The Great Squandering?
By: Scott Jennings
Based on recent polling and misguided Democratic messaging, Republicans have seen an uptick in their political fortunes ahead of the 2018 midterm. Are the Democrats squandering what should be a banner year for the party out of power?
History tells us Democrats should win a huge number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives this fall. Since the Civil War, presidents have lost an average of 32 House seats and two Senate seats, with only two midterms (1934 and 2002) bucking the tide.
Democrats must net 24 seats in November to take the majority, and until recently conditions indicated an all-but-certain “blue wave.” But then something happened – Democrats began squandering their golden opportunity, just as they did in 2016.
It started with their messaging debacle over the tax cut, when Democratic leaders predicted everything from mass death to the end times if the Republicans prevailed. The GOP marshaled the votes and President Trump signed the tax cut into law.
Instead of the apocalypse, though, Americans got something else – money in their pockets. Over three million Americans received bonuses, and 90 percent of workers will see greater take-home pay as employers withhold smaller amounts from paychecks beginning this month.
Local news clips bear out worker glee. “I have heard time and again that the middle class is getting crumbs, but I’ll take it!” Wayne Love, a managed care worker, told the Associated Press. He’s getting $200 more per month in his paycheck and regurgitated the descriptor Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will come to regret: “crumbs.” Pelosi, unpopular as ever, will feature mightily in GOP advertising.
An accountant who deals with payroll systems tells me her phone is ringing off the hook with employees asking when their tax cut kicks in. Democrats told middle-class workers they would see a tax increase, and now look like fools for flat-out lying. Many of these workers live in suburban America, where Democrats must make gains with moderate and center-right voters.
Democrats blew their credibility in the tax fight, weakening whatever anti-Trump arguments they make this fall. While they often claim the president is a liar, what do you call someone who promises you a new law will create The Walking Dead outside your window but in fact added some extra coin (real not Bit) to your paycheck?
Not one Democrat voted for the tax cut, which makes for clean GOP messaging. The ads write themselves, and there is enough Pelosi footage from this meltdown to choke a horse.
Democrats will say this is irrelevant, that they have enthusiasm on their side. And there is no doubt that partisan Democrats are energized to vote. But the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll from mid-January, showing a generous 14-point Democratic advantage, offered this warning:
“The wide Democratic advantage in congressional vote preference comes entirely in districts the party already holds, raising questions about the extent of its possible gains in November.”
Translation – Democrats are replicating 2016 conditions by running up the score in blue (mostly urban) areas while failing to make inroads in Republican-controlled districts. If you are but moderately proficient in math you can see how this could prevent Democrats from taking the House.
But it gets worse:
“In Democratic districts independents favor the Democrat; in Republican districts independents split evenly, 45-46 percent. Partisans on both sides, by contrast, stick nearly unanimously with their party.”
Democrats must win the independent voters in districts held by Republicans, which they are not presently doing. The poll shows that “at least some of the energy” exhibited by Democratic voters will “end up boosting incumbents” instead of beating Republicans. Hillary voters, madder than hornets but basically confined to the largest counties in America, can do nothing to flip GOP-held House seats everywhere else.
This survey was taken before Trump’s well-received State of the Union, before Democrats stupidly shut down the government over DACA, and before Friday’s economic news showing robust job growth and rising wages. More recent polling shows a shrinking generic ballot and an uptick in President Trump’s job approval rating.
Democrats point to wins in Virginia and Alabama as proof that people are chomping at the bit to send Trump a message, and argue that the president is still unpopular even if slightly improved. It is still early in the cycle, but a pall has settled over a broke Democratic National Committee where surely they are reaching for the Pepto-Bismol wondering: “Have we seen this movie before?”