Making the click-through worthwhile: Why the results of this election will be a reflection of Trump’s presidency — for good or for ill — and will provide real data on whether Republicans can win in the suburbs; some fantastic new jobs numbers right before Election Day; why you never know which way the polls will be wrong; and the long-dormant pop-culture podcast returns.
Like It or Not, the 2018 Midterms Are a Referendum on Trump
Back at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in 2016, I heard Chuck Schumer argue that parties were trading groups of voters in that election cycle and that Democrats were getting the better deal. “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” Either his assessment was wrong (GOP Senator Pat Toomey nearly tied the Democrat in the Philadelphia suburbs, while Trump took about 43 percent) or his math was wrong.
But as you look at the map in 2018, Schumer’s assessment of the demographic trade may be more accurate. If you look at the House districts where GOP incumbents look like they’re in serious trouble, or an open seat looks particularly difficult to retain, you see America’s suburbs.
You see races like Barbara Comstock up against Jennifer Wexton in Virginia’s tenth district, the state’s northern suburbs west of Washington, D.C.; Leonard Lance against Tom Malinowski in New Jersey’s seventh district, covering Scotch Plains, Westfield, South Plainfield, and other suburbs of New York City; Brian Fitzpatrick against Scott Wallace in Pennsylvania’s first district, which covers much of Bucks County; Dave Brat against Abigail Spanberger in Virginia’s seventh district, which includes much of Richmond’s western suburbs; John Faso against Antonio Delgado in New York’s 19th district, covering the Catskills and Hudson Valley; and the open seat race in Florida’s 15th district in the eastern suburbs of Tampa, pitting Ross Spano against Kristen Carlson.
Even suburbs in some pretty red states look shaky. Mia Love’s reelection is not guaranteed in Utah’s fourth congressional district, encompassing the suburbs of Salt Lake City. Keven Yoder looks like he’s in real trouble in Kansas’s third congressional district, which includes the western suburbs of Kansas City, Mo. Andy Barr is hanging on by his fingernails in Kentucky’s sixth district, which includes Lexington and its suburbs.
Trump supporters might scoff, “Fine, suburban women are drifting towards the left and those voters were always destined to fall away eventually.” But it’s extremely difficult to build a House majority if your party can’t compete in the suburbs. And before anyone scoffs that these must be a bunch of weak candidates, Comstock, Fitzpatrick, Brat, Faso, Love, Yoder, and Barr were good enough to win these districts in past cycles. What changed?
One theory is be that the Trump presidency came to town, and it repelled usually winnable voters in these purple-to-light-red districts.
The president’s preferred focus in the closing week of the campaign is crystal clear: immigration, in particular the caravan coming up through Mexico; sending U.S. troops to help secure the southern border; eliminating birthright citizenship through an executive order; discussing the possibility of U.S. troops firing on migrants who throw rocks; and crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
Will that work? We’ll know in a couple of days. Trump may be betting on a ricochet effect, where he expresses some uncontroversial views — migrants should not be allowed to enter the country illegally, violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants should be taken seriously, the trend of “birth tourism” violates the spirit of U.S. immigration law, if not the letter — in a hyperbolic and incendiary way, triggering a furious reaction from Democrats. That furious reaction could reinforce voter doubts about whether Democrats are willing to stop illegal immigration, whether they avert their eyes from violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants, and whether they really believe in U.S. immigration laws at all. After all, progressive grassroots activists were chanting to “abolish ICE” not too long ago, a position most elected Democrats realized was political suicide.
That could work. Or those suburban moms and white-collar, college-educated whites could see Trump’s drumbeat as confirmation of their worst suspicions about him — that he really is a xenophobe, that he really does see caravans of desperate migrants as malevolent monsters, and that he really does see today’s world as a preview of Camp of the Saints, where the good, majority-white democracies are overrun by hordes of Third World migrants that are barely above zombies or some other sub-human being.
One other thought about the midterms: The biggest change to the Electoral College map in 2016 is that Donald Trump succeeded in upper Midwest states where Mitt Romney, John McCain, and to a lesser extent, George W. Bush, failed — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin in particular, and Iowa, and Ohio. (Trump’s margin in the Buckeye State was double that of Bush’s in 2000.) Trump came within 55,000 votes of winning Minnesota, too. There was a down-ticket effect for the GOP — Toomey won, Ron Johnson won in Wisconsin, and Rob Portman crushed his Senate race in Ohio.
But the outlook for the GOP in the region looks pretty grim, in both the Senate and gubernatorial races and a bunch of the House races. (The new district lines are just going to slaughter GOP members of the House in Pennsylvania.) That swing region may have rolled the dice on Trump and the Republicans in 2016 . . . and fairly or not, they may not be all that impressed with the results in 2018.
The Polls Will Probably Be Wrong . . . But in Which Direction?
Right now, the polls point to the GOP picking up a few seats in the Senate, the House being very close but probably a Democratic majority, and a really bad night for Republican governors.
It is possible that the results will be much better for Republicans than the polls indicate. In 2014, “the average Senate poll conducted in the final three weeks of this year’s campaign overestimated the Democrat’s performance by 4 percentage points. The average gubernatorial poll was nearly as bad, overestimating the Democrat’s performance by 3.4 points.”
It is possible that the results will be much worse for Republicans than the polls indicate — in 2017, the RealClearPolitics average of polling in Virginia indicated that GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie would lose to Democrat Ralph Northam by about three points. Northam won by almost nine points, and the GOP got slaughtered in suburban districts all across the state. (Weirdly, the RCP average was almost right on the button for the New Jersey gubernatorial race, which was always projected to be landslide.)
Hey, Guys, Maybe You Want to Run on the Economy This Year
You can tell that there are some who would like the closing Republican message to be about the economy. In fact, if President Trump and congressional Republicans don’t tout the economy for the next five days after today’s phenomenal jobs report, they’re insane and can’t be saved. This is the kind of monthly jobs report that should be unveiled with the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
Job growth blew past expectations in October and year-over-year wage gains jumped past 3 percent for the first time since the Great Recession, the Labor Department reported Friday.
Nonfarm payrolls powered up by 250,000 for the month, well ahead of Refinitiv estimates of 190,000. The unemployment rate stayed at 3.7 percent, the lowest since December 1969.
The ranks of the employed rose to a fresh record 156.6 million and the employment-to-population ratio increased to 60.6 percent, the highest level since December 2008, according to the department’s household survey. That headline jobless number stayed level even amid a two-tenths of a percentage point rise in the labor force participation rate to 62.9 percent.
Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for the New York Times: “Man, this is a really great jobs report. The job market is firing on all cylinders: Strong job growth (esp for this stage of expansion), wages rising faster, more people in labor force.”
This economic news, less than a week before the midterm election, is as good as the president possibly could hope for, which means later today we’ll probably get tweets such as “I HAVE HEARD FROM RELIABLE SOURCES THAT ELIZABETH WARREN IS A WEREWOLF.”
ADDENDUM: Hey, after a long hiatus, Mickey and I found time to record a show yesterday! We talked Kanye-exit, things we can’t say anymore, Nathan Fillion’s new television series “The Rookie,” how the new “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” reboot is apparently straight-up pro-Satanism, and why allergies are the worst. We’re still on iTunes, and the newest show is up there, too.