Is a Blue Wave Coming in 2018?

Amy Walter at the Cook Political Report makes a pretty good case that we are seeing the signs of a blue wave developing for the 2018 elections.

The last two weeks have seen some significant movement in Democrats’ favor. First, there were the impressive results from last Tuesday’s elections. This week, we’ve seen two polls — one by Quinnipiac and one by Marist — that show Democrats with a congressional ballot advantage of +13 to +15. Three other recent polls — ABC/Washington Post, Fox, and NBC/Wall Street Journal — show Democrats with an advantage of anywhere from +7 to +15.

These are political wave numbers…

My colleague David Wasserman has been digging into the question of just how big of a wave Democrats need to get in order to surf into the majority.  The short answer: they need to see a generic ballot advantage of +8 or more, which roughly translates to getting at least 54 percent or more of the national House vote in 2018.

She goes on to summarize what has happened historically that preceded wave elections and ends with this:

In 2016 we made the mistake of rationalizing away the prospect of a Trump victory. He was too unorthodox. He couldn’t possibly sustain momentum through the grueling primary campaign. We should not make same mistake in 2018. Sure, a lot can change between now and next November. And, Democrats have a narrow path to 24 seats – even with a big wave or tailwind.  But, do not ignore what’s right in front of us. A wave is building.

That warning about how a lot can change over the next year is a huge qualifier that shouldn’t be ignored. But her colleague David Wasserman just noted that signs don’t point towards things getting any better for Republicans.

At this point in 2006 and 2010, it wasn’t yet obvious that the House majority was at serious risk. As a result, the parties in control didn’t suffer historically large numbers of retirements. Today, we’re still almost a month away from the first filing deadlines in Illinois and Texas. Over the next few months, many Republicans will weigh whether it’s worth raising $3 million or more to face the wrath of Democrats, and in some cases, the likes of Steve Bannon as well.

Moreover, tough votes like yesterday’s on tax reform continue to give Democrats new avenues to link GOP members to unpopular proposals and leaders. Democrats are increasingly confident Speaker Paul Ryan will turn into a more effective bogeyman than either Trump or Nancy Pelosi, because he’s disliked not only by Democrats but by much of Trump’s base — a constituency GOP members badly need to motivate and turn out to win their races.

I would add that, to the extent that antipathy for Donald Trump is a major force that is driving all of this, we can be pretty certain that he is not going to finally “pivot” and improve. If anything, he’s likely to get worse over the next twelve months.

On the horizon are a few more things that could be a challenge for Republicans. As they continue to focus solely on passing a tax cut bill, the specter of a possible government shutdown looms, as well as items on the agenda like the renewal of CHIPs and DACA. Because of the short-term fix they negotiated with Democrats, sometime next spring they’ll need to raise the debt ceiling again. In other words, their plates are going to be full of items that will require they work with Democrats, or face some pretty nasty consequences. All of that will be happening just as members are finalizing plans about whether to run for re-election.

The big shoe that is likely to drop in the next year is the possibility of more bad news from Mueller on the Trump/Russia investigation. When/if that happens prior to the election, Republicans will have to decide how to respond to his findings right in the middle of campaign season.

Both Walter and Cook are focused on how these things will affect the make-up of Congress. But as we saw last week, it all spills over into races for governorships and state legislatures—not to mention mayors, city councils, school boards, etc. Walters notes that, when it comes to wave elections, there is one constant:

…a candidate can control for many things, but he/she can’t change the political mood. If it is with you, you get an extra advantage you may or may not deserve. When it is against you, even the best, most prepared candidates can lose.

In summary, the signs of a wave election are starting to emerge. While a lot of unpredictable things can happen in the next twelve months, nothing on the horizon looks like the kind of thing that would slow that momentum down, while a lot of things could build it up even further. That’s how things look today. We’ll keep you posted as things develop.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.