With roughly nine months to go until the midterm elections, Republicans have much to be fearful about and much to be hopeful for.
Fearful, because history suggests that Republicans’ House majority is in peril. The president’s party loses an average of 32 seats in the first midterm election after taking his seat in the Oval Office. According to analysis by RealClearPolitics’ James Arkin, in the post-World War II period that average jumps to 36 seats if the president’s approval is below 50 percent and drops 14 seats if above that threshold. The rationale is relatively simple: The House serves as a contrary indicator to presidential elections because voters naturally feel the need to balance the scales against the White House.
Hopeful, because even at Republican’s lowest ebb, the polls offered this caveat: “The wide Democratic advantage in congressional vote preference comes entirely in districts the party already holds, raising questions about the extent of its possible gains in November.” In other words, even when Democrats were doing their best, they still weren’t resonating with independent voters in Republican-held districts.
Hopeful because the latest Monmouth University poll showed President Trump’s approval rating has jumped 10 points compared to last month and the Democratic advantage on the generic ballot has shrunk to 2 percentage points. Hopeful because for all the history suggesting electoral doom, no president has seen their approval rating go up in their second year except President Trump. Hopeful because tax reform is putting money in people’s pockets, low unemployment is finally translating into wage gains, and economic growth is strengthening.
And then there is the “X” factor: How badly will Democrats shoot themselves in the foot? If their recent decisions are any indication the answer is…a lot.
Take, for instance, this snippet of advice from the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman, which Democrats seem to be heeding:
“[Democrats] … are being constantly told that, while it looks like they’re headed for a wave election this November, if they don’t come up with a positive, affirmative message that has nothing to do with anger at President Trump, then they don’t deserve to win.
That notion is wrong on both counts: they don’t need a “positive” message as it is often defined, and anger at the president is not just sufficient, it’s the most morally and politically appropriate message for 2018.”
But Democrats can’t survive off anti-Trumpism alone. Democrat affiliation is not rising despite Americans’ instinct to provide a check in a mid-term year. One reason appears to be contained in the results of an ABC News/Washington Post poll from July, which found that just 37 percent of respondents believed that the Democrat Party “stood for something” while a majority — 52 percent — believed the party “just stands against Trump.”
Such dogmatic anti-Trumpism reared its head following the State of the Union. Somehow eight out of ten viewers said that they “felt that the president was trying to unite the country, rather than divide it.” And yet there was Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of the Democratic Party’s standard bearers, tweeting that she attended because she wanted “it burned into my eyes.” Or progressive pundit Joy Reid, who tweeted Church . . . family . . . police . . . military . . . the national anthem . . . Trump trying to call on all the tropes of 1950s-era nationalism. The goal of this speech appears to be to force the normalization of Trump on the terms of the bygone era his supporters are nostalgic for.”
As National Review’s Heather Wilhelm sarcastically wrote: “Ah, I can see the campaign posters now: ‘Can’t stand church and family? Neither can we! Vote for the Democrats in 2018!’”
And let’s not forget Democrats who railed against the tax bill. Sen. Cory Booker called it “foolhardy at best and deceitful at worst.” Sen. Bernie Sanders said we “are witnessing highway robbery in broad daylight.” Sen. Warren warned that “a recking is coming” and that Republican would be “held accountable for turning their backs on the American people.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the reform was the “worst bill in the history of Congress” and even saw fit to double down after numerous businesses announced thousand-dollar bonuses, calling them, “crumbs.”
None of this aligns with the reality of what has happened. Democrats are asking voters to not believe their own eyes when it comes to the positive impacts of tax reform, and to count as fiction the extra money they are finding in their paychecks and tax returns.
Americans are smarter than all of this messaging nonsense. They don’t want reflexive resistance to anything Trump does, they want a reflection of the things they value and a check against things that they don’t. If Democrats instead double down on hyperbole they shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves on the wrong side of history come November.