More evidence emerged this week showing the difficulties Congressional Republicans face as they enter the 2018 cycle. A Fox News poll shows Democrats with a staggering 15-point advantage on the generic ballot (“If the election for Congress were held tomorrow, would you vote for a Democrat in your district or a Republican”). That’s consistent with FiveThirtyEight’s average of a 13-point Democratic margin.
Third quarter fundraising reports show that Democratic candidates significantly out-raised their Republican counterparts, indicating an early enthusiasm gap in the fight to control Congress. According to an analysis by Talking Points Memo, “More than 30 incumbent Republicans raised less money than their Democratic challengers.” In Senate races, Democratic incumbents, even in states where Trump won, have big advantages over their challengers, while several competitive Republican incumbents were out-raised by their Democratic opponents. If nothing else, Democratic candidates are more motivated and Democratic supporters are more inspired to support them.
Donald Trump is certainly hurting Republicans. His approval rating is below 40% in almost every poll and his disapproval rating is close to 60%. His reckless tweets might excite his most ardent supporters but they scare a lot of average Americans and turn off those who want more civil discourse.
But Republican problems go beyond Trump. The GOP has control of both Houses of Congress and the presidency as well as a favorable Supreme Court yet can’t seem to get anything done. They’ve failed to act on their signature campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. As letters show up indicating significant rate increases, voters will blame Republicans for the failure to fix or scrap what they branded a bad program for seven years.
Their policies also aren’t helping them. While they were out of power, Republicans tried to claim they were looking out for the middle class but once they started governing, their policies protect the corporate interests that have generated anger from both the left and right. The Senate passed a bill this week that would protect Wall Street banks from being sued in class action lawsuits. They also announced that they wanted to help pay for tax breaks that will disproportionally benefit the wealthy and big corporations by limiting the amount middle class workers can put into tax-deferred 401(K) accounts. Trump, who has a better sense of the working class, rejected the notion, but Republicans in Congress are trying to keep it alive.
As I’ve said before, a lot can change in a year. The economy could improve even more. The president could pivot. We could be attacked by terrorists. We could find ourselves in another war. Democrats could become as divided as Republicans. But, right now, Republicans are struggling. Their leader is highly unpopular and so are the policies they’re introducing. They seem to be unable to govern despite controlling most of the government. Their party is in an all-out civil war with no clear outcome.
While Democrats have their own problems, they have the advantage of being in the minority. They don’t have to produce anything. They just need to capitalize on the dissatisfaction with the Republicans in Washington. Let’s see if they can accomplish that simple task.