FT editor on US midterm elections
Lionel Barber talks with our DC bureau chief Demetri Sevastopulo about the results and what to expect now from the Trump administration
Lionel, we had a momentous evening. The Democrats won the House. The Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate. Donald Trump today said it was a tremendous success. How should we view what happened in America?
It's a tremendous exercise in American democracy. We had a vote. People turned out in great numbers, in many states.
And the Democrats, as you say, took control of the House of Representatives. They hoped for more. I think they were always stretching a bit, to think they could get a majority in the Senate. They took a bit of a bloody nose, there, and they missed out some big races.
But, overall, I think that it's a sort of half-and-half. It's neither a great success for the Republicans nor for Mr Trump or the Democrats.
Looking at the results, did you have a sense of what this means for 2020? Do we think Donald Trump is going to be in a stronger or weaker position? Or did we learn anything that will give us a sense of how he might try and capture the White House again in 2020?
He will have been encouraged by the way in which the Republicans took Florida. That was a very - they thought Florida would be competitive, the Democrats, but, in the end, a Republican candidate won. And also an important win for Ted Cruz - no fan, no friend of Mr Trump, but he won. He retained his seat against Beta O'Rourke, who's the new, big coming force Democrat in Texas.
In the Midwest, I think there was more encouraging signs for the Democrats in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan. Which is interesting, because that's the sort of industrial heartland which Mr Trump sees as his base.
Now, we also had a lot of women who were successful. We had some first two female Muslim members of Congress. We've new groups who are entering Congress, and some very, very young people, for the first time. How do you think the complexion of Congress is going to change?
Well, I think the women factor is a big one. I mean, there may not have been a blue wave, but there was a women's wave. And that will change. And I think that's maybe also a bit of the kind of MeToo movement, the fact that women feel that they should be taking the highest office. They didn't get the presidency, but in Congress they're much better representatives. It's more diverse.
So really the question is, how much change? Nancy Pelosi wants to rerun again as Speaker of the House of Representatives. She's got a lot of experienced veterans around her, so not so much change there.
On the other hand, the Republicans have got a bigger majority in the Senate. Some new figures, some interesting figures, there.
So let me just ask you one last question. Around the world, a lot of people will be looking at the results of the election and asking, will anything change in the Trump administration, in terms of how the president deals with the rest of the world, based on what happened in the midterm elections? Do you think we're going to see anything different?
Well, I don't see a kind of 1986, which is when I first came to Washington and Reagan lost. He lost control of the Senate in '86. But they managed to do - they'd just done a tax bill, big tax-reform bill.
I don't see that kind of bipartisanship in Washington. What I do see is Mr Trump, probably when faced with the House, possibly an aggressive House looking to subpoena his tax records, still got the Russian investigation to come, he's going to turn increasingly to foreign policy. And I think that's a very aggressive policy on Iran, quite confrontational with China, and a lot of aggressive bilateralism. So - the same, but a bit more, from Mr Trump.
If I could just ask you, just on China, we've spent some time talking to China experts and officials around Washington. What do you think the Chinese should expect, in terms of Donald Trump, from here on in? And is it possible for the US and China to come a little bit closer together on some of these contentious issues, whether it's trade or national security issues?
Well, my sense is Mr Trump, President Trump, thinks he's really got the hang of this office, the office of the presidency. He's quite good at it. He can take a bit of advice but not too much advice. He thinks he's got China's number.
It's been striking, Demetri, as we've had our conversations, the way in which there's a sort of spring in the step of senior officials who think, you know, we're on the right side of history. Actually, they're going to call out the Chinese on intellectual property theft. We're going to call them out on their missile programme. We're going to put them under pressure. And they're a little bit rattled, and no problem with that.
Now, it's not anywhere near as aggressive as on Iran, but I think you're going to get more of the same, plus, on China policy. Because they're going to make China sweat a bit in order to extract more concessions.
And make China drink a little bit of its own medicine, maybe.
A little bit. I mean, they definitely - it's going to be hard bargaining. But I think the other point is, this isn't just a trade issue. This is about a rising power which is expanding, expanding its influence. We've heard a lot about expansion, aggressive expansion, of soft power, co-opting academics. And then the hard power, which you're seeing projection of power in the Pacific - the East China Sea, South China Sea. So there's a lot of room for competition, if not confrontation.
Lionel, thank you very much.
Demetri, good to talk.