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Opinion

Editorial: In the midterms, weigh the candidates — and what it means to have Congress in Trump’s pocket

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Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell(C) R-KY looks on before addressing reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 17.
(Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP/Getty Images)

In less than two months, Americans will go to the polls for one of the most important elections in modern times. The United States may not be choosing a new president on Nov. 6, but control of the U.S. Congress is at stake. Not only is there a good chance that the House of Representatives will go Democratic, but it is not out of the question (although it is unlikely) that the Senate could flip as well. If even one of those things happened, it would fundamentally change the balance of power in Washington, D.C.

Ordinarily, gaining or keeping a legislative majority is a chief focus of political parties, but not so much of voters, who are more likely to view the candidates running in their congressional districts through a more personal, local lens. Does this candidate know my concerns? Did she grow up here in my community? Does he represent my values and agree with my positions?

In more normal years, The Times editorial board asks similar questions as it decides which candidates to endorse. Which party controls Congress is not something we take into account.

This is not a plea for partisanship, but one for patriotism.
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But this midterm election is different. This year, the president in the White House is a dangerous, inexperienced demagogue. The current Congress — controlled by the Republican Party that President Trump too belongs to — has consistently failed to stand up to him and has declined to call him out when he has undermined democratic institutions, told lies, rejected science and attacked the news media or the judiciary. The GOP leaders of the Senate and House, though they undoubtedly know better, have made the politically expedient but cynical decision not to act as a meaningful check on his misbehavior. That makes them complicit in his misrule.

As election day nears, voters should of course be considering the merits of the candidates on the ballot. But they should also be aware that there’s more at stake in this election than which individual Democrat or Republican gets sent to Washington. Trump’s ability to move the worst pieces of his agenda, his ability to act with impunity, even his reelection may turn on which party controls Congress.

The Times hasn’t endorsed in any individual congressional races this year. So we can’t say with any certainty that Democratic candidate A in a particular district is better than Republican candidate B, or that one or the other deserves your support. But this much is unquestionably true: Society is better served by a Congress that acts as a bulwark of democracy and an antidote to demagoguery. And that hasn’t been the case under Republican control.

We urge every American who is registered to vote (and those who are eligible but not yet registered should do so immediately) to go to the polls on Nov. 6. And as you vote, think not just about the candidates in front of you, but also about what it means to have a Congress that is in the pocket of the Trump administration. Californians have a particular role in this election, not just because the state has more House seats than any other, but because its people, values and policies have been under assault since the day Trump took power. Has your representative in Congress spoken out against Trump, or has your representative enabled him?

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It’s not in anyone’s best interest — not Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Greens or anyone else — to let President Trump continue to dismantle important institutions, damage the country’s relationships with its allies and stoke mistrust among Americans. Republicans voters should be particularly upset about the harm the president has done to their brand. Do they really want the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan to be remembered for locking up little children and denying science?

Much of the damage Trump has caused — pursuing irresponsible trade wars, turning back immigrants, weakening environmental protections, reversing Obama-era climate policies — has been accomplished not in conjunction with Congress, but through executive power. (The passage of a fiscally irresponsible tax bill that disproportionately benefits the wealthy is the administration’s chief legislative accomplishment.) But the fact remains that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, among others, have empowered Trump in ways shameful to watch; Democrats have been rendered mostly impotent. This is not a plea for partisanship, but one for patriotism. As the election approaches, think not just about the candidates, but about who is running the country.

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