The GOP continues to get bad news about the midterm election cycle. Yesterday, Republicans revealed that they are worried about losing the Senate. A series of polls over the past week show Donald Trump’s approval ratings have dropped significantly. To many prognosticators, the signs point to a Blue Wave in November.
However, one North Carolina analyst believes the hype might be overblown. John Davis thinks that Republicans are building a “seawall” that will hold off the wave. He believes Republicans will hold Congress and the General Assembly here in North Carolina. John’s been right about a lot in his years as an analyst.
When John wrote his analysis in August, Trump’s poll numbers were actually on a year-long upswing. Since then, the Woodward book and the NYT anonymous op-ed have come out with some pretty disturbing portrayals of the Trump White House. The falling poll numbers we’ve seen probably reflect the hype around these publications. They didn’t really tell us anything we haven’t heard before, so Trump could recover if the news cycle gets disrupted by something like a hurricane. A good response to Florence might restore some confidence in the president.
John bases his predictions on three premises. First, Democrats look vindictive and bitter. Voters, he believes, want something positive. Which leads to the second premise: Donald Trump has delivered. He promised people he would disrupt the establishment and status quo and he’s done just that. While Democrats may cringe and gnash their teeth at Trump’s disregard for decorum and tradition, his partisans love it. And third, the economy is chugging along. Voters will give Trump credit and his base will attribute the economic success to many of the features the establishment abhors.
I think John misses the point of the vindictiveness among Democrats. It’s not based in the bitterness of Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Old Guard. It’s awakening people who are reshaping the Democratic party. Younger voters will vote at a higher rate than they have in years. And women candidates are leading the charge, making up more than half of Democratic Congressional nominees. If the Blue Wave happens, it will be because of motivated women and young people.
I agree with John on his analysis that Trump has delivered for his base. Different parts of the GOP base have different reasons for sticking with Trump. Some like the tax cuts and the deregulation. Some like him sticking it to the establishment and support him disrupting the trade agreements that left so many behind. And, yes, some like his culture war and standing up for the racial status quo, or at least the racial status quo of the 1950s. If Trump can get that coalition to come out in November, a surge in their voting could offset the surge in Democrats.
And finally, John believes the economy will sustain Republicans. And John may be on to something here. The CNN poll this week shows that 69% of the people think the economy is good and 29% say it’s very good. You have to go back 15 years to find optimism like that. That trend certainly began under Obama, but he’s not president and Democrats don’t control Congress. If people vote on the economy, the party in power will get credit. That’s just how it works.
In normal times, an economy this good should give the incumbent party some breathing space. However, Trump is not normal and the times are highly polarized. Trump is both a drag on his party and its chief motivator. Without his incendiary tweets, the Democratic base would have less to rally around. The economy would keep people from getting too engaged, and a normal mid-term turnout would help Republicans mitigate other structural issues that make midterms tough for the party in power.
Right now, I think John is wrong. I don’t the seawall is high enough to hold off the people disturbed by a Trump presidency and a Congress unwilling to hold him accountable. I think Democrats will turn out in record numbers and the middle will collapse for Republicans. The uptick in Trump partisans won’t be able to hold off the wave. That said, I think the political equation could change after this hurricane and it could be a chance for Trump and the GOP in Congress to change the narrative. And who knows what else might happen between now and November 6.