By Matt Rooney
It’s almost gospel in media (and political) circles that the GOP’s goose is cooked in 2018.
And it might be, Save Jerseyans. The president’s party usually loses at least some seats in a midterm cycle (with 2002, the first cycle post-9/11, serving as a notable exception), and a large number of Republican retirements in blue and purple territory doesn’t bode well; the more territory you need to defend on multiple fronts, the more likely it is your enemy will breakthrough your line somewhere along the front line. That’s common sense. You don’t need to be a pollster.
Still, the “blue wave” we’ve read so much about (do a Google search for that term and you’ll get 300,000 results) might be a false alarm.
Or it might’ve already crashed?
The most popular measures might be the tip of the iceberg. Yes, the much-discussed “generic congressional ballot” has been tightening, significantly, due in large part to a dip in Democrat enthusiasm and a surge in Republican enthusiasm. A recent CNN poll (not Fox News) discovered 44% of GOP voters expressing a high level of enthusiasm for the midterms elections versus only 1-in-3 in March. President Trump’s approval rating is moving into the 40s (not-so-awful territory), too.
Those numbers represent only two measures, and they’re imperfect measures since (1) many of the GOP defenses this cycle are in less-than-friendly states, like our own New Jersey, where Trump and the Republican brand are less popular than the nation writ-large and issues like DACA play better than most other locales, and (2) those indicators are snapshots and likely to change 1,000 more times between now and November.
Something less likely to change and, in my opinion, far more instructive than any batch of polls or statistics: the issues.
In 1994? Newt Gingrich and his fellow Republican Revolutionaries countered Hillarycare with the Contract with America.
In 2006, when Nancy Pelosi flipped the House back? A perceived quagmire in Iraq loomed large in the public consciousness.
In 2010, when Democrats were wrapping up two years of complete control of the executive and legislative branches? Obamacare monopolized the public debate.
Each of these three years share a commonality: a winning issue for the winning party.
This time around? In 2018?
The Democrats don’t have a coherent substantive rallying cry. Much can change between now and the fall, but the U.S. economy is strong and America enjoys relative peace (punctuated by an apparent historic thaw on the Korean Peninsula). The vast majority of American voters — including a majority of so-called “working class” Democrats — benefited directly from tax reform by seeing more $$$ in their paychecks. Unemployment is way down, too, especially among Hispanic and Black Americans. Hardened partisan Democrats can rightly be asked, as I have, “what are you still resisting?“
The only Democrat “issue” for 2018 is “Trump’s a shady pig who says mean things.”
That and, lest we forget, Nancy Pelosi’s PROMISE to raise taxes on the Middle Class.
There are two problems with this approach: (1) Most likely voters accounted for and discounted our 45th president’s shortcomings last time around given his position as one of the world’s most famous people going on forty years, and (2) so-called “personality” campaigns rarely work (as evidenced by the failure of hyper-personal attacks on George W. Bush by MoveOn.org and other leftist groups in 2004).
Could 2018 be different? Sure. There’s a first time for everything; Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Californians may celebrate the surf being “up” as she prepares for a second run at the speakership.
A safer bet, however, taking the current numbers AND recent political history into account, is a Democrat night something more akin to what we saw in 2014 (when Republicans gained 14 House seats but didn’t quite romp). The “blue wave” may’ve actually already crested and crashed earlier this year when President Trump’s approval rating hit bottom and Republicans lost high-profile special election contests with less-than-ideal candidates in places like PA and AL. If Dems DO flip 24 seats, including all 23 GOP-held districts carried by Hillary in 2016? It’ll have more to do with Republican retirements in less-than-solid red places like NJ-02 (LoBiondo) and Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) than a genuine Democrat tidal wave.
Again, that’s because a campaign built entirely around telling people what they already know — and already love or hate, going on years — about Donald Trump does not a revolution make.