This article first appeared in Taiwan’s Do Post.
With the results now in for yesterday’s election in the United States, an abundance of experts and commentators will wax poetic on what it all means. Republicans claim victory based on Senate gains, and Democrats claim victory based off the House. Simply put, based on historical expectations for this kind of midterm election, the outcome was very good for President Trump.
Americans elect presidents based on the majority vote within each state, and this election, President Trump consolidated and even expanded his Electoral College advantage heading into his 2020 re-election. Senate victories in important electoral states like Florida, Ohio and Missouri provide an important approximation of where voters stand. Adding Senate seats in key states is a victory of historic proportions for the first midterm of a new US Presidency.
Democrats will claim as victory gaining the majority in the House and in several state leadership positions, and while they did gain ground, it was to be expected based on historical models. What is important is their gains did not amount to the “blue wave” rebuke of President Trump many experts and politicians predicted.
While the results of this election can tell you a great deal about the American electorate and the direction of our country, when it comes to United States relations with Taiwan, there will remain more continuity than change. The Senate continues to be held by Republicans, and action on American foreign policy -- such as treaties and personnel -- remains strongly within the Senate’s purview. The change in House leadership is likely to be felt much more in areas beyond foreign affairs, and may even lead to more bipartisanship on the challenges posed by China and the opportunities presented by Taiwan.
In 2016, then-candidate Trump ran, and won, on a few simple promises: fair trade for the United States, pushing back against China, investing in infrastructure, and building a border wall. With the midterm past, and as President Trump turns his attention to his re-election campaign, he is likely to double down on these same promises, returning to the issues that helped Republicans win in 2016. Aside from the politics of the border wall, the President may find more agreement than pushback from Democrats in the new Congress.
This means President Trump is likely to continue to promote bilateral over multilateral initiatives, especially with regard to treaties, trade and arms sales. He will continue to implement policies that strengthen the United States economy, meanwhile putting the pedal to the metal on the trade war with China.
Even more than after the 2016 election, American voters, elected officials and our allies have a broader understanding of the threat that China poses. Republicans and Democrats alike see the threat of intellectual property theft, corporate espionage, forced technology transfer and currency manipulation.
With Democrats in control of the House, there is an opportunity for them to re-discover their roots as human rights and labor advocates. With China’s increased economic aggression and very troubling human rights violations, Taiwan is a bipartisan partner to turn toward. Likely Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has spoken publicly about China’s human rights violations regarding Tibet, recently saying, according to Reuters, “They (the Chinese) have to recognize that there’s a value to them in letting Tibet be Tibet in an autonomous way.” These same sentiments can, and do, ring true regarding Taiwan.
Also worth noting, is the changeover in the Senate Foreign Relations committee. With the retirement of current Chairman Bob Corker, Idaho Senator Jim Risch is in line to take over as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Taiwan is Idaho’s third largest trade partner (behind Canada and Mexico, and before China) and Idaho-based Micron Technology is the single largest foreign direct investor in Taiwan. While any Senator faces a great deal of pressure from lobbyists and organizations in D.C., the group they are most accountable to is their voters - and many of Idaho voters care a great deal about their trade relationship with Taiwan.
While the rest of the world is looking at the election as a referendum on President Trump, for Taiwan, it represents a great opportunity to increase bilateral relations with the United States. America’s relationship with Taiwan is not dependent on which party is in power. The China threat is real, and Taiwan’s status as a free and democratic society rings true with key leaders and a majority of voters in both political parties.