Perhaps you thought America’s politicians might take off much of August, given the heat, vacations and the fact that so many of us aren’t paying much attention anymore, so bad is the odor of bitter partisan turmoil.
Uh, no. Campaign days are a precious commodity, not unlike vacant rooms in the hotel business. Once the day (or night) is over, there’s no making it up.
In the last week, an energetic 72-year-old President Donald Trump, who isn’t on any ballot Nov. 6, has been out campaigning three times with many more to come, mainly in contested races that will decide control of the House. He’s had a pretty good record of endorsement success in recent primaries.
But Democrats, energized by the same polarizing figure, need pick up only 23 seats to hand the House Speaker’s gavel back to 78-year-old Nancy Pelosi or a younger challenger come January.
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Even Barack Obama, who as president disdained involvement in lowly House contests, is back in. He issued a list of fairly predictable endorsements, carefully dodging some key contests that would plop him in the middle of Democrats’ simmering civil war over sane politics or socialism.
That profound fracture between far left and establishment liberals is much like the angry tea party movement that split Republicans starting in 2009 and still flares into factional feuds via House Republicans’ Freedom Caucus.
Watch for the Democratic split to deepen and widen as the party’s 2020 presidential wannabes, likely an even larger field than the 17 contenders Republicans struggled with in 2016, begin their public maneuvering later this fall.
Democrats talk about their big tent enfolding many species of liberal. They all agree Trump must go. The internal wounds will come when their primary debates stray into policy areas stretching far beyond standard liberal orthodoxy.
For instance, the recent upset House primary winner in the Bronx/Queens wants to end capitalism. The party’s deputy chair wants to ban all political donations and says that national borders create “injustice.”
More realistically, what about abolishing ICE and leaving the border unguarded? How will that play in the frustrated traditional Democratic districts across the Heartland where Trump unexpectedly triumphed? Democratic members and their leadership are dangerously concentrated on the coasts and in the geriatric set.
Trump knows well what’s at stake — and the odds against him. Ambitious committee chairmen in a Democratic House could block his legislative agenda. That would provide a priceless obstructionist foil for Trump’s 2020 reelection. But those same chairmen with subpoena powers could also ignite countless investigations, even impeachment.
Here’s the electoral reality for Trump: The midterm electorate is usually about a third smaller than in presidential elections and usually packed by people with a gripe.
Reality No. 2: The president’s party has lost House seats in 18 of the last 20 midterm elections, with an average loss of 33 House seats.
It takes a large special event to change that. In 1998, Bill Clinton’s Democrats gained five House seats when the GOP overstepped with impeachment. In 2002, George W. Bush’s GOP gained six seats in the 9/11 aftermath.
In 2006, Republicans lost 30 seats and House control. In 2010, Obama’s Democrats suffered a historic 63-seat loss after the forced passage of Obamacare and a fizzled jobs stimulus package, and another 13 seats were gone in 2014.
Absent some major news event like, oh, say, a damning special counsel report, what can Trump do in the next 13 weeks to at least mitigate GOP losses? First of all, will Trump’s so-far loyal base show up when his name is absent? Obama’s never did.
Trump is solid with about nine of 10 Republicans. But those 2016 voters who handed him the electoral votes from Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, for instance, are not Republicans.
Standard Democrats seem unlikely converts. Which leaves those crucial swing independents. Right now, they’re unsure about him and his behavior with reason.
Thanks to the large tax cuts and regulation-slashing, among other things, Trump has a golden argument to make. In fact, Gallup recently found Americans’ satisfaction with the country’s direction at a 12-year high.
As Trump promised, the desultory economy that limped along during the Obama reign of error is now expanding beautifully, at a 4.1 percent annualized rate at last report.
Business investments and consumer spending are up. Millions of jobs have blossomed. Unemployment has dropped to 3.9 percent, even more sharply for blacks and Hispanics, another Trump promise kept.
The president talks about these impressive achievements often. “We’ve really produced,” he said in Ohio the other day. “The economy is booming.”
A strong economy touches virtually every home. So, why don’t Americans credit the president? One reason is Trump himself. Through abrupt firings, outrageous statements or tweets, this president routinely muddies his own messages.
Many self-important media members are only too happy to write about any controversy instead of boring good news that might help the man who calls their life’s work “fake news.” In effect, Trump asks for it.
There’s still sufficient time. If Trump had the self-discipline to tell Trump to stay on one message, dump the hyperbolic false claims and needless, distracting attacks on others, he could attract many independents seeking someone more presidential. And become a more powerful president, while remaining true to the Trump that Trump and his base love.
Few think he can. But then few thought he could be elected either.
A famous American once said, “It’s very easy to be presidential.”
That famous American was Donald Trump. So, let’s see some of it.