Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 

The talk here amongst the natives in this balmy laid-back paradise—a favorite for sun-seeking worry-escaping Americans— is not of politics, but about the adequacy of today’s tuna catch and tomorrow’s weather.

A fresh supply of fish is the bigger concern. What Democrats and Republicans are plotting as we begin preparing for the 2020 elections is considered a private matter.

So long as the wall Donald Trump wants to build at the Mexican border doesn’t discourage tourists the mounting troubles for its querulous neighbor are of little moment.

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I, we are reminded that people do not wage wars against other nations. Governments do.

What is more unusual and concerning are hostilities that governments concoct between their own citizens. The USA has become exhibit Number #1.

As Trump returns from a brief trip honoring our war-dead to the nation he seems hell-bent to divide, the true meaning of the rancorous mid-term elections is just coming into focus.

And the picture is not pretty.

California Democrats and those nationally will have some cause for jubilation after all votes have been tallied—but this mood may not last long.

GOP Rep. Steve Knight has already conceded defeat to Democrat Katie Hill in the 25th C.D. This includes Simi Valley, Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley—long-time Republican bastions.

Democrat Mike Levin has been installed as the new member representing the 49th C.D. in deepest-red Orange County which arch-conservative, Rep. Darrell Issa, had owned before retiring.

The same fate may still await GOP stalwarts, Dana Rohrabacher and Jeff Denham, also from Orange County, once all results are tallied.

If these numbers hold up, the California GOP seats will be reduced to just 10 of the 53-member state delegation.

GOP losses nation-wide have reached 30 and could grow even more after all absentee and provisional ballots are tabulated.

The outcome of the Senate races in Florida & Arizona are still too close to call, and both have entered automatic recount territory. Montana’s Dem. Sen. Jon Tester may have squeaked by.

The razor thin results in Florida, which has become the nation’s poster child for election improprieties, is now in the courts—shades of the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election.

Even if these states fail to end up in the “D” column, Republicans will have expanded their current 51-vote Senate majority by at least three votes—enough to quash any legislation sent over by a newly-Democratic House majority.

More importantly the new Senate lineup will dilute the influence of such GOP moderates as Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine who have been on occasion willing to buck their party’s leadership.

The lower house of Congress now stands as the only true bulwark against an intransigent Senate and a White House which Trump has already announced will go on full-out war-footing if he does not have his way.

What does this auger for the future?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi back in Control

If Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco regains the Speaker’s gavel as expected, she will be a formidable adversary who has proven herself repeatedly capable of keeping her troops together.

Or she could become an indispensable ally for Trump if he shows any willingness to come together on some key issues where concessions are possible.

The opening to-do list includes immigration reform, prescription drug prices, paid family leave, infrastructure development and genuine tax reform for middle-income earners.

But weak murmurings about a new “era of bipartisanship” is so far just morning-after chatter.

To get there the nation’s most famous deal maker would have to be willing to make some deals that his most fervent supporters might not like.

For starters, it would require abandoning many of his most solemn pledges including turning back immigrants, gutting health care reforms, reversing trade agreements, toughening environmental regulations and much more.

With any signs of compromise, an unforgiving base could turn on him in a flash.

If, going into the 2020 election cycle, scoring policy victories that he would have to share with Democrats, holds less attraction than keeping the diehard extremists on his Right happy, we can guess the probable outcomes.

Given Trump’s genetic disposition which favors gloves-off combat, there may be little wiggle room in which to negotiate any deals, and he can only be more emboldened by the collapse of all resistance in the Senate.

Since Trump seems unpersuaded by much need for truth, appears devoid of core convictions, and has made a joke of personal allegiances, the value of any deal becomes suspect.

Most of all he is prepared to fight all attempts to control his executive powers.

These factors were no doubt at work around the country where Democrats saw massive turn-outs and took seats which just months ago they were not expected to win.

The “blue wave” did not wash up everywhere but it may have unleashed if only temporarily enough energy to stem and perhaps reverse the tide.

Democrats now know the hand they have been given to play. The question is are they smart enough on how to play it?

The Dilemma for Democrats

Pelosi, as House leader, will be back on old terrain, but she is looking at a new House which for the first time in history will have 100 or more women, 86 of them Democrats, two of them Muslims, several more Latinas, two Native Americans, upward of 20 African-Americans and the first LGBTQ.

This will be the most diverse assemblage ever and that may not bode well for Democratic unity on some key issues.

Having sized up the opposition, as a master strategist loathed by right-wing Republicans, Pelosi even urged many of the candidates to speak out against her if it would help to guarantee their election.

Many did just that—and won!

But these same newcomers will be eager for retaliation against a man who has done little to conceal his openly misogynistic and racist views and that will make it more difficult to exert discipline.

Some bring an agenda which might not be in total lockstep with the Speaker to whom they have no long-standing loyalty and who, despite her liberal leanings, is a firm institutionalist that also knows a few things about how to make deals.

Women along with many of their veteran male counterparts will be taking over the all-powerful committee chairmanships with the authority to launch investigations, and subpoena records and people including the president. Impeachment proceedings are being discussed.

Pelosi is– wisely—counseling against precipitous actions preferring to await a final report from Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, concerning criminal wrongdoing at the highest reaches of the government and in the Oval Office itself.

However, Democrats have a timing problem.

GOP Counter Moves and Bigger Battles Ahead

Whether such self-imposed restraint can be enforced may be tested sooner than desired with the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as Acting Attorney General in place of Jeff Sessions who was fired.

Some lawyers are challenging the legality of the Whitaker replacement even before Senate confirmation who, as Session’s Chief-of-Staff is what a former Deputy Solicitor Attorney General labels “a constitutional nobody.”

But he’s Trump’s guy and that’s all that matters.

Since Whitaker has said he will not recuse himself from the ongoing investigations as Sessions had, it is widely believed that Trump has appointed someone who would dutifully obey a directive to fire Mueller thereby bringing the investigation to a halt.

GOP Sen. Lindsay Graham, a Trump confidante, said this would amount to “political suicide.”

At the very least, this would circumvent the more traditional but apparently less reliable process of asking the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, Session’s next in line, to carry out that order.

If Mueller goes that would bring us closer to a Watergate level constitutional crisis where Trump will with near certainty be accused of obstruction of justice.

The Whitaker appointment alone puts even greater pressure on the White House to squelch further inquiry as soon as possible, before the Democrats take power in January.

A measure is already pending in the Senate which would create an Independent Prosecutor with special protections as was done during Watergate. But the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, wants nothing to do with it.

Some of these developments are on a path which could lead ultimately to final adjudication by the Supreme Court which is firmly in GOP control.

But these judicial proceedings if they occur at all are still a long way up the road while such legal maneuverings are exactly what could lure Democrats into making bad decisions.

Continuing Vilification of Trump not a Solution

Democrats have more urgent business then merely continuing to vilify Trump.

He’s made the sale and if the reasons to continue trusting his leadership grow less justifiable with every tweet, his most ardent followers seem quite happy so far with what they bought.

In the months ahead if Democrats want to build on their mid-term gains they will have to find means of corralling voters who could be growing more disenchanted.

Trashing Trump without posing a credible alternative is a losing proposition.

For Republicans the challenge will be to find leaders willing to oppose a runaway president who respects no boundaries.

The job for Democrats is to craft a consistent message that can win back the millions of disaffected voters who either opted for Trump or someone else, or just took a pass in 2016.

They will also need to identify a leader capable of delivering that message.

This interim battle is over but Democrats have little reason to rejoice.

The realization is quickly emerging that the troubled waters which lie ahead auger more conflict rather than cooperation.

Calmer voices need to prevail on both sides; toning down the rhetoric is a start but may not be sufficient to prevent us from ripping apart the constitutional fabric that binds us.

But time is running out and Trump shows little appetite for jump-starting the healing process.