Headwinds Facing GOP Might Not Be So Strong

Headwinds Facing GOP Might Not Be So Strong
AP Photo/John Minchillo
Headwinds Facing GOP Might Not Be So Strong
AP Photo/John Minchillo
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With 80 days to go before the midterm elections, the conventional wisdom is that the Republicans will be hard-pressed to hold their majority in the House. The generic ballot is against them, Donald Trump’s job approval rating isn’t where Republicans would like it to be, and midterms are historically difficult for the incumbent president’s party anyway.

However, all the wind is not in Republicans’ faces. There are countervailing trends at work, too, including these eight:

  1. Critics of the president may still be underestimating the strength of the Trump movement, as they did in 2016. Trump rallies are still standing room only, with lines out the door. The GOP is fully behind the president, whose his approval rating is about 85 percent among his base. Most of the candidates he’s endorsed in primaries have won. Moreover, his support has boosted voter turnout. 
  1. Trump is a stronger candidate than he was in 2016. One of the most important predictors of a midterm election is a president’s popularity. On Election Day in 2016, Trump’s approval to disapproval differential was 21 points and today it is nine points according to the RCP polling average. In other words, despite the pummeling he takes in the press, Donald Trump is more popular today than he was on Election Day 2016. 
  1. With a shove from progressives with 2020 presidential ambitions, most notably Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Party has veered left in the 2018 season primary season. Universal health care, free college tuition, and a guaranteed basic income may play well in some Democratic primaries. But there’s little evidence that this is what independent voters are looking for, and independents are the key voting bloc in competitive races in swing districts. 
  1. “Wave” elections don’t usually correspond to a humming economy and low unemployment rates. Democrats are saying on the campaign trail that the economic recovery began under the Obama administration. Republicans counter that the government action that solidified the recovery were the GOP-enacted tax cuts opposed by every Democrat in Congress. The upshot is that, historically, voters have been reluctant to punish the party in power when the economy is this strong. 
  1. President Trump has expanded the Republican voter base. He appears to have brought millions of rural white voters previously disillusioned with the GOP back into the fold. But that’s not all. In 2016, exit polls showed he received 8 percent of the African-American vote. Today, his job approval rating among African-Americans is above 20 percent. Trump’s Hispanic approval rating is growing as well. Low unemployment, rising wages and better job opportunities do make a difference with working-class voters of all stripes. 
  1. The Republican Party’s grassroots network is underrated. Under President Obama, the Democrats lost more than 1,000 seats at the federal, state, and local levels. Almost all of these elected officials are now out campaigning for the Republican ticket. The Republican National Committee has raised $100 million more than the DNC. The RNC is making substantial disbursements to key state party committees, which send out mail, make television commercials and help local candidates. 
  1. The media focuses on the Democratic Party’s success in special elections as evidence of the energized base. However, there have been 10 special elections where Republicans were defending a House or Senate seat and the Republicans won eight of them. The exceptions have been Rep. Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania and Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama. Special elections are not a strong indicator for a general election because they are open seats held at unusual times with heavy party involvement. 
  1. The cultural chasm remains between the national Democratic Party leaders and the key part of their coalition once known as  “Reagan Democrats.”  If anything, it’s growing. These voters, now known as Trump Democrats, helped vault Trump to victory in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan. Slightly left of center on economic issues, these voters are blue-collar, rural, patriotic, and law-and-order-oriented. For the most part, they are energized by moderate Democrats such as Lamb and New Jersey state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, but they are harder to find this election cycle. However, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is filled with such anti-Trump bile that he says America was never that great to begin with, well, it doesn’t make many Trump supporters regret their vote.

Adele Malpass is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She was formerly chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party and money politics reporter for CNBC.

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