Three Things That Should Worry the GOP for the 2018 Midterms

A year from now, we’ll be barreling headlong into the 2018 midterm elections. A lot can happen between now and then, but there are some worrying signs that appear troubling for the GOP.

The first has to do with what is happening in special elections. Back in June, the media became obsessed with the battle between Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District, which Republican Handel won. But this week brought some great news for Democrats in state legislative elections, prompting a review of the big picture. Perhaps this sums it up best:

Here are the numbers:

Democrats have performed better than Hillary Clinton in 27 out of 35 congressional and state-legislative special elections held this year. And they’ve done better than President Barack Obama’s 2012 margins in 25 out of 35.

They’ve also won a Republican-held seat a whopping one-fourth of the time — in six out of 24 opportunities. The GOP has no pick-ups in its 11 chances.

And often it hasn’t been close: In 23 out of 35 races, Democrats have bettered Clinton’s margin by double digits. In 12 races, they’ve done so by 20-plus points — i.e., turning a 10-point Clinton loss into a 10-point Democratic win.

Of course, all of the caveats apply. The most significant being the extremely low turnout in special elections that caters to the party faithful. But overall, this trend is rather astonishing.

The second thing Republicans have to worry about is the retirement of incumbents. As we saw this week, four House Republicans from swing districts have already announced that they won’t seek re-election in 2018.

In reporting on the GOP’s concern about a “mass exodus,” Cameron Joseph zeros in on the impact of the current efforts on tax reform. If Republicans are able to pass a budget resolution, they will have until next September to pass legislation. But because Trump and party leaders have placed so much emphasis on getting it done before the end of this year, that has now become the marker.

“There are a number of people, plenty of whom we don’t even know about yet, who are torn” about running again, said one national GOP strategist involved in House races. “Whether there’s measurable progress on tax reform the next 30 days will be determinative. If we get to November 1st and it looks like tax reform isn’t happening, I think there’ll be a mass exodus.”

Yesterday I mentioned the third thing that Republicans have to worry about—the battle of the oligarchs. Adele Stan tells that story.

As Republican leaders fret over a possible loss of control of the Senate due to Bannon’s actions, they fail to notice that Bannon is not playing a short-term game for GOP majorities in Congress. Bannon’s game is one for control of the Republican Party writ large.

It’s clear that Mercer has no small amount of envy for the Koch brothers, the billionaire siblings whose will has largely shaped the GOP agenda as the party became ever more dependent on the political infrastructure built by the Kochs and the donor network they have cultivated over the course of decades. No longer insurgents, the Kochs and their political beneficiaries have become part of the GOP establishment…

Bannon and his patron Mercer, it seems, are willing to take their chances on the possible loss of the GOP’s narrow Senate majority if the gambit places Mercer in the kingmaker’s seat, supplanting the Koch brothers in that role.

For some background on how the Koch brothers took over not only the Republican agenda, but the party’s infrastructure, I’d refer you to this story by John Ward from the summer of 2015. At the time, there was a battle between the Koch brothers and the RNC over control of voter data files.

The fight between the RNC’s chairman and the political operatives affiliated with Charles and David Koch over who controls the rich treasury of data on likely Republican voters has raised fundamental questions about what role the party’s central committee — even under the best management — can hope to play in the age of super-PACs. And it raises an even more fundamental question of how you define a political party.

As I wrote at the time, we were witnessing the demise of the RNC as an independent entity. It became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers. Now Robert Mercer, along with Steve Bannon, are attempting a hostile takeover—and they are prepared to risk the current Republican majorities to win that long game.

There is an interesting bit of karma at play in this one. No one has played a bigger role in unleashing the corrupting influence of big money in politics than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. That is precisely how he built his power base that led to his current leadership position. I, for one, will celebrate if it comes back to haunt him in the end with this battle of the oligarchs.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.