The Morning Jolt

Elections

How the 2018 Midterms Will Shape 2020

The facial reactions of an unidentified man (center) in a plaid shirt standing behind U.S. President Donald Trump led to the man’s ejection from where he was standing and then went viral on the internet as videos spread of his reactions at the president’s words at a “Make America Great Again” rally in Billings, Montana U.S., September 6, 2018. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Every midterm election is, in one form or another, a referendum on the president. What’s more, the last three consecutive midterms have been awful for the president’s party — 2006, 2010, and 2014.

There are intermittent signs that the midterm won’t be quite so bad for Republicans as the “blue wave” talk predicts. Polling finally has Martha McSally up ahead of Kyrsten Sinema in the Arizona Senate race, although it’s close. The recent live-updated New York Times/Siena surveys show Republicans hanging on in Illinois’s sixth and twelfth congressional districts, Kentucky’s sixth district, and close in California’s 48th, and with a decent shot of picking up a seat in Minnesota’s eighth. The Tennessee Senate race has an echo of the Texas one — to believe Democrats are going to win in a GOP-leaning state, you have to believe that Ted Cruz will lose while incumbent governor Greg Abbott wins by a wide margin, and that Marsha Blackburn will lose while Bill Lee is winning the governor’s race by double digits. It could happen, but . . .

Republicans can’t complain that President Trump hasn’t thrown himself into campaigning for them enough. He’s done 15 rallies tied to the midterm elections, with possibly nine more between now and election day. This week he’s scheduled to appear at two — one in Cape Girardeau, Mo. (Rush Limbaugh’s old hometown!), another in Jackson, Miss. He’s appeared at plenty of closed-door fundraisers.

And yet, there’s no getting around the fact that there’s still a good chance that this year’s midterms turn out to be a disaster for Republicans. There are roughly 60 GOP-held House seats that are considered competitive, and Democrats just need to win 23 of those. An astonishing 44 House Republicans announced their retirement this term, leaving tougher-to-win open-seat races in their wake. The generic-ballot numbers look awful in most polls. A bunch of vulnerable Senate Democrats like Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Joe Donnelly in Indiana are hanging on, according to polling. (Before you scoff “the polls were wrong in 2016!” the polls also show Rick Scott in strong shape in Florida. So some Democratic incumbents are showing vulnerability in polls, just not some of the ones who were expected to be in trouble.) The governor’s races in previously deep-red states like Florida and Georgia look like toss-ups. Democrats could win a bunch of governors’ races in those Trump-won Great Lakes states. In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer’s enjoying a consistent lead. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker’s in trouble. In Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf looks assured of another term. Ohio’s Mike DeWine and Iowa’s Kim Reynolds look a little better, but they can’t breathe easily yet.

The media is itching to write a “The Democrats are back!” narrative, and Election Day is likely to give them enough evidence to justify that analysis. (It really shouldn’t be that difficult for the Democratic Party to perform better than its worst finish since 1929.)

Republicans can rightfully fume that they shouldn’t be in this spot, as unemployment is beneath 4 percent, the economic boom is finally reaching blue-collar workers, wages are finally increasing, the country only rarely sees flag-draped coffins returning, the Islamic State is smashed and (knocking on wood) there haven’t been any major terror attacks lately. The GOP has largely delivered peace and prosperity, and the public is still in a “throw the bums out” mood.

So why are Republicans in trouble? Whether Trump fans want to hear it or not, their man is a trade-off. He’ll drive up turnout in blue-collar whites and he’ll alienate the suburban soccer moms. What’s more, his constant appetite for conflict and controversy means he leaves almost no oxygen in the room for any other Republican message. He loves emphasizing the issues of illegal immigration and crime, whether or not those are the preeminent concerns of the district or state he’s campaigning in. And of course, he drives up Democratic enthusiasm to get out and vote to perhaps its peak.

Donald Trump is to Democrats as Obama is to Republicans.

Many Republicans saw Obama as more of a celebrity than a leader; full of himself; misinterpreting his helped-by-outside-circumstances electoral victory as a wide-ranging and permanent mandate from the people; arrogantly telling Congress what to pass; stubborn and refusing to compromise; disrespectful to his political opponents and eager to demonize them; the embodiment of some alien force that was anathema to America’s traditional values; eager to fundamentally transform the country into some European-style vision of a people micromanaged and indoctrinated by government and living lives in service to the state and a demagogic leader.

Democrats see Trump as . . . well, more of a celebrity than a leader; full of himself; misinterpreting his helped-by-outside-circumstances electoral victory as a wide-ranging and permanent mandate from the people; arrogantly telling Congress what to pass; stubborn and refusing to compromise; disrespectful to his political opponents and eager to demonize them; the embodiment of some alien force that was anathema to America’s traditional values; eager to fundamentally transform the country into some European-style vision of a people micromanaged and indoctrinated by government and living lives in service to the state and a demagogic leader!

Rank-and-file Republicans are sticking with Trump because he’s something they haven’t enjoyed in a long time: a winner, both in terms of the ballot box and in terms of getting most, but not all, of his agenda enacted. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be too much appetite for an anti-Trump candidate among self-identified Republicans. I use that term carefully, because I suspect that conservatives who find Trump intolerable no longer self-identify as Republicans. Nebraska senator Ben Sasse said on Meet the Press this weekend that he thinks about leaving the GOP “every day.”

But if the midterms are a disaster for Republicans, does that support hold? How much does Trump’s 2016 victory look like political genius and how much looks like the luck of running against Hillary Clinton? How bad does 2018 have to go to make a significant percentage of grassroots Republicans start to wonder if Trump is really in such strong shape for 2020?

Goodbye, Les Moonves

I’m just thinking about all of the times that CBS News let celebrity activists take the floor and fume on-air about, “what Democratic and progressive politicians have dubbed the Republican and conservative ‘war on women.’” Because between Les Mooves, and Matt Lauer, and Charlie Rose, and Mark Halperin . . . the war on women was coming from inside the newsroom.

Six additional women are now accusing Moonves of sexual harassment or assault in incidents that took place between the nineteen-eighties and the early aughts. They include claims that Moonves forced them to perform oral sex on him, that he exposed himself to them without their consent, and that he used physical violence and intimidation against them. A number of the women also said that Moonves retaliated after they rebuffed him, damaging their careers. Similar frustrations about perceived inaction have prompted another woman to raise a claim of misconduct against Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” who previously reported to Moonves as the chairman of CBS News.

One of the women with allegations against Moonves, a veteran television executive named Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, told me that she filed a criminal complaint late last year with the Los Angeles Police Department, accusing Moonves of physically restraining her and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, and of exposing himself to her and violently throwing her against a wall in later incidents. The two worked together in the late nineteen-eighties. Law-enforcement sources told me that they found Golden-Gottlieb’s allegations credible and consistent but prosecutors declined to pursue charges because the statutes of limitations for the crimes had expired.

But he never used an awkward phrase like “binders full of women,” so he was never called a threat to women. At the end of the year, see who’s had more ink spilled denouncing him — Moonves or Brett Kavanaugh. At the end of the day, a lot of people are a lot more worried about a pro-life Supreme Court justice than about a media CEO doing what Ronan Farrow describes.

Obama’s Return to Public Speeches Is . . . Disruptive?

New York Times columnist Charles Blow: “[Obama’s] very presence in the fight, as a presidential voice — even if former, for some he’s forever — is disruptive.”

Is it? Do you think there was anyone out there asking, “Hey, what do you think President Obama thinks of the guy who’s pulling the U.S. out of the Iran deal, withdrawing from the Paris accords, bombing chemical-weapons users in Syria, cutting taxes, signing the repeal of the mandate within Obamacare, scrapping the EPA and allowing drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge?”

Did anything Obama said late last week surprise anyone?

ADDENDUM: I’m scheduled to join the gang at HLN today, sometime around 12:30 Eastern.

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