Democrats have been elated since last week’s wins in the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s races, their huge gains in the Virginia legislature and smaller, notable victories nationwide. So will congressional voters in 2018 make President Donald Trump the fourth straight president to have his party lose control of Congress while in office?
Citing historically low polling numbers for Trump and an energized Democratic base, Democratic political operatives are hopeful. Still, the GOP is positioned to retain the Senate. Democrats hold 25 of the 34 Senate seats that are up for grabs next year — 10 in states Trump won in 2016, five won by double digits.
The House is different, though. Even if Trump were more popular, Republicans were likely to struggle in 2018’s 435 House races to hold the 241 seats they won in 2016. The president’s party has a long tradition of doing poorly in midterm elections — with an average loss of 24 seats over the last 60 years. That’s the same number of seats Democrats need to pick up next year to retake the House, and Roll Call’s analysis says 50 Republicans face close races as opposed to only 14 Democrats who do.
But for three big reasons, Democrats shouldn’t assume 2018 will be their year.
The first is that if the economy keeps growing, the stock market keeps booming and Republicans manage to pass a tax-overhaul bill that truly does help the middle class, that narrative offers powerful cover for GOP incumbents. This cover may be diminished by the results of the Russia probe, new Trump scandals, war or terror attacks, but a humming economy is a powerful political advantage.
The second is that Democrats are in the middle of a civil war that has reached new heights in recent weeks with allegations by former interim Democratic Party chair Donna Brazile that the Democratic National Committee acted to help former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defeat Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 party nomination fight — a conspiracy theory that “Berniecrats” have long believed. The same sort of purity tests that cost Republican incumbents their seats at the height of the Tea Party movement are likely in many Democratic primaries, including California. State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, for one, is challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the grounds that she is insufficiently militant in her opposition to Trump and in her support for progressive causes.
The third is that the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, is at a 25-year low in popularity, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday. Just 37 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Democratic Party — about the same as with Trump, but better than the GOP’s 30 percent. Americans aren’t enthusiastic about either party’s agenda.
The discontent on display in U.S. politics in recent years isn’t subsiding. Whatever happens in the 2018 elections, it’s likely that millions of Americans will still want to throw the establishment bums out — no matter who they are — in 2020. Until more Americans believe that Washington is looking out for them, topsy-turvy elections are the new normal.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE