All presidents know they are due for an electoral beating in midterm elections, when voters impose an interim verdict on the party of the man whose name is not on any ballot.
Even when your name is political poison — like George W. Bush in 2006 — most presidents do fundraising and some campaigning, if only symbolically to support the party.
As you may have noticed, Donald Trump is not most presidents. He’s decided to go all in on campaigning for both Republican Senate and House candidates. This sets the increasingly familiar Trumpian stage for a high-stakes big win or big loss. Which makes you want to tune in next week, right?
History teaches that the president’s vision of a red wave taking his advice is a ridiculous dream, as improbable as a Trump victory in 2016. Of the last 20 midterm elections, the president’s party has lost ground in 18 of them — 33 House seats on average.
The exceptions were the result of unusual circumstances inspiring presidential support — GOP impeachment overreach in 1998 and 9/11 exactly 17 years ago this week.
Trump maintains the support of about 90 percent of his party. But opinion polls indicate Democratic and independent antipathy toward Trump, spotlighted by an embattled media eager to score points on the man who calls them the people’s enemy. Barring some unexpected event such as a major terrorist attack, the wave in November is most likely to be blue in color.
So much so that would-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her geriatric posse are already making legislative plans for January. Like Hillary Clinton picking her cabinet members on Nov. 7, 2016.
To counter the liberal tide, or at least minimize it, President Trump is turning to the man whose skills, instincts and wisdom he trusts the most — himself.
Trump has already been successful backing election winners this year. Those, however, were largely primaries involving GOP voters more inclined to listen.
But that’s not stopping this president. Between August and Nov. 6, Trump has scheduled a minimum of 40 campaign days, some with more than one event. That’s more than Barack Obama ahead of his first midterm. And Trump will likely add more stops as candidates’ prospects shake out.
He’s already been to South Carolina, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, both Dakotas and to Montana twice, which is usually lucky to get a vice presidential fundraiser even in presidential years.
Coming up are Nevada, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Florida, Mississippi and, this week, Missouri and Pennsylvania. Also on tap is Texas — yes, Texas — where Trump will work to reelect the senator who refused to endorse him at the nominating convention, Ted Cruz. Ah, politics.
The goals are to hold on to as many House seats as possible, perhaps preventing the loss of the 23 that would reimpose a Speaker Pelosi. She would block Trump’s legislative agenda and likely launch impeachment proceedings. But, shhh, don’t say anything about that now because it could motivate Trump voters,
On the Senate side, Republicans are more hopeful they can add to their current 51 seats. Democrats are defending 26 of the 33 Senate chairs up with several incumbents vulnerable in states that went big for Trump two years ago. This helps explain the president’s trips to Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and even the Sunshine State.
The schedules for such forays are fairly standard for presidential campaign stops: a Make America Great Again rally, with thousands of cheering props for the national media coverage. He’s done 520 of these since 2015.
Then comes a closed roundtable with backers of Trump and local candidates and perhaps a reception, where supporters pay even more for photos with him. Also, not widely noted are the local TV interviews with Trump speaking on issues of state interest.
At each stop, the man who once claimed not to be a politician touts his administration’s accomplishments starting with regulatory and tax reforms that ignited a booming economy, 4 million new jobs, wage growth, low unemployment, especially among blacks and Hispanics. Also military strengthening.
It’s a powerful bipartisan argument that Republican congressional leaders seem strangely unwilling to consistently make, with the eloquent exception of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He calmly runs down a long list of achievements by a GOP Congress and White House working together, including a record number of confirmed judges.
Hovering over the next eight weeks of Trump’s political schedule is the specter of Obama’s 2010 experience. The Democrat’s job approval was actually two points higher than Trump’s now.
Obama also loved the adoration of rally crowds. He spent dozens of days campaigning. In fact, he’s back at it this cycle, too.
Obama’s reward for all that campaigning back then: a historic thrashing that included 63 lost Democratic House seats, six lost Senate seats, 11 lost governorships and 20 state legislative chambers flipped to GOP control. All the start of a Republican avalanche that has put the GOP in control of 33 of 50 governor’s offices and both chambers in 26 of those states.
Still, Trump sounds confident, tweeting: “We are winning on just about every front and for that reason there will not be a Blue Wave, but there might be a Red Wave!”
We’ll have to stay tuned to see if he can deliver.