The Republican Plan for Combating a Blue Wave in 2018

According to this report from the Washington Post, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy gave a slide presentation to Trump and congressional Republicans during their meeting at Camp David a little over a week ago.

A raft of retirements, difficulty recruiting candidates and President Trump’s continuing pattern of throwing his party off message have prompted new alarm among Republicans that they could be facing a Democratic electoral wave in November…

In the Camp David presentation, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) described scenarios to the president ranging from a bloodbath where Republicans lost the House “and lost it big,” in the words of one official, to an outcome in which they keep control while losing some seats.

Here are some of the facts Republicans have to contend with:

  • Democrats have benefited from significant recruitment advantages.
  • At least 29 House seats held by Republicans will be open in November following announced retirements, a greater number for the majority party than in each of the past three midterm elections when control of Congress flipped.
  • The president’s own job approval, a traditional harbinger of his party’s midterm performance, is at record lows as he approaches a year in office, according to Gallup.
  • Polls asking which party Americans want to see control Congress in 2019 show a double-digit advantage for Democrats.

The question is, if Republicans are aware of all of that, what do they plan to do about it? Here’s what their campaign strategists are counting on:

  • The economy,
  • The Republican tax cut bill, and
  • Trump’s ability to rally the Republican base.

White House officials added a couple of items to that list:

  1. Progress on infrastructure
  2. The insertion of wedge issues (i.e., immigration votes, requirements for welfare, sanctuary city reform)

Betting on the economy is tricky. Polls show that most voters still credit Obama with the current state of the economy. That might change over the next 10 months. But then, so could the economy.

The tax cut bill is more likely to be a wash, with some voters gaining confidence that Republicans actually accomplished something while the majority thinks it is nothing but a give-away to the wealthy. Along those lines, I’m not sure that “progress” on infrastructure is enough to move anybody. Republicans would actually need to pass something, and that would require compromising with Democrats. That’s not something they’ve been able to do yet. So we’ll see.

That leaves two items that are simply designed to rile up the base: Trump himself and wedge issues. I suspect that with these, Republicans will find the same thing that they did when Ed Gillespie attempted to run on Trumpism in Virginia. While it gained him some support among those who are pre-disposed to nativism, he lost a lot of white suburban voters.

That’s the plan. Apparently Trump isn’t worried.

In private conversations, Trump has told advisers that he doesn’t think the 2018 election has to be as bad as others are predicting. He has referenced the 2002 midterms, when George W. Bush and Republicans fared better after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, these people said.

If that doesn’t scare you, you’re not paying attention.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .