November 7, 2018


Democrats Can Thank Trump for Their Midterms Boost: Republicans suffer the consequences of backing one of the most unpopular presidents of the polling era.  (Jonathan Bernstein, November 7, 2018, Bloomberg)

So why did the Republicans have a bad night? The basic story is pretty simple: This is what happens to a party when it controls the White House and the president is unpopular. In fact, most of what was resolved on Tuesday was probably a consequence not of the fall campaign, but of Trump's record-shattering bad year in 2017, at least in terms of approval ratings. A large group of Republicans decided to retire last year; that's when Democrats recruited many of their top potential candidates to run; and that's when Republicans failed to find good candidates in several states where they might have been competitive. 

Trump's standing recovered a bit in 2018, but as of Tuesday he was the least popular president through 656 days in the polling era. The slight uptick in his approval ratings wasn't going to be enough to help the party recover from 2017, and it's possible he cost Republicans a little more. 

And unlike George W. Bush in 2006 or Barack Obama in 2010, when poor policy outcomes (Iraq in Bush's case, a slow recovery for the economy for Obama) turned people against them, Trump's failure to date has mainly been strikingly personal. Granted, the two big Republican policy initiatives in Congress, the attempted repeal of Obamacare and the tax cut, didn't help. But Trump failed to contribute any popular policy ideas -- and certainly wasn't effective at pushing for any ideas that might have been popular, such as an infrastructure bill. 

The bottom line is that despite a solid economy and without any high-casualty war, Trump spent 2017 at around 38 percent approval, and 2018 at around 42 percent. And he has spent his entire presidency, after a brief honeymoon, solidly over 50 percent disapproval, with a large portion of that strongly disapproving. 

Given the state of the economy and the decade of growth, it took a superhuman effort to lose so the suburbs, but he was just the ubermensch to do it. Consider a really simple thought experiment: suppose that, upon being sworn in, Donald had taken a vow of silence and turned over the running of the Executive to a competent chief of staff. What would last night's results have looked like if it were being contested on only the economic boom that he inherited from the UR and the Federalist Society judiciary picks, with no policies of his own nor statements from him thrown into the mix?  

Posted by at November 7, 2018 4:19 AM