The closer we get to November, the more it looks like the election will be a referendum on Donald Trump. Last night in Republican primaries, Trump-type candidates won. In Virginia, Cory Stewart, who lost a primary for governor last year after wrapping himself in the Confederate flag, won the nomination to take on Democratic incumbent US Senator Tim Kaine. In South Carolina, incumbent Republican Congressman and former Governor Mark Sanford lost his bid for re-election to a pro-Trump opponent. Trump even weighed in with an anti-Sanford tweet in the final hours.
As political prognosticator Larry Sabato tweeted, “As if more evidence was needed, the Republican party is now the Trump party almost everywhere.” Conservative writer and commentator Erick Erickson best described what that means when he tweeted, “…[T]he GOP is not really a conservative party that cares about limited government. It is now fully a cult of personality.” The GOP now supports an agenda that rejects free trade, supports dictators over democracy, subverts the rule of law and ignores human rights. They call it Making America Great Again and 90% of Republicans support it because of courts, regulations and taxes.
On the Democratic side, some of the handwringing and angst of the last few weeks subsided. The Congressional generic ballot, which had gotten inside of five points, is back up to eight points according to the Real Clear Politics average. To put that in perspective, in 2010, the generic ballot midterm following Obama’s election was a dead heat in mid-June. In November, Republicans won in the biggest wave in 70 years.
In Wisconsin, last night, Democrats won another state senate seat in a district Trump carried by 17 points.Democrats will almost certainly do well this year. They need to keep calm and carry on, as the saying goes, and not get hung up on the weekly polling averages.
North Carolina is no exception to this trend. The GOP in North Carolina was Trumpist before Trump. Like conservatives nationally, the ones in North Carolina have overlooked the illiberal policies of the Republican legislators and rationalized that tax cuts and deregulation justify voter suppression, authoritarian interference into local governments, rigging the judiciary and general disrespect for the rights of minorities.
Like elections past, Democrats in North Carolina are motivated. In 2014, those voters mitigated what was a mini-GOP wave nationally. In 2016, their enthusiasm helped put Roy Cooper in the Governor’s Mansion and elect Josh Stein attorney general. This year, Democrats hope that sustained enthusiasm will be boosted by overall low turnout in a blue moon election and independents’ rejection of Trumpism.
Republicans will try to boost enthusiasm with an amendment to boost voter ID and other amendments that will likely be on the ballot. That might be a hard sell with the Trump administration now trying to bring back pre-existing conditions that would deny health insurance for millions of people. The generic ballot combined with the outcome of special elections makes the election look difficult for Republicans. Democrats today are in a far better position than Republicans were in 2010 at this point in the election cycle. The lesson should be that a lot can change between now and November.