There are protests in the streets, endless headlines claiming political controversy and members of Congress already discussing articles of impeachment — and it is only the first full month of Donald Trump’s presidency.
All these early measures suggest Trump and the Republican Party are headed for massive defeats in the 2018 midterm elections.
Then a funny thing happened over the weekend.
Trump was able to draw 9,000 supporters to an event at an airplane hangar in Melbourne, Florida — with perhaps 1,000 more outside the venue in overflow staging areas. He did this in the face of an ever more hostile press, public exhaustion from the recent campaign and recent turmoil within his administration.
Big deal, right? So what if Trump can draw thousands of sycophants? Those people are still in the minority, especially if you gauge the popular vote in last year’s election. Trump opponents and the media will say, given his falling poll numbers since taking office a month ago, it should be very easy for Democrats to regain their footing against Trump.
As Tony Montana was warned in “Scarface,” “Don’t get high on your own supply.”
Conventional wisdom suggests things can only improve for Democrats following the last election. But there are things working against them in the 2018 and 2020 elections.
For starters, there is not much of a bench left over following the Obama presidency. Despite all the airy-fairy “hope and change” rhetoric from President Barack Obama, his presidency did not inspire very many to follow in his footsteps and seek out careers in politics. For that, the Democrats are at a real disadvantage.
Yes, it certainly is early, but the biggest names on the Democrat side being discussed for a 2020 presidential run, which will begin immediately after the midterms in 2018, are Sens. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts — two characters growing more stale by the day, whose messages are not suited to what worked for the last two Democratic presidents. Presidents Obama and Bill Clinton both won on the idea of a different and new brand of politics.
Booker and Warren doubled down on their liberal ideology post-election. Running on liberalism failed Hillary Clinton. Even if they are more true to that orthodoxy than she was, there is little indication that Americans are longing for a more liberal ideology.
No doubt about it — Democrats have a lot of work to do over the next three years.
As for Congress, the maps don’t line up favorably for Democrats in 2018. Thirty-three Senate seats will be up for grabs in 2018, 25 of which are currently occupied by Democrats and independents who caucus with the Democrats. The other eight seats are occupied by Republicans.
If you recall, the last time these members of the Senate were running, Obama was at the top of the ticket. So the Democrats, even with all the negativity about Trump as a backdrop, are playing defense instead of offense.
It also has been a while since the Democrats have done well in an off-year election. The last time it happened was in 2006. The country was very war weary from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush administration was blamed for mishandling the response to Hurricane Katrina. And there were some bad actors in the U.S. House on the Republican side. (Remember Mark Foley?)
Other than that, in recent history midterm elections have been a struggle for Democrats. Ever since the 1994 Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich, Democrats largely have not had a successful midterm election, with the exception of 2006.
There are many theories as to why, but a prominent one has to do with turnout. Republican voters are far more likely to participate in midterms than Democratic voters. Also, the Democratic Party has had a difficult time mobilizing on a local level. Look no further than GOP dominance in governors’ mansions and statehouses throughout the country.
If we go back to Trump’s rally in Melbourne — not a part of the red conservative Florida Panhandle, but rather a swing, purple area in the bellwether Interstate 4 corridor — having that kind of draw suggests Trump could push a midterm election for a Republican.
Furthermore, imagine what a Trump appearance might do for a candidate’s fundraising efforts to unseat one of these 25 members playing defense.
While it is far from a foregone conclusion that 2018 will be a GOP year, the difficult path forward for Democrats is not something they have acknowledged. This is evidenced by their slate of candidates in the running to lead the Democratic National Committee, none of whom is running with plans designed to pick the voters the party lost in 2016.
As for the media, that is certainly a problem for Trump and Republicans, and there does not seem to be any quick fix. A hostile press will always be a reality for Trump.
There are a few problems with relying on the press to do the hard work. As for now, Trump’s approval ratings, although low for a new president, still far exceed those of the media. A June 2016 survey by Gallup found that only 20 percent of the public views television and newspaper press positively.
The latest Gallup tracking poll has Trump at 41 percent, double how the public views the media.
The media also give Trump an adversary to run against outside of the campaign season and, frankly, during it as well. Trump got some of his most boisterous cheers when he attacked the media. If an election comes down to Trump versus the media, you might have to give an edge to Trump for now.
While we are a long way from a meaningful election, all this early handwringing about Trump will not mean a lot. It will work to slow him down. But as for stopping him, that is best done at the ballot box, and the early controversies of his administration will not matter much when that time comes.