Back in 2006, the economy was chugging along at a modest rate. Unemployment was about 4.5% and economic growth was around 3%. Americans said health care and its rising costs were their greatest domestic concern. The war in Iraq had no end in sight despite George Bush claiming victory prematurely a couple of years earlier.
With the exception of the Iraq War, 2018 looks a lot like 2006. And like 2006, a growing dissatisfaction defines the electorate. While the economy was stable and growing, wages were stagnant despite a massive tax cut that Republicans promised would benefit everyone. Consumer debt was rising and so were interest rates.
And scandals. In 2006, the Abramoff scandal was implicating an increasing number of Republican Congressmen in a pay-for-play scheme that would result in resignations and jail time. Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay had resigned for campaign finance violations. And in September, Florida Congressman Mark Foley got caught sending sexually explicit messages to teen-aged pages.
This week feels remarkably like September 2006. Like then, the issue on the top of most voters’ minds is the cost of health care, a problem most voters trust Democrats to solve more than Republicans. The scandals surrounding the president are reaching a tipping point. His former lawyer implicated Trump in a campaign finance scandal that involved paying hush money to porn stars with whom the president had extra-marital affairs. After initially denying the accusations altogether, Trump’s defense has morphed into essentially “I paid for them out of personal funds.”
In addition, Congressman Duncan Hunter of California has been charged with campaign finance violations that include buying personal items while vacationing in Hawaii and attributing them to donations to charities. Trump’s Treasury Secretary Larry Kudlow admitted to hosting a publisher of white supremacist materials at his house last weekend.
And in North Carolina, this year, like 2006, is a Blue Moon election. With nothing at the top of the ticket, voter turnout will be extremely low. Polls that already show a substantial Democratic advantage in the generic ballot could be amplified here. It’s not just that people will choose Democratic candidates over Republicans, it’s that conservative leaning voters of all stripes will stay home. In contrast, a motivated Democratic electorate smells blood in the water. They’re coming.
However, this is not September; it’s still August. The political environment can change much faster now than it did back in 2006 when nobody had ever heard of Facebook, Twitter or social media. In 2014, we watched the political environment go south for Democrats very quickly in the wake of the Ebola outbreak and videos of Islamic State terrorists beheading American and western journalists. In 2016, Comey’s October announcement about Hillary Clinton’s email server probably drove the final nails into her political coffin.
Democrats have some structural advantages that almost ensure a good cycle for them. Republicans have been so successful in recent years that they don’t have a whole lot of seats left to lose so they’re playing defense. The GOP faces a record number of retirements in Congress giving Democrats more opportunities. Finally, the first mid-term after a presidential election almost always favors the party out of the White House.
There’s certainly a blue wave out there. The question is whether or not it subsides before the election. Democrats hope it looks a lot like 2006.