The Democrats are Ready for a 2018 Comeback, However…
There is much anxiety on the Right and much Ecstasy on the Left on the ever approaching 2018 midterm elections in the United States. There is a general trend in American elections that the party of the President is punished in the midterms. President Trump remains historically unpopular and there is a transparent incoherence of purpose and policy among Republicans on the Hill. The Healthcare reform that has been passed is little more than an ill-conceived half-measure (it doesn’t actually repeal Obamacare for example). If the congress fails to accomplish anything of real consequence, there is a very real possibility that a blue tsunami could sweep the House.
The GOP’s natural advantages going in
It is not my wish to trivialize the real possibility of that but it seems for now to be unlikely. Republicans have several implicit advantages going into these elections which will Democrats will find difficult to overcome. One, Midterms tend to have a large drop in turnout which is usually good for the Republicans. Two, the slow collapse of the Democratic party in suburbs and exurbs has made both houses, which are designed to mitigate the power of cities over the electorate, naturally Republican held. It should be noted that the one period of Democratic control of the house since the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, where the GOP captured the House for the first time in 40 years, was due to the phenomenal opposition to the Bush presidency rather than a real and sustainable electoral shift.
This trend the Democrats seem unable or unwilling to reverse with their continuous lunge to the Left since 1968. Indeed, the recent statement by DNC chair Tom Perez that the DNC will no longer support candidates that oppose abortion will make winning once competitive socially conservative rural areas much more difficult.
What have the recent elections shown?
The recent special elections for vacant house seats has undermined the narrative of a Democratic comeback as well. These elections are usually a good indicator of the mood of the electorate. In the run up to the 2010 blood bath there was a special election in Hawaii’s first congressional district. Republican Charles Djou won the district despite its seventeen point registration advantage for the Democrats.
No equivalent event has happened for the Democrats. In both the Kansas 4th and Georgia 6th special elections, the Democrats failed to go the distance. This was depsite a massive increase in turnout among local Democrats, out of state Fundraising, and national media attention. The upcoming Montana special elections appears to going in the same direction. The relative closeness of these recent elections in heavily Republican districts should worry Republican leaders. It likewise does not indicate a coming Democratic counterrevolution.
The picture in the Senate is even more encouraging as next year’s map is very favorable to the GOP. Of the 33 seats up for grabs all those held by Republicans are in blood red states and/or held by incumbents with high approval rating and a very well oiled electoral machine. To contrast the Democrats are defending 9 seats whose states voted for Trump, and many incumbents are not particularly popular in their home states. For example Claire McCaskill of Missouri(a state Trump won by 19 points) only won six years ago because her opponent claimed women who are raped cannot become pregnant(yes, really) and was denounced by his own party, and even then it was a close election. It is very possible that even in the event of a blue wave the GOP would pick up Senate seats.
Never-Trump Solidarity with the Party
Another factor seldom discussed is the apparent lack of effect Trump’s unpopularity has on many down ticket Republicans. Every Republican Senate candidate last year won by a greater margin in their state than he did. The only exceptions being those who lost by a smaller margin. That is very unusual in American politics. In the 2016 House elections the House Republicans won more votes in aggregate than Trump nationally. This is truly unprecedented, as turnout usually drops off the more local an election gets. This is perhaps an indicator that the Never Trump Republicans are still willing to support the part, just not the President.
It is very possible that all this analysis is too positive on my part, but many of the indicators one usually sees at this point in a presidency indicating a forthcoming landslide for the opposition are not materializing . Democratic leaders should see that if they really want to become a nationally relevant political force and not just a coastal one.