Democrats Already Preparing Their Excuses for Midterm Letdown

Love water-centric metaphors? Then the 2018 election cycle is the one for you.

In late 2017, all the stories suggested that the upcoming 2018 elections were shaping up to be a Democratic wave. The combination of historic losses for the president’s party in the first midterm following their election, a president with low approval ratings, and a swing-and-a-miss on repealing Obamacare gave pundits plenty of evidence to churn out story after story suggesting that Republicans were doomed.

Then, in early January of 2018, it was reported that the “wave looks like it is getting bigger” following some Republican-to-Democrat switches in state legislative seats. Others suggested that it would look more like “the tsunami from the movie Armageddon.” And still others believed that the Democrats’ sizable lead in the generic ballot test hinted that “The Democrats’ Wave Could Turn Into a Flood.”

But by early February the political tide began to turn. Or as one editorial board put it: “Democrat wave coming? It might be more of a trickle.”

At that point the excuses began to fly faster and furious. Here were some of the stories that caught our eye:

1. Democrats weren’t #resisting enough: The argument goes that when Democrats offered unqualified opposition to every position taken by President Trump, Democrats were winning big, but as soon as green shoots of bipartisanship seemed to be breaking out, Democrats poll numbers and political prospects were tanking. As Will Stencil cynically argued for The Atlantic:

As a result, Democratic electoral fortunes depend on maintaining Trump’s unpopularity, much more than any rhetoric of their own. Uniform and unequivocal opposition has helped weigh Trump down in the public eye; abandoning this successful strategy for equivocation and compromise might lift him up.

2. The party’s messaging was failing: This crowd believed that Democrats’ key to winning in 2018 rests on message discipline.

“Even while waging other important fights, Democrats must continue to focus on economic issues like taxes and health care and not allow themselves to be sidetracked and distracted by Trump’s latest tweets,” reads a memo from super PAC Priorities USA.

Of course, that’s a little hard to do when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi likens the thousand dollar bonuses springing from the tax reform bill to “crumbs.

3. Speaking of Pelosi, we need to get rid of her: This contingent of the party believes that Pelosi is a political millstone around their necks that will inevitably sink them come Election Day. For her part, Pelosi was providing them plenty to work with. In addition to her harmful grandstanding on the tax bill, which she also compared to “Armageddon,” her naked politicking during the budget negotiation—in which she negotiated a deal with Republicans, then rejected the outcome of the talks and votes against the bill, then called it a “good bill”—showed just how out of touch she was with the moment.

“For us to go into this election with her as our leader is absolute insanity,” one House Democrat told The Atlantic on the condition of anonymity. “No one in their right mind would think this is a good idea. I just think she is putting her own personal interests in front of the caucus’s.

4. Maybe all that historic talk about midterms wasn’t exactly accurate: Democrats favorite, and most cited, statistic in 2017 was that presidents whose job approval is below 50 percent lose an average of 36 seats in midterm elections. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats in November to win control of the House.

But come the New Year, the pundits began backtracking. Politico offers one such example:

Look back further, though, and you find plenty of examples in which presidents endured only a political flesh wound, if that. In 1962, the Democrats lost only four House seats and picked up two Senate seats. In 1970, the Republicans lost only 12 House seats and gained two Senate seats. In 1990, George H.W. Bush saw his party lose only eight House seats and one Senate seat. And under Bill Clinton in 1998 and George W. Bush in 2002, the party in power gained seats in the House.

They also noted that those landslides typically happen for a reason A recession and failed court packing scheme in 1938, the Vietnam quagmire in 1966, and the slow economic recovery and $1.3 trillion deficit in 2010. The bottom line: Maybe 2018 wasn’t such a sure thing after all.