The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The 2018 Democratic ‘Blue Wave’ May Be a Dud

Voter at a polling place in Wrightstown, Wisc., in 2008 (Reuters photo: John Gress)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Some big media voices sound the alarm that the 2018 “blue wave” of Democratic victories is dissipating; Democratic candidates suddenly lose their voices when the conversation focuses on the caravan in Mexico; an upcoming conference call; and the debate on the Three Martini Lunch podcast turns ugly.

Democrats Start to Fear that They Took the 2018 ‘Blue Wave’ for Granted

I was assured that there was a “blue wave” coming this year. Now the Associated Press is telling us that the conventional wisdom has changed so suddenly that we can all sue somebody for whiplash:

In the closing stretch of the 2018 campaign, the question is no longer the size of the Democratic wave. It’s whether there will be a wave at all.

Top operatives in both political parties concede that Democrats’ narrow path to the Senate majority has essentially disappeared, a casualty of surging Republican enthusiasm across GOP strongholds. At the same time, leading Democrats now fear the battle for the House majority will be decided by just a handful of seats…

There are signs that the Democrats’ position in the expanding House battlefield may actually be improving. Yet Republican candidates locked in tight races from New York to Nevada find themselves in stronger-than-expected positions because of a bump in President Donald Trump’s popularity, the aftermath of a divisive Supreme Court fight and the sudden focus on a caravan of Latin American immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border.

Democrats say they never assumed it would be easy.

Sure, sure. I’m just thinking back to Peter Hamby’s assessment in Vanity Fair way back on . . . er, September 12:

The blue wave is real, and it’s a monster . . . What’s staring us in the face is a big blue Democratic takeover in Washington. Not only will it buoy Democrats to retake the House, but it will also propel Democratic Senate candidates in red states and power down-ballot Democrats into state legislative seats in every corner of the country. That’s exactly what happened in Virginia’s elections last year, right? That’s how it feels right now, a total wipeout for Republicans, even ones we assumed were safe.

But then Kavanaugh’s nomination fight happened, and a lot of voters who don’t pay much attention to politics in spring and summer started to tune in. Senate Democrats who insisted that they were moderates — such as Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, and Claire McCaskill — suddenly didn’t sound so moderate. Some Republican campaigns held their fire until it mattered — such as the opposition research showing all of the times that Kyrsten Sinema called Arizona the “meth lab of democracy” and other snide criticisms of her home state where she’s running for Senate. And once again, we learned that national polling isn’t all that useful for measuring who’s ahead in a swing House district. The big question may be whether the blue wave dissipated or whether its size was exaggerated from the start.

The New York Times coverage is striking the same notes:

With two weeks until the election, Republican leaders and President Trump are increasingly bullish about Republican voters and moderate independents rallying behind the party’s candidates rather than taking a chance on a Democratic challenger or a Democratic-controlled House. A healthy economy, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight and, most recently, Mr. Trump’s ominous warnings and baseless charges about a migrant caravan threatening the border have energized supporters at rallies and candidate forums.

. . . In many neighborhoods with key House races, daily life is pretty good. Unemployment is at a five-decade low. Confidence is spilling over among consumers and businesses. The economy is on track to grow at its fastest pace in years.

Those developments benefit people whom Democrats have targeted, too: Women in upscale, right-of-center, white suburbs where Hillary Clinton edged out a victory; Trump voters in struggling rural and industrial areas with deep Democratic roots; and minorities in racially diverse metro areas.

While the president looms large over this election, drawing out both opponents and supporters, local issues like school funding or mining are in the forefront of some races. In others, Republican incumbents’ blend of personality and policy positions has won over independents and moderates.

Some Democrats hitting the panic button are no doubt attempting to dispel complacency, such as Jon Lovett on the Colbert show last night:

“How many times are we going to do this?” Lovett exclaimed. “All right?  It doesn’t matter what the early votes look like. It doesn’t matter what the polls look like. We can lose everything! We lost everything two years ago! We can lose everything again! Oh my God! Stop reading polls!”

Lots of Republicans don’t like hearing this, but this is how liberal media bias actually helps the GOP. Folks on the right get used to hearing that they’re going to lose, how the Democrats have all the advantages, and they develop the ability to just keep plugging away in a tough environment. GOP grassroots activists are used to bad news, critical coverage, and ominous poll results. They’ve seen their candidates give amazing debate performances and then watch the coverage declare the Democrat the big winner. They’re used to having their attack ads denounced as vicious and unfair while the Democratic candidate’s ads are merely “hard-hitting” or “tough.” They’re used to seeing unflattering photos of candidates on the front page, comments taken out of context, fact-checkers that get the facts wrong, headlines that leave the wrong impression, and glowing editorial-page endorsements of the opposition. They’re used to having their yard signs stolen.

And they get up every morning and knock on doors and make the calls and participate in get-out-the-vote efforts anyway.

That may or may not be enough to give Republicans a “good” midterm election this year. But it’s preventing the Democratic tsunami that people were talking about just two months ago.

Republicans Drive a Dodge Caravan; Democrats Offer a Caravan Dodge

To govern is to choose, and there’s a certain type of politician who hates to choose. Because making a choice inevitably means upsetting someone, and they have the natural human instinct of not wanting to upset people. Exhibit A, most Democrats and that caravan making its way north through Mexico towards our border.

The Washington Post:

Democrats are struggling to respond to President Trump and his Republican allies, who are casting the caravan of thousands of migrants headed toward the U.S.-Mexico border as a failure of Democrats to help enact immigration policy in the GOP-controlled Congress.

Some Democrats said Trump is vulnerable to a counterattack on his core campaign issue given that his policies failed to reduce the number of unauthorized immigrants. Yet party leaders and Democratic candidates have largely been silent ahead of the midterm elections, refusing to engage with Trump.

David Leonhardt, writing in the New York Times:

For the most part, Democrats have tried to avoid the issue. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders in Congress, have essentially urged their colleagues to ignore it. “The president is desperate to change the subject from health care to immigration because he knows that health care is the number one issue Americans care about,” they said in a statement over the weekend. “Democrats are focused like a laser on health care and will not be diverted.”

How would a Democratic president and a Democratic congress respond to the caravan? They don’t want to say. Reassuring, huh?

Leonhardt concludes, “It makes it sound as if Democrats aren’t really sure whether they believe that this country should have immigration laws.”

They sound like that, because some Democrats — not all, but some — genuinely don’t believe that this country should have immigration laws. Some Democrats would attempt to prevent the caravan from entering. Some wouldn’t. Some would want to prevent them from entering but would feel very guilty about it. And I suspect quite a few would rather not think or talk about the caravan at all and would prefer to talk about health care.

We all know what the Trump administration will do regarding the caravan: Keep them out.

Noted crazed arch-conservative right-wing xenophobe . . . (squints, checks notes) . . .  er, David Frum points out the consequences of this caravan:

The theory behind the caravans — this latest, and its smaller predecessors over the past 15 years — is that Central Americans have valid asylum claims in the United States because of the pervasive underemployment and gang-violence problems in their countries. If that claim is true, that is a claim shared not only among the thousands in the current caravan, but the millions back home.

ADDENDA: If you’re an NRPlus member, I hope you’ll join Rich Lowry and me for an election preview via conference call at 11 a.m. Eastern this morning. If you’re not a member . . . well, you probably should consider becoming one! It’s just five bucks a month, you get access to these conference calls with the likes of Andy McCarthy and other NR editors, full access to the magazine archives, way fewer ads on the site, the members-only Facebook group, and early access and discounts to NR events.

If you haven’t listened to the Three Martini Lunch podcast lately, well . . . there’s been an unfortunate turn of events. Greg Corombos and I usually get along like peanut butter and jelly, but with his Chicago Bears and my New York Jets playing each other this week, tensions are rising. Even worse, some new team-affiliated super-PACs chose to advertise on our show: Ground The Jets PAC is running ads contending that the Jets Super Bowl victory in 1968 is tainted by a crossdressing quarterback, hippie hairstyles, and 1960s rebellion and the ultimate disappointment of the Nixon presidency; while “Americans United Against Chicago” points out that the Windy City has brought us Barack Obama, Al Capone, Rod Blagojevich, John Wayne Gacy, and the city elected Rahm Emanuel as mayor twice. On purpose.

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