The majority of the US midterm elections are on the 6th of November. The outcome of these is paramount to Trump and the Republican party because they only hold a slim majority in Congress. Only two days before the midterms, Donald Trump will attempt to stop Iran exporting oil and gas through an embargo. Iran has responded by stating that should the United States follow through with its threat, Iran will prevent the export of oil and gas from the region by blocking the Strait of Hormuz. The United States has stated it is prepared to use military force to secure the transit of oil and gas through the region. One can only speculate about the timing of these two events.
The Republicans only hold a one-seat majority in the Senate. This has made it very difficult for Trump to push his policies through congress as all it takes is for one or two Republican rebels to vote against the Republican party and they can prevent a bill passing. Losing the few seats the Republicans hold in Congress would make many of his controversial plans unworkable.
Since the 1930s
only one president’s party has ever gained seats in the Senate when their approval rating was under 50%, That was Ronald Reagan in the 1982 midterm elections when he was polling on 42% days before the elections. However, he still lost 26 seats in the House of Representatives. To gain seats in the midterms is a rare event for any President and the last time this was achieved was by George W Bush when he was polling on 67% approval ratings days before the 2002 midterms where he managed to gain eight seats in the house and two seats in the Senate. Trump is currently polling on 41% with just over two months until the midterms. If history were to repeat itself, the Republicans would lose at least the Senate to the Democrats. This would be a major roadblock for some of Trump’s controversial plans.
Trump could be betting on an unorthodox a way to prevent a Democrat majority. A war or major crisis with Iran. There is almost always a popularity boost at the start of any war or crisis to any president. This is known as the ‘rally round the flag’ effect. This causes citizens to support the sitting president as he or she becomes the face of the war to citizens. It also can lead to less criticism from the opposition party as they do not want to weaken the President and therefore the face of the United States. The gains from the rally round the flag effect can be huge. George W Bush’s approval ratings jumped from 51% to 90% practically overnight because of 9/11. Jimmy Carter’s jumped from 32% to 58% soon after the Iran Hostage crisis and George H W Bush’s approval ratings jumped to 89% from 51% after Operation Desert Storm.
On the 4th of November, there is a reasonable chance that Iran will back up its threats with real action and attempt to block the Strait of Hormuz as Bagheri, the most senior Iranian general has said. At its narrowest point, the strait is only 21 miles wide. Through this chokepoint travels an estimated 17.4 million barrels per day of petroleum products. If it was blocked it would certainly lead to an oil crisis. Should the United States back up its pledge to hold the straight open, a direct conflict between Iran and the United States. This scenario might cause the ‘rally round the flag’ effect and give Trump a major boost to his approval ratings two days prior to the midterm elections. If Trump was lucky he could easily gain 20% in approval ratings. Which would likely win his party seats in Congress or at least allow them to hold their slim majority.
There is also another possibility Iran would delay any actions until after the 6th of November to not help Trump domestically by not giving him a popularity boost until after the midterm elections. That is if they were to even follow up on their words which would be rather foolish as they surely remember the last time they attempted to block the Strait of Hormuz. Half of the Iranian Navy was sunk within a day during Operation Praying Mantis.
The long-term consequences of a military confrontation with Iran would likely be bad and could set Trump up for failure in the 2020 Presidential elections as the United States could be dragged into a war that they will not win without huge sacrifice that would never be allowed by the American people. However one could argue that not being able to pass any of your flagship policies through Congress is more likely to set a president up for failure in their next elections than a war gone bad.