tighten his ‘America First’ policy, for example with duties on automobiles….
“Apart from trade, the House has little say in America’s foreign policy….
“In general, Germany must be ready to remain the target of American foreign policy. When it comes to moving Berlin towards higher defense spending, Democrats and Republicans may not use the same approach, but both agree on the point.”
In Ireland, the Irish Times, in an article, “Donald Trump Likely to be Vindicated by Midterm Results,” wrote:
“Many in the country had hoped that the first full electoral verdict on the presidency of Donald Trump would deliver a decisive repudiation of Trumpism. The results do not bear this out.
“If anything, Donald Trump is likely to be vindicated by the results. In recent weeks he has been criticized by many, including members of his own party, for not focusing on the strong economy in the run-up to the election and instead focusing on immigration. The better-than-expected performance of Republicans seem to suggest that his strategy worked.
“Trump will also argue that his decision to focus on the Senate and not the House races proves that he still has the political instincts that helped win him the White House in 2016. Ultimately the three states he visited on his last day of campaigning on Monday — Ohio, Indiana and Missouri — all delivered Republican victories. Trump’s final tweet of the day on Tuesday seems to suggest that the President is pleasantly relieved at the results of the midterms. ‘Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!'”
In Italy, Corriere della Sera, the country’s largest-circulation newspaper, in an opinion article entitled, “United States: Signs of a Split Country,” observed:
“One thing is certain: Trump is not an anomaly destined to be quickly forgotten. The anti-system wave that carried him to the White House was not a quirk of history; it is one of the signs of our time. In some respects, his electoral result in 2018 is more solid than that of 2016. Then it was outsider’s luck; now it is the substantial estate of a leader who became head of the Republican Party.”
The Milan-based Il Giornale, in an opinion essay, “America Hostage to Minorities,” observed:
“Do not be deceived by the headlines of some newspapers. It is true that Donald Trump lost the House, while consolidating his majority in the Senate. It is not true, however, that the Democrats have swept back America. Quite the opposite. There was no blue wave against the tycoon. The Democrats absolutely have not found the person who can defeat Trump at the next election. Instead they risk becoming increasingly hostage to minorities. In fact, it will be very difficult for the party to find a programmatic synthesis to unite all of the extremely different interests. The Democrats have not yet found the new Barack Obama.”
Italy’s leading business newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, in an analysis entitled, “A Second Term for Trump is No Longer an Impossible Event,” wrote:
“If these mid-term elections were to be — as they were — a referendum on Donald Trump, the result is not the condemnation that many in America and especially in the rest of the world were hoping for….
“In a sense, today the Republican party is even more his own than it was yesterday. And this increases the possibility that a second term in two years is no longer an impossible eventuality. It would have been if the Republicans had lost the majority in the Senate.
“The results of the midterm election will allow him to reshape his court in the White House, as Louis XIV did in Versailles. For each presidency the midterm elections are an opportunity to make changes to the presidential team.
“Before the midterms, half of Democratic voters considered Republican voters to be enemies, and vice versa. From now on it will be more difficult to return to a bipartisan policy that everyone claims and no one practices: the head-on collision will continue until the great presidential battle of 2020.”
In The Netherlands, the country’s newspaper of record, NRC Handelsblad, in an analysis, “The Trump Era is Far from Over,” stated:
“The big question for friend and foe of the United States is whether the election results point to a weakening or strengthening of Trumpism… Foreign countries would do well not to cheer too soon. Because it is not at all said and done that the end of the Trump era is nigh. This applies to countries that have difficulty with Trump’s approach, such as Iran. That is true, conversely, also for countries that benefit from his policies, such as Israel….
“It is also not obvious that the ‘America First’ president will suddenly adopt radically different positions. His aversion to alliances like the European Union is deep. The idea that freeloaders are taking advantage of the US is not just an opinion, but a conviction Trump has cherished for years. It therefore remains very logical that he will continue to put the European NATO partners under pressure to increase their defense spending…. US presidents tend to respond to mid-term losses with changes in domestic policy but continue to pursue the already set course in foreign policy with extra energy.
“Trump has great freedom of movement in trade policy. The rest of the world has already experienced this during the last two years. Should Trump direct more political energy to trade policy, then that will be especially detrimental to China, which incidentally has dug its heels in the sand. No one benefits from a large-scale and long-term American-Chinese conflict: it is detrimental to the entire world economy. Beijing can expect little from a Democratic House of Representatives: many Democrats are also critical of China.
“A bright point is that a Democratic House of Representatives attaches more value to good relations with the EU. Europe could therefore be spared, perhaps in the form of a trade agreement.
“Canada and Mexico, in renegotiating the NAFTA treaty, agreed to an American ban on concluding treaties with ‘non-market economies’ (read: China). Japan is also being pressured by the Americans to accept these new clauses.
“The question is whether Europeans should be deprived of this sovereignty. Probable answer: no. Whether this will lead to a new impetus in European-Chinese trade relations is the question. Distrust in increasing Chinese investment in EU countries is growing in Brussels. This is how Europe stays between the two fires of the ruling and the emerging world power.”