Think Trump’s about to be stopped? Prepare to be surprised. Again
“Democrats are on a roll in the run-up to the midterms,” announced a Washington Post headline, Wednesday. “Democrats keep winning special elections. A ‘Blue Wave’ may be coming this fall,” agreed The Boston Globe. “Dems surge in generic ballot as economy fades from spotlight,” echoed The Hill.
It looks bleak for President Donald Trump and the Republican party, anti-Trump pundits enthuse. Once Democrats regain control over the House of Representatives and maybe also the Senate, Trump’s populist agenda can be fully blocked and impeachment proceedings can begin.
The pundits should instead ponder a likelier scenario: Republicans not only retaining both houses of Congress, but increasing their lead, possibly by enough to give the Republicans total control over Congress in November. And enough to give Trump an open field to push through the most radical populist agenda in history.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, Trump’s popularity has been climbing, especially among those who especially count — voters. Last week, according to the Rasmussen poll of likely voters — one of the few polling companies that recognized Trump could win the 2016 presidency — Trump became popular with 50 per cent of the electorate, higher than Barack Obama’s 45 per cent standing at the same stage of his presidency.
Trump’s rising stock with the American public should puzzle no one: he has delivered and Americans are feeling good about themselves. The Conference Board puts consumer confidence at a 17-year high; the Labor Department puts unemployment at 17-year low. For the first time in decades, median incomes of Americans are rising, putting a spring in their step. “Americans’ optimism about finding a quality job averaged 56 per cent in 2017, the highest annual average in 17 years of Gallup polling and a sharp increase from 42 per cent in 2016,” Gallup reports.
Trump’s base is especially optimistic: He has proven wrong those who claimed manufacturing jobs are gone for good. The Institute for Supply Management reports robust growth, explaining the fastest return of manufacturing jobs in 13 years. Trump is likewise delivering on his vow to reduce illegal immigration. Illegal border crossings are at a 17-year low.
Trump’s stellar performance has not only turned much of the general public’s opinion around, it has miraculously made believers out of many of the diehard Never Trumpers, creating a unified Republican party solidly behind the president. At last week’s gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest annual gathering of conservatives, Trump earned a 93-per-cent approval rating — this from purists who before his election scoffed at claims that he was a conservative.
The expectation that Republicans will lose the House of Representatives is largely based on precedent. In almost 90 per cent of the midterms in modern U.S. history, the party that won the presidency lost House seats. That norm, coupled with a highly motivated anti-Trump movement, provides Democrats with an expectation of unusually high turnouts at the voting booth. Democrats have every reason to be hopeful.
But so do Republicans. Trump’s growing popularity and his ability to rally his base blunt these Democratic advantages. Independents are trending to Trump, particularly since Democrats are leaderless and the rift between their moderate and far-left factions prevent them from unifying on anything except hatred of Trump. Even if Republicans do lose some seats in the House of Representatives, they can afford to. The Republicans have a 45-seat edge, letting them retain the House despite some Democratic gains.
Republicans have even more reasons to be hopeful over the Senate. Of the 34 Senate seats being contested, only eight are held by Republicans, seven of them in states Trump won. In contrast, Democrats must defend 26 seats, 10 of them in states Trump won, five by double digits. If Republicans take nine of those 10 Trump-state seats — an entirely plausible outcome — while retaining the eight Republican incumbent seats, Republicans would have a filibuster-proof Senate, enough to overcome any Democratic objections.
This week, Trump took the unusual step of announcing his 2020 campaign manager, political newbie Brad Parscale, whose first exposure to political campaigns came as a one-man shop running Trump’s early digital operations, and who is widely credited with rewriting the rules on how political campaigns will be fought. The Trump announcement wasn’t made this early because Parscale (dubbed Trump’s “secret weapon” by 60 Minutes) needs time to ramp up for 2020. It was made now because Trump will deploy Pascale in the 2018 races to capture the Congressional seats the president needs to secure a Congress free of Democratic obstruction.
The Democrats now salivating at the prospect of taking back Congress in November, and then ousting Trump, need to take a deep breath. Their nightmare could be just beginning.
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