(Image: Allison Bell)
But of course President Donald Trump is not fairly popular; he’s the most unpopular president at this stage of his presidency in the polling era, and if we restrict it to elected presidents (excluding Gerald Ford) he’s the most unpopular by a wide margin.
Even though some of the specifics of Tuesday’s elections were surprises, the overall result wasn’t. Everything we’ve seen over the last nine months indicated that Democratic energy is high; they are recruiting tons of candidates; and Trump is dragging down candidates all over, with Democrats picking up several state legislative seats and beating their previous margins (on average) in all U.S. House and state legislative specials. You’re going to see a ton of analysis about it, but it’s really very simple: This is what happens when a president is unpopular.
So what can Republicans do? Absent a time machine back to spring 2016 to get themselves a different presidential candidate, they’re really stuck between a rock and a hard place. Stick with Trump, and they energize Democrats and push away potential voters who already reject him. Dump on Trump, and they’ll drive down his approval ratings even more, further energizing Democrats and demoralizing the Republican party faithful.
The problems don’t stop there. Republicans don’t have a backlog of popular policy measures they could pass and implement. And they can’t really back off their unpopular tax plan, given that it’s a high priority for many Republican party elites and donors and also the lone promise remaining that the Republican Congress might be able to pass. About all they can do is plug away at policies (including, presumably, the tax bill) that they believe will deliver good economic results, and hope that’s enough to stabilize support for the party or even improve it a bit. I suppose they can hope that Trump learns how to behave himself in a way that doesn’t alienate over half the nation, but that seems even less likely.
Meanwhile, while the results don’t particularly predict anything other than what we already knew, they will have some electoral effects. The more everyone in both parties believes that 2018 will be a good year for the Democrats, the more resources will pour into their campaigns and away from Republican efforts. The biggest one is candidates. Two U.S. House Republicans announced retirements even before the polls closed on Tuesday, one in a fairly solid seat but one in a seat that will be quite vulnerable. If there are more members of Congress or other Republican incumbents in state and local government who are on the fence between running or not, these election results might be enough to convince them not to run.
Even that, however, probably has a fairly small half-life, as the news from these elections fade and the next special election or major event takes their place.
So all in all: A great day for Democrats, one that will have plenty of important policy implications in the affected states and across the nation. But while it does confirm the trouble Republicans are in, it’s also easy to overhype results which will be mostly forgotten long before voters go to the polls next November. Republicans could still rebound, in theory; it’s just not clear that Trump has the capacity to do what he’d have to in order to help himself and the party.
— For more columns from Bloomberg View, visit http://www.bloomberg.com/view.