The conventional wisdom in American politics holds that congressional elections held in the middle of presidential terms usually don’t equate to party-time for the party of the president.
With only three exceptions since the end of the Civil War, the midterm elections saw the boys and girls across the aisle from the president’s people pick up at least a smattering of seats.
That trend has persisted despite the president’s personal popularity.
Nanny-state patron saint FDR, whose hold on the Oval Office inspired a constitutional amendment to keep him from crossing the line between executive and emperor, watched his Democrat subordinates cough up a whopping 132 congressional seats in the latter two of the three midterms over which he presided.
Even Barack Obama, whom we were led to believe was the greatest human since Jesus himself, steered his party into an electoral bridge abutment. In Obama’s pair of midterms, the Republicans practically threw the Democrats off the roof. They gobbled up 76 House and 15 Senate seats.
According to a Fox News poll taken late last week, President Donald Trump may be staring at the traditional midterm beat down. No doubt enhanced by the endless drumbeat of scandals, whether media-concocted or not, the mood of the electorate suggests the president’s party, while not facing a Waterloo, is at least looking at the business end of a backstreet brawl.
But I think it’s possible the first Trump midterm might not be as miserable for the GOP as history tends to suggest. I see two factors that the professional prognosticators overlook.
The polls are wrong.
Remember, the pollsters predicting a “blue wave” this fall are the same guys who, whether out of bad methodology, pure partisanship or — my choice — a combination of the two, were busy polishing the crown for Hillary Clinton, right up until she broke her proverbial hip. They refused to believe their own data and refused to consider the possibility that some people — for whatever reason — simply didn’t want to admit they planned to vote for Trump. And let’s not forget that Trump has literally made a career of letting people underestimate him and then putting his name in lights on the buildings he drops on their heads.
The Democrats will blow it.
Last week, left wing funnyman Bill Maher told his rabidly partisan audience to root for a recession. Whatever people’s feelings about Trump at a personal level, they are very much enjoying Trump’s economy. Decades-low unemployment in concert with decades-high consumer confidence translate to tremendous confidence in the economy. Telling people that forcing them into the unemployment office is preferable to keeping Trump in the Oval Office is a lousy message.
Maher’s remarks dovetail nicely with the doom and gloom of his fellow Democrat, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Last week, Pelosi, who previously derided Trump’s enormously popular tax relief package as “crumbs,” tried to paint a frowny face on America’s current fiscal fun times, “Hip hip hooray, unemployment is down. What does that mean to me and my life?” While it’s possible the old girl’s horses aren’t all in the barn anymore, she remains one of — if not the — top spokeshole for her party.
While the Democrat leaders are actively rooting for the economy to nosedive, they’re digging a deeper hole overseas. Whatever you might think of Trump’s approach to diplomacy, even if history wants to help you, “Everything Still Sucks” doesn’t exactly make for a terrific bumper sticker.
In today’s political environment, November sits well below the horizon. Anything can, and probably will, happen between now and Election Day. Trump has been president for under 18 months, and we’ve had everything from possible peace with North Korea to possible war with Iran. Robert Mueller’s investigation into whatever the hell he’s actually investigating might produce an impeachment, but more likely will produce less than Roseanne Barr’s future career prospects. The cast of Trump’s presidential reality show even includes a porn star. Trump’s tariff threats might create an economy-crushing trade war, or they could be another example of his savant-like mastery of deal making. But rumors of the GOP’s impending demise may be greatly exaggerated.
— Ben Crystal