The political precedent is well-known that frequently in the
first mid-term election of a new president his party suffers
significant losses in he U.S. house and senate, especially if
they are in the majority. These losses cam be amplified when
the new president is controversial and/or unpopular.
In the 2018 mid-term election cycle, new GOP President
Donald Trump is undeniably controversial, and his poll
numbers are under 50%. His party controls both houses of
Congress. These circumstances fit the historical precedent
conditions for major Republican mid-term losses.
On the other hand, the economy is very strong, the stock
market at or near historic highs, unemployment is sharply
Although the GOP controls both houses of Congress, the
Democrats’ prospects for big gains or even taking back
control of the U.S. house is only visibly strong in the latter.
In the U.S. senate races, liberal incumbent seats outnumber
conservative ones by almost three-to-one. Reducing the GOP
51-49 lead is technically, even anecdotally, possible, but
mathematically improbable. In he U.S. house races and in
state governorships, however, the Democrats have the
numbers and precedent on their side.
Liberal pundits, pollsters and media outlets have, since the
outset of the 2018 cycle, been drumming up a blue wave
election narrative, even including an unlikely one in the
senate races. Turnout in the primaries and the closeness (but
not victory) in most special house elections were interpreted
as clear evidence of the imminent blue winds of Democratic
gains and overall victory in November.
These victories could indeed still happen a few weeks from
now in November, but two unexpected developments have
arisen whereby Democrats might, by their own hands, shut
their windows to the strong political breezes seemingly
heading their way.
The first development appeared relatively late in the primary
season. Initially, liberal strategists seemed to have determined
to recruit more moderate candidates to take on GOP
incumbents in swing districts or in districts where the
boundaries had recently been redrawn (often by the courts).
This made sense as a winning strategy. It appeared to be
working in some special house elections. As the primary
elections took place, however, a more radical left voter
movement, inspired by 2016 unsuccessful Democratic
presidential candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
(a self-described independent socialist), began to win a
number of races in U.S. house races, governorships, and in
at least one prominent down-ballot state attorney general
race in Minnesota. Most establishment liberal incumbents
won their primaries, but a few prominent ones were upset by
candidates to their left --- candidates advocating single payer
healthcare, Medicare for All, abolition of I.C.E. border
control, unlimited immigration into the U.S., free college
tuition, and sanctuary cities. In effect, the Democrats are
now running an opportunistic mid-term campaign without
The second development also appeared late when a member
of the U.S. supreme court retired, and President Trump
nominated a more conservative figure as his replacement.
In spite of the fact that several Democratic senators up for
re-election this year are from states carried by big margins by
Donald Trump in 2016, the Senate Democratic leadership not
only decided to oppose the nomination, but to seek out and
encourage a campaign of personal attacks against the nominee
that has been unprecedented in recent memory. (To be fair,
the confirmation process has deteriorated on both sides in
recent decades). Allegations against the nominee were aired in
non-judicial hearings where the fundamental American
principle of law that a person is innocent until PROVEN guilty
was turned on its head. Partisans for and against the nominee
became incensed, but a growing public perception of unfairness
and political desperation might backfire as the controversy
continues almost until election day. The Republicans and
President Trump, while denouncing the attacks on the nominee
as politically-motivated, have allowed the Democrats to pursue
a strategy of delaying the nomination (presumably not only
to defeat the confirmation, but also to enable vulnerable
Democratic incumbent senators to avoid voting on the
nomination at all before election day). This political
melodrama is still playing itself out with another delay, but the
risk is growing that it could provoke a voter backlash against
those attempting to scuttle the confirmation process.
In a variation of the common phrase --- the non-jury is out!
The best motivator for Democratic turnout this cycle is liberal
opposition and antipathy (much of it visceral) to Donald Trump.
But the best motivator for Republican turnout this cycle is
conservative enthusiasm for President Trump!
President Barack Obama stood at the “bully pulpit” in 2010,
but he couldn’t prevent a wave election against him and his
party. President Donald Trump stands at the same pulpit now.
To this point, he has disrupted precedents and expectations.
Can he do it again, or has his string of upsets run out?
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.