We’re hearing a lot about a Democratic wave emerging in 2018. I’ve written about it. So has just about every other Democratic pundit. Even Republicans are worried about one. However, I’m starting to have my doubts.
Sure, Democrats will do better this year than they have in past. All the fundamentals are with them. The party out of the White House almost always picks up seats in midterms. The Democratic base is motivated. They’re recruiting good candidates up and down the ballot. Elected Republicans are retiring in droves. Democrats have good reasons to be optimistic.
A wave, though, has three fundamental features: a motivated base on one side, a demoralized base on the other and middle that breaks overwhelmingly for the side that’s motivated. While the Democratic base is certainly coming out strong in November, the other two factors are less certain. The political environment feels less ominous for Republicans than it did at the end of the year.
Three factors are influencing the improving environment for the Republicans.
First, the economy is getting better. For the first time since the Great Recession, all of the world’s major economies are growing. Wages are finally starting to increase after years of stagnation. There’s a good chance of increased economic growth and increased consumer confidence. It’s not necessarily anything Donald Trump has done, but he’ll get credit since he’s in office. That’s just the way it works.
Second, the tax cut will help the Republicans. After months of being demoralized by the ineffectiveness of the GOP Congress, the Republican base is more unified and energized. Donors are opening up their wallets as the windfall from the tax cuts increases their wealth. They got a double bonus. Reducing the corporate tax rate will increase the value of their stock portfolios and lowering the top marginal income tax rate will reduce their tax burden. According to my Facebook focus group, the tax cuts are getting more popular as people see more money in their paychecks.
Third, despite the efforts of the press and Democrats, Trump’s behavior has been normalized. We crossed a line when the public decided to shrug at Trump paying off a porn star to hide an affair. We will no longer be shocked by anything Trump does or says. His outrageous behavior won’t drive moderates toward Democrats because they’ll ignore it. Trump won’t be the drag on the ticket that he appeared to be just a few weeks ago because people just don’t care.
Democrats will likely do well in November. They could do very well, but I’m not as optimistic about a wave as I was a month ago. If people start feeling good about their personal situations, they’ll be reluctant to vote for change on a large scale. That will benefit the party in power and that’s the Republicans.