Look­ing be­yond the Novem­ber vic­tory

Don­ald Trump may sur­pass ex­pec­ta­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By J.T. Young J.T. Young served in the Trea­sury De­part­ment and the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, and as a con­gres­sional staff mem­ber.

Hav­ing up­ended con­ven­tional wis­dom this Novem­ber, Don­ald Trump may do so again in 2018. With Repub­li­cans los­ing seats in Mr. Trump’s up­set vic­tory, Democrats may be en­vi­sion­ing big gains in his first midterm elec­tion. Yet de­spite neg­a­tive re­sults in re­cent Demo­cratic pres­i­dents’ first midterms, there are im­por­tant rea­sons to not ex­pect the same for Mr. Trump and Repub­li­cans in two years.

Amer­i­can pol­i­tics ebbs and flows. When a party’s can­di­date wins the pres­i­dency, he gen­er­ally aides his party’s con­gres­sional can­di­dates too. Two years later, with­out a pop­u­lar pres­i­den­tial can­di­date atop the ticket

— and with a pres­i­dent of­ten less pop­u­lar from gov­ern­ing’s rig­ors — the party’s can­di­dates suf­fer.

The last two Demo­cratic pres­i­dents ex­em­pli­fied this pat­tern.

Bill Clin­ton and Barack Obama suf­fered mas­sive losses in Congress in their first midterms. In 1994, Democrats lost 9 Se­nate seats and 54 House seats, giv­ing Repub­li­cans their first full con­trol of Congress since the 1950s. In 2010, Democrats lost six Se­nate seats and 64 House seats, and while not gain­ing full con­trol, Repub­li­cans gained their largest House to­tal since Pres­i­dent Hoover.

In­ter­est­ingly, Ge­orge W. Bush did not fol­low this pat­tern. In 2003, Repub­li­cans gained 8 House and 1 Se­nate seat. There is more to this coun­ter­in­tu­itive re­sult than the af­ter­ef­fect of 2001’s 9/11 at­tacks. Those rea­sons may well aid Mr. Trump and Repub­li­cans in 2018.

First, Mr. Clin­ton (258 House and 57 Se­nate seats) and Mr. Obama (257 House and 59 Se­nate seats) had large con­gres­sional ma­jori­ties when they won. Ef­fec­tively, they lost more be­cause they had more op­por­tu­nity to lose. Nei­ther Mr. Trump (241 House and 52 Se­nate seats) nor Mr. Bush (220 House and 50 Se­nate seats) have that op­por­tu­nity.

Repub­li­cans are also over­whelm­ingly dom­i­nant at the state level, the political or­ga­ni­za­tions of which only help in con­gres­sional races. Repub­li­cans hold 31 gov­er­nor­ships to Democrats’ 18, and a 30-12 ad­van­tage in con­trol­ling state leg­is­la­tures. Com­bined, Repub­li­cans have to­tal con­trol of 22 states, ver­sus Democrats’ 8.

Mr. Trump also won the pop­u­lar vote in 30 states. Mr. Trump’s 306 elec­toral votes make him the first Repub­li­can to break 300 since Ge­orge H.W. Bush. While Mr. Trump did not win every district of these 30 states’ 246 — but did win many dis­tricts in the 20 states he lost — this il­lus­trates his po­ten­tial elec­toral in­flu­ence’s breadth.

There is also the much-cited ad­van­tage Repub­li­cans will have in 2018 Se­nate races. Of the 33 up, Democrats must de­fend 25 (10 in states Mr. Trump won) ver­sus Repub­li­cans’ 8. That is more slanted than the 24-10 split Repub­li­cans faced this year, when they lost 2 seats.

Aside from fa­vor­able num­bers, Mr. Trump, and Repub­li­cans in gen­eral, may have even larger qual­i­ta­tive ad­van­tages.

Mr. Trump fits more closely with Amer­ica’s cen­ter-right ide­o­log­i­cal tilt than ei­ther Mr. Clin­ton or Mr. Obama. Ac­cord­ing to CNN exit polling, 39 per­cent of re­spon­dents iden­ti­fied them­selves as con­ser­va­tive and 35 per­cent as mod­er­ate. Only 26 per­cent iden­ti­fied them­selves as lib­eral.

Large con­gres­sional ma­jori­ties al­lowed Mr. Clin­ton and Mr. Obama to ini­tially gov­ern from left-of-cen­ter. Mr. Clin­ton tried, al­though he failed, to en­act “Clin­ton Care” and was suc­cess­ful in en­act­ing a large tax hike. Mr. Obama suc­ceeded in en­act­ing Oba­macare. Not sur­pris­ingly, both paid a heavy price in their first midterms.

How­ever in con­trast to Mr. Clin­ton, who moved to­ward the cen­ter af­ter his midterm de­ba­cle, Mr. Obama con­tin­ued to go left. He re­peat­edly cir­cum­vented Congress, us­ing ex­ec­u­tive orders and an ex­pan­sive vi­sion of the pres­i­dency’s pow­ers. While that may come back to haunt Democrats once Mr. Trump in­her­its these newly ex­panded pow­ers, Mr. Trump may al­ready be reap­ing a ben­e­fit by sim­ply not fol­low­ing Mr. Obama’s ide­o­log­i­cal di­rec­tion.

Ras­mussen polling (re­leased Dec. 16) shows Mr. Trump’s fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ing now even at 47 per­cent. While not strato­spheric, it is well above his 39 per­cent Oc­to­ber level.

Two other fac­tors also fa­vor Mr. Trump and Repub­li­cans. The na­tion’s most im­por­tant do­mes­tic vari­able, the econ­omy, is al­most per­fectly placed for Mr. Trump. It has been nei­ther mem­o­rably good, nor mem­o­rably bad. Im­mi­nently for­get­table, it will not take much to make it look re­spectable.

Fi­nally, pres­i­dents are not judged in a vac­uum; they are com­pared to the political al­ter­na­tive. Al­though early, Mr. Trump could not have re­ceived a bet­ter house­warm­ing

Al­though early, Mr. Trump could not have re­ceived a bet­ter house-warm­ing gift than the whiny lib­eral op­po­si­tion thus far con­fronting him.

gift than the whiny lib­eral op­po­si­tion thus far con­fronting him. From cry-ins to civil dis­tur­bances, they have el­e­vated Mr. Trump by de­fault.

And his op­po­si­tion may well not be done be­ing a fa­vor­able com­par­i­son for him. Ac­cord­ing to Ras­mussen (re­leased Nov. 18), 54 per­cent of Democrats want their party to be more like Mr. San­ders than Mrs, Clin­ton. While re­flect­ing the strong sup­port Mr. San­ders re­ceived through­out the pri­maries, aim­ing to imi­tate the can­di­date who ef­fec­tively fin­ished third in the pres­i­den­tial race is not the best way to be­come num­ber one.

There are clear trends in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Out­siders gen­er­ally win (the last “in­sider” to win was Ge­orge H.W. Bush in 1988), but once in­side the White House, gov­ern­ing takes its toll. Pop­u­lar­ity ebbs as ex­pec­ta­tion gives way to dis­ap­point­ment. The first op­por­tu­nity to regis­ter this dis­il­lu­sion­ment is con­gres­sional elec­tions two years later.

Mr. Trump may well buck this trend. There has not been an “out­sider” like Mr. Trump and he may be such an out­sider that he gov­erns more like one than those of the past. But even ab­sent that, there are nu­mer­ous and pow­er­ful rea­sons to be­lieve Mr. Trump and Repub­li­cans may not suf­fer in two years as Mr. Clin­ton and Mr. Obama did. If so, TMr. rump may ac­tu­ally get a sec­ond wind in his first term’s sec­ond half.

ILLUSTRATION BY GREG GROESCH

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