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2018 in Washington: Clear as Mud

On December 12th of last year, the unthinkable occurred –Doug Jones won the special election in Alabama, the first statewide victory for a Democrat since US Senator Richard Shelby switched to the Republican Party in the early nineties. Various other special elections to replace Presidential appointees had seen Republicans triumph, and Phil Murphy’s victory to replace New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) would have been more impressive if the latter had an approval rating above fifteen percent. But does Doug Jones’ Alabama win, in the reddest of all states, portend a national backlash against the GOP in November?

While President Trump has his supporters, a majority of Americans disapprove of his time in office. His public image: the tweeting, blaming, and general boorishness, combined with his failure to move the Republican agenda through Congress, has cost him supporters both inside and outside his base. Even his most recent success – the largest tax reform bill in thirty years – is seen as woefully overdue, and the GOP has yet to repeal Obamacare. With this record, the Republicans are facing the midterm elections, which are rarely beneficial to the party in power.

Both sides are trying to spin the balance in their favor. Democrats believe Trump’s general unpopularity will be his downfall, and the GOP loss in Alabama is another mark in their favor. Republicans, on the other hand, point to the remarkable performance of the economy over the past year and the recent tax cut as reasons for voter support. It is also worth noting that while the Democrats will almost certainly pick up seats in the House of Representatives this November, they have a historically large number of Senate seats in red states to defend, racked up in 2006 and 2012. Given the economy doesn’t implode or North Korea launch nukes, the Republicans may strengthen their slim majority in the Senate while keeping a looser grip on the House.

Not being a professional pundit, I won’t make any wild predictions about this year’s race. However, because clay. wants this article to have a point rather than being a basic review of the facts, I will concede some of my own opinions.

First, 2018 is probably not the silver bullet the Democrats expect. If anything, it will be strikingly indecisive (just watch – I’ll probably get this one wrong). The Democrats need to win twenty-five or so seats in the House to take a majority. Could they do it? Sure. But it would be a pretty big swing, and granted the economy stays strong through the end of the year (and we don’t get embroiled in any major wars), I don’t think the Dems have enough to pull it off. Regarding the Senate election, the riskiest seat the Republicans hold is in Nevada, whereas the Democrats have seats up in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, West Virginia, and other traditionally “red” states.

Second, the Democratic strategy is…hate Trump. The left is singularly blessed this year by having a veritable punching bag as their opponent (inflatable Trump punching bags are highly rated on Amazon, by the way), and this somewhat obscures the fact they have no cohesive strategy. Excepting tax reform, the GOP hasn’t ushered in many sweeping changes, so what’s the grand strategy the Democrats have for America? Will the typical voter realize that? In fact, granted the Republicans haven’t much implemented their agenda, does it even matter?
Third, the real battle will be in 2020. The Republican Senate seats won in 2014 will be up for reelection, and if the Democrats can win the Presidency, chances are they’ll sweep Congress as well. Of course, this begs the question of who will run? Bernie Sanders? Elizabeth Warren? Joe Biden? Someone who isn’t over seventy years old? (Well, I guess Aristotle did say that politics were not for the young.)

Fourth, the election of Doug Jones was probably a fluke. Roy Moore was plagued by a lack of Republican support, a questionable political record, and numerous accusations of sexual assault. While Jones took home 49.97% of all votes cast and won a historic victory for the Democrats in Alabama, that was against a tremendously weak candidate and is almost certainly not indicative of an anti-Trump groundswell.

In short, while modern elections are notoriously hard to predict, the result of this year’s midterms should be status quo ante bellum. Both sides have a potential for great gains – Republicans could scoop up quite a few Senate seats this year, and Democrats could win it all in 2020. However, neither side is particularly convincing – the Dems have a slate of old (literally), stale candidates, and the GOP has Donald Trump. And on top of it all, we’re assuming there’s no economic crash, despite the mountain of debt the West has accrued and a soaring stock market.

Ah, politics.

One Comment

  1. Wow! Good job, Josh!