Democrats aren’t winning as much as Republicans are losing. Can the GOP turn it around?
In one short year, the Republican majority in the U. S. House of Representatives has shifted from seemingly safe to somewhat in jeopardy. The Democrats have an uphill battle in the Senate, defending 25 seats to the GOP’s nine, but a number of circumstances and Tuesday’s election results have improved Democrats’ chances of retaking the House in 2018.
It doesn’t appear that Democrats are gaining because of anything they’ve accomplished; instead, Republicans appear to be losing ground because they have failed to accomplish key goals on which they campaigned throughout the Obama presidency. From repealing ObamaCare to building the wall to tax and legal immigration reform, Congressional Republicans are disappointing the base who elected them to office on the strength of their promises, promises it has become increasingly clear too many had no intention of fulfilling.
Other factors, such as President Trump’s low approval and a number of Republican lawmakers opting not to seek reelection, also play a role, but the bottom line is that midterms are dependent on turnout and often hinge on which party’s voters are most motivated to get out and vote in an off year.
This is not to say that all is lost or that Republicans can’t turn it around, but time’s a’ticking, and they need to score some key wins to avoid a bloodbath next November.
Just how important to 2018 was the Virginia election?
Not very. And also very. Democrats lost key special elections in Georgia, Wyoming, and Kansas this year. They spun the losses as “wins,” but they were worried. Their concerns were alleviated in Virginia last Tuesday when, among other key wins, Democrat Ralph Northam beat Republican Ed Gillespie by a jaw-dropping nine points, and they seem more ready than ever to leap on their anti-Trump message and attempt to ride it to a 2018 House majority.
Democrats sunk a huge sum into the Georgia special election in particular, and they still lost. Having done surprisingly well in Virginia, Democrats are now reading their wins as vindication of their earlier special election campaigns and losses. Resisting Trump, they insist, is the winning strategy. The problem, however, is that Virginia is not a reliable model for all of the House seats Democrats need to keep and those they need to flip next year.
No question, Democrats took Republicans to the woodshed on Tuesday night in Virginia. They won all three statewide offices and nearly captured the Virginia House of Delegates.
Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate, captured more votes than any Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia history. But Ralph Northam, his Democratic opponent, captured more than any gubernatorial candidate in state history.
Republicans are right to be nervous about what happened in the Old Dominion on Tuesday, but Democrats would be wise not to overinterpret.
Yes, a shellacking a year out from the 2018 midterms is not good for Republicans, and yes, that it happened because of a large turnout of enthusiastic voters for the other party is doubly bad.
But Virginia has been trending blue for 20 years. Republicans there are just 1-10 in major statewide races since 2005. Hillary Clinton carried it over President Trump. President Barack Obama carried it twice. Both senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, are Democrats.
Fueled by the growth of the federal government, Northern Virginia has both veered left and become the dominant region in terms of influence within the state as other regions, such as coal country in southwestern Virginia and the Tidewater area, have struggled.
Also, for the first time, 156,000 ex-felons, who had their voting rights unilaterally restored under Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, were eligible to vote in the statewide election.
Republicans might pick off an election occasionally in the Commonwealth, but statewide races are out of reach unless Northern Virginia somehow gets annexed to the District of Columbia.
Democrats are thrilled, giddy even, by their surprise wins in Virginia.
Democrats are so eager for an anti-Republican wave election next year that Chuck Schumer can smell it.
Tuesday’s Democratic gains in Virginia and New Jersey elections have buoyed the Senate minority leader and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). They told reporters this week they are having flashbacks to 2005, the year before the last time Democrats enjoyed large gains in congressional elections.
The party knocked Republicans out of the majority in both houses of Congress in 2006, picking up 31 House seats and six in the Senate.
“The results last night smell exactly the same way,” Schumer said Wednesday. “Our Republican friends better look out.”
Added Pelosi: “The door is certainly open to us. We get the fresh recruits, and they get the retirements.”
Citing the energy and enthusiasm that drives voters to polls in off years, Representative Donald McEachin (D-VA) not unreasonably predicts the House will flip in 2018.
Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) made a bold prediction on CNN after the election.
“I still say that when 2019 comes, the Democrats will be in charge of the House of Representatives. The same thing is happening … The energy is there,” he said. “The pent-up frustration with the Trump administration is there. All the same ingredients we saw play out in Virginia, from having good candidates, from fielding good candidates across the board in all sorts of different districts, will play out in 2018.”
Opposition to a popular Democrat president led to massive GOP gains in both the 2010 and 2014 midterms, so it’s not unreasonable to imagine that the same can happen for Democrats in 2018 with a far less popular Republican president.
The impact of House Republican retirements
There have been more than a few House Republican retirements already announced, and more are likely to come before the 2018 midterm. This can put Republicans at a disadvantage because, generally speaking, even not incredibly popular incumbents are strong favorites.
A retirement wave has hit House Republicans, emboldening Democrats who have become increasingly bullish about their prospects of winning back a majority in 2018.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) on Thursday became the latest Republican to announce he would not seek another term.
The 13-term Virginian followed Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), both of whom announced Tuesday — hours before Republicans suffered sweeping losses at the polls — that they’d retire from Congress.
All told, 29 Republicans will not seek reelection to their House seats, compared to only 11 for Democrats. Fifteen Republicans are retiring outright, rather than seeking other political offices or positions. Only two Democrats are doing the same.
This is not an insignificant development, but on its own, it doesn’t spell “doom,” either.
The Hill continues:
Not all of the retiring Republicans are exiting districts that are likely to be in play.
Goodlatte’s district, for example, is reliably Republican and was won by President Trump in 2016 by 25 points.
In the 15 districts where members are retiring outright, Trump won six of them by 18 points or more.
Yet the retirements are expanding the map for Democrats.
How important will Trump’s popularity be in 2018?
While House Republican retirements don’t, on their own, signal alarm, other factors such as the president’s less than desirable popularity numbers tip the scales in the Democrats’ favor.
Trump is not losing significant support among his base; however, he is losing Independents, and that’s worrying.
In August of this year, Real Clear Politics noted the decline in the president’s approval numbers amongst Independents.
Many surveys focus on Trump’s strength among his base, as well as on Republican support for him and Democratic opposition to him. In this analysis, we focus on Independents’ reactions to Trump over the first six months of his presidency. Taking two surveys per month from public YouGov polling, we examine partisan and Independent approval of the president, in addition to their opinions on his handling of the economy and foreign policy. . . .
. . . . The results show little variation among partisans, with the possible exception of Republicans who are slightly less supportive than they were at the beginning of Trump’s administration. Nevertheless, net approval for the president among Republicans remains at +60 percent.
Democrats started out anti-Trump and, over the entire time series, have at least a net -60 point approval number. This dislike is unsurprising, given the country’s entrenched polarization: Republicans were similarly down on Barack Obama in the first six months of his presidency, also approving by -60 percent. In any event, members of both parties have been remarkably stable in their assessment of Trump: Democrats against, Republicans for.
Independents, on the other hand, have moved from a net positive number in January to a steadily increasing net negative approval rating. In June, the gap against Trump was in double digits and by early August it was over 20 points: 30 percent approve and 51 percent disapprove in the latest YouGov poll. It is not surprising that a polarizing figure like Trump draws the ire of Democrats and the support of his party; his present problem is that he has lost support among the Independents who ultimately gave him the presidency.
Even in “Trump country,” the numbers among Indies are moving in the wrong direction if the President is to convince his (shrinking number of) voters that keeping the House is of sufficient import to him and his agenda to get them off the couch and to the polls.
Nearly one year after Donald Trump’s upset election victory, support for the president is eroding in counties that were most responsible for his election, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds. But Democrats have not yet managed to turn Mr. Trump’s weakness in those precincts into gains for their party. (See the full results.)
People in these so-called “Trump counties” remain far more likely than the rest of the nation to approve of the president’s job performance and handling of the economy. But disapproval of his performance in these loyalist precincts has inched up to the 50% mark, surpassing the 48% who approve.
As Mr. Trump tries to generate momentum to pass a big tax bill, there is no groundswell of support in these Trump counties. Almost half of adults in these counties, including 40% of Republicans, have no opinion about the GOP tax plan.
Impact of Congressional Republicans’ war on Trump
Keeping the House is important to President Trump and to his popular agenda. It’s worth noting that Trump’s agenda is far more popular than he. Remember his first 100 days contract with the American voter? His voters still want all of that fulfilled, and without a majority in the House, Trump becomes not only a candidate for impeachment by a Democrat House but a lame duck who will never be able to accomplish even his 100-day goals.
Trump will never win over die-hard lefties, but he is already losing Indies and many of his less-devoted voters are becoming impatient. Perhaps that impatience is related more to Congress than to the president himself, but impatient, disillusioned, and mad as hell Republican voters are not going to be as motivated to vote for House Republicans they see as part of the problem.
The Virginia gubernatorial campaign illustrated the Republican dilemma as it morphs into becoming the party of President Trump. For Ed Gillespie, the attempt at a balancing act proved awkward and ultimately unsuccessful. A candidate with deep roots in the establishment wing of the party, he tried, after receiving a scare in the primary from a pro-Trump opponent, to become more Trumpian.
. . . . Now the [Republican] party is at an inflection point, brought about by the president’s electoral success and the reactions of both [sic] Democrats, Republicans and independents to what has happened in the year since that victory. Can they prosper if they truly become the party of Trump? Or are they more likely to suffer losses in midterm elections because, whether they do or not, they are now seen as the party of Trump?
Congressional Republicans hope that passing a tax bill will ease public frustrations with their performance and boost their chances in 2018. . . .
The fact that Republican leadership believes or even hopes that passing a modest tax bill will improve their 2018 electoral chances is wrong on so many levels.
Congressional Republicans have made the past year an embarrassment, and they are a laughingstock on both sides of the aisle. Among other notable failures, Republican failure to produce an ObamaCare repeal bill or even an inchoate plan after seven years of empty promises was eye-opening for many Republican voters who had cast votes specifically in response to these promises.
That the GOP so clearly thinks of appeasing Republican voters with relatively small gestures shows that they have learned nothing at all from Trump’s victory (or even from the ousting of both Eric Cantor and John Boehner).
Here’s how Republicans hold the House in 2018
Democrats are not the Republican problem in 2018. Republicans have shown over the past nine years that they know what the majority of Americans want because they have enjoyed historic gains at the federal, state, and local levels by paying lip service to the people’s will. What they don’t quite seem to grasp is that, having won so many seats, they need to deliver to keep the power they’ve been loaned by the American people.
During his campaign, President Trump asked black Americans for their vote by asking what they had to lose by voting for him after decades of Democrat policy failure. Congressional Republicans are in no danger from Democrats who will never vote for them over an actual Democrat and are only marginally threatened by Independents (though, as noted above, this threat has increased as they lose center-right Indies); they are, however, in great danger from Republican voters who are disgusted by their dismissal of the great honor they’ve been granted to lead this nation out of the Obama abyss.
Congress’ approval numbers are abysmal, the GOP’s numbers are abysmal. Unless they ask themselves what they have to lose by supporting and enacting President Trump’s agenda, House Republicans, on their current trajectory, will be swept from power in a massive Democrat wave in 2018.
If they can figure that out by (say) late spring or early next summer, they may be able to hold onto their majorities. Personally, having watched the Congressional Republican kabuki smoke and mirror theater, I’m not optimistic.DONATE
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