by Jeffrey A. Rendall
It should come as no surprise to conservatives that the media took last week’s mostly positive Republican election results and spun them as though they were lopsided losses for President Donald Trump and his party – and that they represented a giant leap forward for the notion of a “blue wave” forming ahead of November’s midterm elections. The Republican win in the Ohio special election was particularly singled out by political talkers as constituting yet another “warning sign” for the GOP.
Republican Troy Balderson’s narrow one-point victory in the Buckeye State’s 12th District meant the GOP held onto what was effectively an open seat – something GOP faithful should be proud of accomplishing rather than taking it as an apprehensive sign that the party ship is listing badly and is about to sink as the opening act on its inevitable journey to the depths.
Still, many are concerned. They wanted to win by more, apparently, which is only natural since Balderson’s district is a traditional GOP stronghold that’s gone Republican for decades. President Trump was having none of the negativity, however, boldly claiming his assistance helped carry Balderson (and the others) over-the-top.
Seth McLaughlin reported in the Washington Times last week, “President Trump said he’s the magic touch for struggling Republican candidates after his picks won a series of victories [last] Tuesday. ‘5 for 5!’ Mr. Trump said on Twitter Wednesday, which marked 90 days until the midterm elections when control of the House and the Senate will be on the line…
“’The Republicans have now won 8 out of 9 House seats, yet if you listen to the Fake News Media you would think we are being clobbered,’ he said in another tweet. ‘Why can’t they play it straight, so unfair to the Republican Party and in particular, your favorite President!’ …
“’As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win!’ Mr. Trump said on Twitter. ‘I LOVE the people, & they certainly seem to like the job I’m doing. If I find the time, in between China, Iran, the Economy and much more, which I must, we will have a giant Red Wave!’”
Trump’s enthusiasm, zest for winning and optimistic outlook is certainly admirable, though he’s been known to exaggerate from time to time. After all, it wasn’t so long ago the New Yorker predicted he would win his home state – and California too – during the 2016 general election campaign.
As for a potential “red wave” this year – a lot of people are taking a wait-and-see approach.
The sun always shines in Trump-world, which is nice, but the swampy party establishment sees things through a much darker, gloomier prism. Take the fact Balderson was “only” able to sneak by with little room to spare, which was reason enough for consternation among the elites. What would’ve eased their concern, a 5-point win? 6? 7?
Balderson will now take his seat in the House with the other 434 members, maintaining a tenuous but still healthy GOP majority in the lower chamber. Predictably the glass half-empty crowd all-but blame Trump for Balderson’s thin margin of victory, suggesting it’s a harbinger of bad things to come in November. Since Trump’s approval ratings remain mired in the low to mid-40’s, historically speaking, the party in power loses x number of seats when these types of conditions exist.
But wins are still wins. This isn’t to say Republicans don’t need to worry about anything ahead of Election Day, but shouldn’t Democrats be the ones fretting? In his tweets Trump continues showing confidence he possesses the magic political touch – and yes, his campaign visit to Ohio shortly before the vote last week likely made the difference in the close contest. But can the president realistically expect to campaign everywhere in order to bring out a few thousand more voters in each district?
Probably not; Republicans can and must do better. Henry Olsen wrote at American Greatness, “Trump’s rally on Saturday night surely energized some of these voters, but Trump can’t visit every seat the weekend before the election in the fall. Instead, campaigns in places with large numbers of Obama/Trump voters—which is to say, all of the key Senate seats in play and the majority of the House seats up for grabs—need to build strong messages into their campaigns early to motivate turnout.
“That involves understanding what Trump’s appeal to these voters is—and most Republican campaigns still show they just don’t get it.
“Restricting immigration is part of that appeal, but only a part. Trump won these voters’ loyalty because he showed them he cared about their lives, their aspirations, and their role in building America. That means talking about a lot of things many Republicans prefer to avoid.”
According to Olsen those “things” are trade, love of community or country and culture – in other words, the same attributes Trump keeps pounding all the time. These issues especially appeal to the so-called “Reagan Democrats,” the ones who voted for Obama twice but then switched to Trump in 2016 because the populist first-time politician wasn’t afraid to throw off the shackles of regular Republicanism and speak to working class Democrats. These people are worried about their slice of American pie decaying under the new progressive minority party leadership.
While the Democrats have socialist heroine Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez out touting the prospect of new and massive government programs to buy votes, Trump patrons just want their government to have their backs when dealing with foreign nations. American leaders shouldn’t be afraid to wave the flag or remind citizens that they should stand for the national anthem either – and Republican candidates in swing districts must make these ideas a center-point of their pleas.
Statistics in Ohio last week revealed turnout was down among these types of voters, suggesting they were energized to come out and vote for Trump in ‘16 but not necessarily for all Republican congressional candidates who simply parrot the “normal” party-line issues of free-trade and tax cuts but then express only lukewarm support for good old fashioned Americanism and culture.
Olsen implies this type of strategy won’t work in November and I’d have to agree with him. Republicans simply can’t use the same tired old midterm playbook this year and expect the Trump coalition to rise up and support GOP candidates. They need more – and if GOP leaders have any brains (which is always a serious question), they’ll give the voters what they want.
How about providing some distinction from the increasingly left-moving Democrats? Brandon J. Weichert wrote at The American Spectator, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently argued that the Democrats have the moral high ground on the major issues. She is not alone in this sentiment. In fact, most Millennials agree with her. They gravitate toward candidates on the Left who are the most extreme (Bernie Sanders, for instance). While there is no guarantee that these democratic socialists will achieve electoral victory in 2018 (or even in 2020), the generational divide is key to understanding how Republicans are having such difficulty winning (without Trump). …
“Going forward, the GOP needs to more fully embrace Trumpism; it needs to unequivocally take up the issues of trade and immigration — and stand firm on them (except in extreme cases). The GOP also needs to unflinchingly wage the Culture War. A coalition of blue-collar workers and social conservatives is waiting to be embraced by the wider GOP.
“As Reagan said, the Republicans need to be ‘raising a banner of bold colors, no pale pastels.’ So far, without Trump, the GOP is all pastel.”
Weichert’s argument is very similar to Olsen’s, namely that Republican candidates are experiencing resistance in rousing the same voters Trump did so effectively two years ago — so they need to change tactics in order to squeeze out that final few percentage points in every contest. Remember, for a 10-point swing you only need five people out of a hundred to change their minds on who to vote for.
The results of recent special elections insinuate Republicans are having a hard time reaching “moderate” marginal voters. The explanations typically given for the lack are many, mostly involving Trump: he tweets too much; he’s not “presidential;” he’s too mean to our European allies; he snuggles up too closely to dictators (Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin) and last but not least, he’s impeded the Robert Mueller investigation into “collusion” from 2016.
These are all convenient rationalizations advanced by lazy pundits who just don’t want to do the work of analyzing the real situation. And because their stupid suppositions involve Donald Trump they’re automatically passed along to the public by media editors and producers searching for eyeballs to boost readership and/or ratings. In today’s Trump-obsessed society the mere mention of the man’s name draws intense interest.
By contrast, if the nightly news were to lead with a story about Republican leaders chickening out on border wall funding people would simply change the channel and search for more media dirt on the president. Democrats instinctively recoil at everything Trump asks for, so any idea’s a dead-letter as soon as it leaves his lips as far as they’re concerned. (Note: At his recent Pennsylvania rally Trump joked he should start saying he doesn’t want the wall and Democrats would then be for it! Funny.)
Trump is either gold or toxic depending on who you talk to. Some candidates are anxious to have him deliver one of his rally speeches in their district while others are obviously terrified of the notion (my own congresswoman, Barbara Comstock, appears to be in the latter group). Naturally the establishment would prefer Trump stay locked up in the White House this fall, period – or spend more time on the golf course.
Gabby Morrongiello wrote at the Washington Examiner, “Trump has enjoyed steady support among self-identified Republicans in recent polls. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey in late July found 88 percent of GOP voters strongly or somewhat approved of his job performance, and the poll was taken before and after he received near universal criticism for his comments at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“That support could mean little, however, in areas where Trump’s presence alongside a candidate might be polarizing enough to cost Republicans’ the race. Instead, the president has focused his efforts so far on traditional battleground states he carried in 2016 (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, Tennessee, Florida) and at least two (Nevada and Virginia) he didn’t.
“’Give me the top 25 congress people that are, you know, could go either way, and I want to go out and campaign for those people,’ Trump told Hannity, noting that he asked his chief of staff John Kelly to put together a list of the most vulnerable Republican candidates and competitive races so he could make his way to each district or state in the coming weeks.”
So get that – the Donald Trump show may be coming to an arena near you. Get your tickets now — they tend to sell out; and anyone who’s ever watched Trump at the podium knows there isn’t a better performer in town. Obama may have been able to stimulate his rally attendees into swooning and practically fainting in his time but Trump makes his audiences laugh. Which is better, a little hero-worship or a good belly chuckle?
Trump’s brand of politics is therefore very difficult to replicate, which is good for Democrats but bad for Republicans. The “showman” in Trump always rises to the occasion; he makes politics entertaining and dare I say it, fun…? GOP candidates shouldn’t fear he’ll say something too controversial – they should worry he won’t say enough to get people off their behinds and working for their victories.
I recall few wanted Obama to speak on their behalf ahead of the 2010 midterms. Obama had already inflamed the voters so much the Tea Party movement grew out of one man’s (Rick Santelli) CNBC rant. Democrats couldn’t get far enough away from Obama for comfort; Republicans should be grateful most party candidates welcome Trump’s presence now.
Trump’s talent lies in knowing how to stir the pot. Senator Lindsey Graham (Trump’s golfing buddy) said recently that the president mentioned ending the Mueller probe “about 20 times” during a golf round. But would he really do it?
Rick Moran wrote at PJ Media, “Democrats are salivating at the prospect of Trump ending the investigation into Russian collusion in a pique of anger and frustration. But it’s not going to happen. I daresay there would be an impeachment trial in the Senate by this time next summer if the Dems win the House and vote out articles of impeachment. It’s likely that some Republicans would join them.
“Trump is not suicidal. In fact, he’s shown himself to be a survivor. But he certainly drives Democrats batty by threatening to shut the probe down, doesn’t he?”
Yes indeed. The media may spin last week’s special elections results as a net-win for Democrats but it’s the Donald Trump-led Republican party that’s sending winners to Congress time after time. The party still has much work to do ahead of November but don’t be fooled – the GOP glass is at least half-full.