The first skirmish in the “President Puts Kids in Cages and Lies About It” scandal ended yesterday with a tactical retreat by the White House and little else. More than 2,000 immigrant children are still in cages. Trump’s executive order just sets up another crisis in 20 days, when he’ll blame a judge for sending kids back to their cages. So it’s a retreat, not a surrender, and not even a real victory for decent people.
But there’s blood in the water on this Summer Solstice.
Trumpism is ruining America, which means our job as citizens is to win back as much power as we possibly can in the midterm elections on Nov. 6, 2018. That’s 138 days from now. Four months and 16 days. It’s not upon us yet, but the stretch run is finally coming into view.
So let’s set some expectations and make some plans.
One of the recurring themes in the political press over the past month has been Trump’s “rise in the polls.” This is relatively true: Trump’s aggregate approval rating on FiveThirtyEight hit a low of 37 percent in December, and over the past six months it’s rocketed all the way up to … well, it stood at 42.5 percent yesterday. Compare that to his 51.4 percent disapproval on June 20th, the 462nd consecutive day in which Trump’s disapproval has stood above 50 percent.
If you’re a Trump optimist, his “accomplishments” are starting to break through, and the GOP will use its gerrymanders and structural advantages to hold on to power in Washington. If you’re a realist, you accept that most Americans don’t like Trump and are unlikely to start liking him before November. But you also accept that polling majorities mean nothing in electoral politics. After all, Trump isn’t on the ballot, the GOP gerrymandered the House map to its advantage eight years ago, and this is the worst U.S. Senate class for Democrats that I can remember.
If the mid-term elections were held today, Democrats would likely gain some House seats and hold serve in the Senate.
But that’s not enough. Because of the GOP’s hyper-partisanship, it is essential to the future of the nation that Democrats win control of at least one chamber of Congress. The most promising target is the House, where the Democrats must flip 24 Republican-held seats in order to appoint a new Speaker of the House. With Democrats in control of each committee, we could finally see some actual oversight of the Trump administration, and Democratic bills would again be allowed a vote.
First, the bad news: The strength of the GOP’s gerrymandered districts means that Democrats will likely need to win the popular vote for all House races by about 11 points in order to flip control. That’s a lot, but the GOP is so weakened at this point that most forecasters have been rating the Democrats’ chances of flipping control of the House at 50-50 this spring. Democratic optimist G. Elliott Morris currently has the odds of a flip at over 63 percent, but that remains an outlier.
Here’s the good news: The odds of a House flip are likely to improve, not decrease, between now and November.
A REFERENDUM ON TRUMP: Pew Research released its polling yesterday on how Trump is likely to affect the midterm voting. By one comparison, its finding suggests 2018 is shaping up to be the worst midterm for a President’s party since 2006. By another, it’s the worst since 1982. No matter how you parse the data, it’s bad for the GOP. While 39 percent of likely voters said the President would not be a factor in their decision, 60 percent said they viewed the election as a referendum on Trump. Fifty-seven percent of those “Presidential Referendum” voters said they would be voting against Republican candidates.
WE HAVEN’T SEEN THE NUMBERS FOR THIS WEEK YET: As Mike Allen at Axios published this quote from “a source close to Trump” this morning: “(The Kids in Cages at the Border Scandal) was the biggest communications fail I’ve seen out of this White House, and that’s really saying something. The President, senior staffers, Cabinet members, and outside surrogates all trumpeted different talking points. Immigration is a political battleground that typically gives the administration the upper hand. But they gave up home-field advantage on an epic scale.” The same article included this quote from an expert on swing voters: “This goes right at these independent women that he needs to hold onto — the moms of America who voted for Trump. Remember that most independent suburban women voted Trump. This did the most damage with exactly that group.”
The visceral, emotional nature of the past week is likely to hurt Trump’s approval ratings. And it was TV coverage of Republicans — worried about their reelection chances — that cause Trump’s temporary retreat. The polls we’ll see over the next few days should give us a better look at what the electorate may look like heading into the fall general election season.
THE REPUBLICAN WALL IS CRACKING: We’re about halfway through the state primary calendar, and as Republican nominees start looking ahead to the general election, some may have to consider distancing themselves from the President. That’s a risk — between 80 and 90 percent of the GOP electorate approves of Trump. But in many races, there may not be enough Republicans to overcome independent voters who have been breaking toward Democrats in special elections all year. As prominent Republicans either break with their party over Trump — as longtime party activist Steve Schmidt did this week — or criticize the President in public, the perception of GOP solidarity could be weakened. That should have the effect of modestly dampening conservative turnout in a few key races. And Democrats clearly hold the enthusiasm advantage at this point: We’re righteously pissed off.
TRUMP’S “ACHIEVEMENT BUMP” HAS PEAKED: Why is Trump “riding high in the polls” right now (hey, give them a break: Everything’s relative)? We’re told it’s because of the Tax Cut, or the jobs report, or scrapping the Iran nuke deal, or the economy, or his “summit” with Kim Jong Un. But even if you credit those Potempkin achievements for his modest improvement from 37 percent to 42 percent approval, there’s no remaining momentum from any of these claims. Is there some other stunt Trump could pull? Who knows? But there’s no obvious win on the board for him at the moment.
THE NEWS IS NOT OVER YET: For all the President’s claims about removing the North Korean nuclear threat, Trump’s own Secretary of Defense was forced to admit yesterday that there’s no evidence that Kim’s Hermit Kingdom is doing anything whatsoever to reciprocate for Trump’s cancelling joint military exercises with South Korea. For all the claims about the “strong Trump economy,” annual GDP growth is again likely to fall short of 3 percent, with no sign of the 4 percent growth the President promised. The child imprisonment issue has flipped immigration from a GOP strength to a vulnerability, and it looks like it will fester through the summer, putting pressure on some evangelicals.
Meanwhile, the first bills for Trump’s chaotic trade wars appear to have arrived, and they’re upsetting Red State residents and their Republican leaders. if Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’ performance in front of a Republican Senate committee yesterday is any indication, hardships and closings brought on by tariff retaliation could be the biggest challenge for the GOP in places like Iowa, Montana and Missouri. Oh, and those new insurance rates for plans available through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces? They’re forecast to rise dramatically thanks to GOP meddling, and they’re expected to made public by late October.
AND THEN THERE’S THE LAW: No one knows what Special Counsel Robert Mueller III is planning, but there’s been some indication that he could wrap up portions of his investigation into Trump’s dealings with Russia by fall. Regardless of Mueller’s timetable, the only news respite available to Trump when it comes to “the Russia thing” are for stories that emphasize his more recent failures. Even the past week, in news cycles dominated by images of crying children, has featured new revelations about Russian meddling in elections in both the US and the UK, with more evidence of collaboration between the Kremlin and Wikileaks.
That’s not to mention fresh evidence that Michael Cohen, Trump’s fixer, could be on the verge of cooperating with federal investigators (though I’ll believe that when I see it). Or whatever progress occurs in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit. Or the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit against Trump and his children for illegal activities by their charitable foundation. And it certainly doesn’t include the daily potential for Trump to bring about an unprecedented constitutional crisis by attempting to fire Mueller — an action Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani appeared to threaten just last week (he’s since “admitted” that he was just “posturing”).
Get the picture? The Trump administration is the most hollowed-out, low-morale outfit any of us have ever seen. Republican politicians — even those who publicly declare their loyalty to the man — are becoming increasingly hostile towards him. Republican voters are digging in, but self-identified Republicans only make up 40 percent of the current electorate. And the worse things get between now and November — and they’re only going to get worse for them — the more likely a Democrat upset in the House becomes.
WHAT ABOUT THE SENATE?
Here’s how bad the Senate looked for Democrats in early 2018: Of the 35 Senate seats on the ballot, 26 belong to Democrats or independents who caucus with the Democrats, and 10 of those Democrats are running in states Trump won in 2016. In January, Republicans were quietly discussing scenarios in which they could win a veto-proof 60 seat majority.
In other words, with Democrats defending 26 seats to the Republicans’ nine, the odds of the GOP’s 51-49 Republican majority losing control of the Senate are long. To kick Mitch McConnell off his perch as Majority Leader, Democrats would need to win all their seats AND pick up two wins out of the other nine available.
Incumbents generally do well when their party doesn’t control the White House (yes, American politics are weird), so Democrats holding serve in places like Missouri is plausible. But it boils down to this: The Cook Political Report ranks seven Democratic seats as competitive, while only three Republicans seats are up for grabs. Shutting out the Republican challengers is a big enough task, but doing that while picking off two seats from Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee, all states won by Trump? That’s asking a lot.
That said, it’s doable. Two of those three GOP toss-up seats are vacant, and incumbent Dean Heller in Nevada may be the most vulnerable of all.
A Democratic upset in the Senate would be a historic anomaly, but what is Trump but a historic anomaly of the worst kind? Bluntly speaking, if Trump falls apart between now and November, anything is possible. And Trump falling apart is a daily possibility.
THINGS TO DO
Thing One is the one thing Democrats can’t seem to do, ever: Pull together. So let’s simplify it: Can we at least keep our damn mouths shut about the things we dislike about other Democrats in this cycle? Please? Joe Manchin may not be particularly liberal, but he’s running in West Virginia, people. If his vote is the one that gets McConnell out of office, it really doesn’t matter what he thinks about abortion. Focus. And even if you can’t support him, at least stifle yourself until Nov. 7.
Thing Two is register and vote. Democratic. Not Green. Not Libertarian. Look, I vote Democratic now regardless, and I’m no fan of the party’s current leadership. If I can keep my eyes on the big picture, so can you. The country is in crisis, and after flubbing 2016, the 2018 election is absolutely critical. I’ll join you in our usual squabbling in 2019 in we win in November, but until then, every vote that doesn’t go for a candidate that caucuses with the Democrat, at every level of government, is effectively a vote for Trump.
And yes, that includes not voting.
Thing Three is to participate in advance. That could mean giving some cash to a candidate. It could mean volunteering for a campaign. Whatever works for you, resolve to do something beyond just voting.
And finally, talk politics. Talk politics with friends and family. Do it in person. Do it online. Find a way, even if it’s as simple as showing your support without delving into policies. You don’t have to argue. Just represent. People are more influenced by the opinions of the people they know and respect than they are by anything else, including media. By making yourself and your feelings known, especially if you live in a conservative community like I do, you may be opening others to reconsidering their own beliefs. You’d probably never know it, but it’s possible.
I suspect a lot will happen between now and November, and things could yet go wrong. After all, the Kremlin is still trying to influence our politics, and could yet attempt to hack directly into voting machines. We can’t take anything for granted.
But we cannot wallow in angst and depression, even if we feel its tug. One hundred and thirty-eight days ahead of us. Believe in the possibility of something better. Quit bitching. Line up and march.
Nothing matters now but victory. Let’s beat these bastards.