Too early to panic, but not too early for GOP to be con­cerned

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - MATT MACKOWIAK Matt Mackowiak is the pres­i­dent of Austin-based Po­tomac Strat­egy Group, a Repub­li­can con­sul­tant, a Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and Bush-Cheney re-elec­tion cam­paign vet­eran and for­mer press sec­re­tary to two U.S. se­na­tors. He is the host of a new na

We are not even 100 days into the Trump pres­i­dency, and al­ready jour­nal­ists and po­lit­i­cal pun­dits are des­per­ately look­ing for clues as to how the midterm elec­tions will turn out 19 months from now. Let’s all take a deep breath.

The po­lit­i­cal dy­namic will be very dif­fer­ent by Novem­ber 2018, and so far, what ev­i­dence we do have is a mixed pic­ture.

Repub­li­cans held a seat in a red district in Kansas in a spe­cial elec­tion but un­der­per­formed Mr. Trump there by more than 15 points.

This week, de­spite spend­ing over $8 mil­lion, a 30-year-old Demo­crat named Jon Os­soff failed to win a spe­cial elec­tion in a mar­ginal, sub­ur­ban district in Ge­or­gia against a deeply di­vided GOP field. In fact, he only nar­rowly over­per­formed Hil­lary Clin­ton’s vote share in the district from Novem­ber. He will now face longer odds in a runoff in June.

What do these two spe­cial elec­tions tell us? Al­most noth­ing.

It is un­de­ni­able that Democrats are mo­ti­vated. They wake up each day schem­ing about how to deal the pres­i­dent a de­feat, how to em­bar­rass him or how to show him chang­ing a view on an is­sue. In fact, the ridicu­lous level of na­tional at­ten­tion paid to these two spe­cial elec­tions is more about the Demo­crat-me­dia com­plex’s fever­ish de­sire to de­liver Mr. Trump a set­back than about their in­her­ent po­lit­i­cal im­port. In the end, one con­gres­sional seat switch­ing par­ties makes al­most no dif­fer­ence.

But the midterm elec­tions will be con­se­quen­tial, as they will set the en­vi­ron­ment on Capi­tol Hill for the fi­nal two years of Pres­i­dent Trump’s first term, as his re-elec­tion cam­paign gears up.

If Repub­li­cans lose con­trol of the House — Democrats need a net pickup of 24 seats — it would dra­mat­i­cally nar­row the path­way to ad­vanc­ing Mr. Trump’s leg­isla­tive agenda and open the flood­gates to un­lim­ited Hill in­ves­ti­ga­tions run by the Democrats.

Even a nar­rower GOP ma­jor­ity in the House would make Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s job more dif­fi­cult and fur­ther en­able the House Free­dom Cau­cus to ex­ert their will.

The Se­nate is al­most surely out of reach, with 10 Demo­cratic in­cum­bents up for re­elec­tion from states that Mr. Trump won, five of whom are run­ning from states that the pres­i­dent won eas­ily (West Vir­ginia, North Dakota, Mis­souri, Mon­tana and Indiana). Right now, Democrats have only one solid pickup op­por­tu­nity — in Ne­vada. But again, cut­ting into the Repub­li­cans’ 52-48 edge in the Se­nate would make Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell’s al­ready-dif­fi­cult job even harder.

De­spite the early date, there are al­ready some warn­ing signs for the GOP.

Mr. Trump has not seen a ma­jor leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tive pass Congress as we near the sym­bolic marker of his first 100 days — un­prece­dented in the mod­ern era of the pres­i­dency. The path­way for re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing Oba­macare and pass­ing tax re­form is still un­cer­tain.

Even must-pass bills to fund the govern­ment and in­crease the debt ceil­ing will be heavy lifts and likely yield few con­ser­va­tive re­sults.

The 2018 cal­en­dar year will be con­sumed by elec­toral pol­i­tics, mak­ing bi­par­ti­san agree­ment on leg­is­la­tion un­likely.

Should the midterm elec­tions ar­rive with­out ma­jor leg­isla­tive ac­com­plish­ments, there is a risk that Democrats will re­main mo­ti­vated while tra­di­tional Repub­li­can vot­ers ap­pear dispir­ited, and with­out Mr. Trump on the bal­lot, a per­fect storm may de­velop. This is a worst-case sce­nario, but it is plau­si­ble at this point.

The path for­ward for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is to work to bring the pres­i­dent’s ap­proval rat­ings up from the cur­rent high 30-per­cent range up to at least the high 40-per­cent range.

Fear­ing the anger of their own base, Democrats are likely to refuse to work with Mr. Trump on any is­sue, even those that are popular and those with which they agree. Un­til that risk cal­cu­la­tion fun­da­men­tally changes, the Trump agenda on Capi­tol Hill will be stalled.

Mr. Trump has an op­por­tu­nity to be­gin mov­ing his leg­isla­tive agenda, but time is tick­ing away. He needs to unify the GOP on health care and tax re­form and be­gin mov­ing those bills, with steady and tan­gi­ble progress be­fore the Au­gust re­cess.

Repub­li­cans need pos­i­tive mo­men­tum and some­thing they can sell to vot­ers back home. In­stead of be­ing forced to an­swer ques­tions about the pres­i­dent and his record, they would rather be sell­ing their leg­isla­tive agenda. But right now, they do not yet have a con­sen­sus on the big is­sues.

Mr. Trump may not care much about the midterm elec­tions, but there are 535 House mem­bers and a third of the Se­nate that don’t have the same lux­ury.

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