Here’s how Charlie Cook is looking at the Democrats’ prospects for winning control of the House of Representatives next year:
A big question is whether Trump voters will behave like Barack Obama voters. In 2008, a lot of fresh new voters came online to elect Obama, but in 2010, when his name was not on the ballot, they stayed home. When he was up for reelection in 2012, they turned up at the polls again, then didn’t show up in 2014. No one needs to be reminded that Democrats had good years in 2008 and 2012, and horrific years in 2010 and 2014. Will the Trump voters who turned out in 2016 do so again when he’s not on the ballot?
It would be easy to exaggerate how much Barack Obama’s success against Hillary Clinton represented a blow to the party’s Establishment. In truth, loyalties among party bigwigs and power players was fairly evenly split. Obama excited new people but, unlike Trump, most of those new people weren’t motivated by outright hostility or opposition to the party as it existed. I don’t want to underplay the discontent, either. As a founding member of the left-wing blogosphere, I know how important it was to tap into the growing unhappiness with the feckless opposition to early years of the Younger Bush’s presidency.
Still, Obama didn’t campaign like Trump, mocking the intelligence, courage, and stamina of his opponents in the primaries, or breaking left and right with his party’s orthodoxy. If the Democrats had difficulty turning out voters when Obama’s name wasn’t on the ballot, I imagine the average Trump voter will be much less inclined to turn out to vote for backbenchers in a party they’ve come to despise. As I discussed a lot recently, many Trump voters are folks who voted for Obama once if not twice. They made a bet on Trump, not necessarily the Republican Party.
This problem could become more pronounced if Trump’s approval numbers remain low and Republican candidates are trapped between getting some separation from him and holding onto his most ardent supporters. Or, if Trump blames his failures on his own party, as seems likely in many instances, or if Trump concludes that he must move to the middle to get traction on infrastructure or tax reform, these things could expose fissions within the GOP and lead to internal bickering and apathy that sink Republican loyalty and turnout.
It’s not hard to envision some combination of these factors leading to a good midterm election for the Democrats. But we should not forget that Obama won reelection. The Democrats need a plan that will work when Trump’s name is on the ballot, and if they don’t have that they may see a repeat of what the Republicans experienced, which is good midterm year results and catastrophic presidential year results.