The storylines in this ugly political farce are all moving at rapid speed into a November confrontation.
First, Trump and his administration have moved from legal cooperation with the Mueller probe to political war against it. Their calculation is that they cannot escape culpability in the investigation and will not escape purely legal accountability. But if they can keep their base hostile and riled up against it, they can withstand even an impeachment in the House to live and fight another day. There are even some feelings within the White House that it would be better to keep the investigation going as long as possible to keep the information within the probe out of the spotlight while maintaining the impression of a persecution.
House Republicans led by Paul Ryan and Devin Nunes are in a winner-take-all battle with the FBI, with the end result that either Nunes will be investigated and likely found guilty of obstruction of justice, or Rosenstein and other law enforcement officials will be fired or even impeached.
Democrats have mostly been holding down the fort against Republican policies and nominees, with the only major legislation passed being a tax cut that, while deeply detrimental to the country’s fiscal health and cohesion, is nevertheless easier to fix and reverse than conservative laws around healthcare or privatized infrastructure might be. Supreme Court justices have been staying on the bench perhaps longer than they might like, possibly in the hope of a confirmation process less friendly to an odious president.
These lines all converge on a November election that should normally favor Republicans. While it’s true that the president’s party tends to lose seats in a midterm election, Republicans generally have such a heavy turnout advantage among their base of older white homeowners that the only example of a Democratic midterm win in recent memory was 2006, with a much more favorable Senate map. The 2018 Senate map is brutal for Democrats, which means that even in a massive blue wave Democrats cannot hope to do better than a couple of pickups to barely flip the chamber. A combination of gerrymandering and the Big Sort have combined to minimize liberal gains in the House and in state legislatures even when Democrats win big in absolute numbers.
Still, Trump’s unpopularity combined with Democratic enthusiasm and advantages on the issues have led to strong overperformance by the blue team in nearly every election since Trump’s inauguration. The big prize, however, remains in November. Despite some recent small gains in the president’s popularity and reduction in the Democratic advantage in generic ballot polling, things still look fairly good for a blue wave.
Nothing is certain, however, and the stakes could not be higher. It is often said that each election is the most important in our lifetimes, but it would be hard to imagine a more consequential election than the one coming this fall.