A close look at the 2018 midterm results shows why he is so weak.
Now that a new Congress has taken office, the vote count from the 2018 midterms is all but final. It shows that Democrats won the national popular vote in the House races by almost nine percentage points. That margin is smashing — larger, by comparison, than in any presidential race since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election landslide.
.. Without a significant improvement in Trump’s standing, he would be a big underdog in 2020. Remember, presidential elections have higher turnout than midterms, and the larger electorate helps Democrats. At least 10 million more people — and maybe many more — are likely to vote in the next presidential election than voted in the 2018 midterms. Those extra votes, many from younger or nonwhite Americans, would make Trump’s re-election all the more difficult.
It’s not just Trump, either. If his approval rating doesn’t rise over the next two years,multiple Senate Republicans will be in trouble. I’ve long assumed that Susan Collins of Maine could win re-election for as long as she wanted. But she may not be able to do so if Trump loses Maine by 15 percentage points — which was the combined Republican deficit in Maine’s two midterm congressional races.
Then there is Cory Gardner of Colorado (where Republicans lost the 2018 popular vote deficit by more than 10 percentage points), Joni Ernst of Iowa (where the Republican deficit was four points) and Martha McSally of Arizona (where it was two points).
If Trump’s popularity were to drop at all, another batch of senators — from North Carolina, Texas and Georgia, three states where Republicans only narrowly won the 2018 popular vote — would become more endangered. Even Kansas elected a Democratic governor last year, and it will have an open Senate seat in 2020. On Friday, Pat Roberts, the Republican incumbent, announced he would not run again.
.. I know that many people, from across the ideological spectrum, believe that Trump’s standing with Republicans remains secure.
I think he is more vulnerable than many people realize.
First, there are the political risks that his current standing creates for other Republicans. It’s true that his approval rating has been notably stable, around 40 percent. It’s also notably weak. Thus the Republican whupping in the midterms.
Third, Republican support for Trump may remain broad, but it’s shallow. Trump has already faced far more intra-party criticism than most presidents. Since the midterms, it seems to be growing. Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, resigned and criticized Trump while doing so. Mitt Romney entered the Senate by once again turning against Trump. Collins and Gardner have started grumbling about the shutdown.
As Republicans begin looking nervously to 2020, their willingness to break with Trump may increase. For some of them, their political survival may depend on breaking with him. If that happens, it’s quite possible that his approval rating will begin to drift below 40 percent — and the bad news will then feed on itself.
No, none of this is guaranteed. Democrats could overreach, by quickly impeaching Trump and thereby uniting Republicans. Or Trump could end up navigating the next few months surprisingly well. But that’s not the mostly likely scenario.
The normal rules of politics really do apply to Trump. He won a shocking victory in 2016, and his opponents have lacked confidence ever since. They should no longer lack it.
Donald Trump still has great power as the president of the United States. But as presidents go, he is very weak. His opponents — Democrats, independents and Republicans who understand the damage he is doing to the country — should be feeling energized.
It would seem that for the Republican Party, an incompetent, erratic kleptocracy might just be the best form of government.
Or at least it was until March 1, 2018, the day Trump signaled his intention to impose across-the-board import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. That decision, notes Pat Roberts, a Republican senator from Kansas, “is not going to go down well in farm country.”
.. His worry now is that Trump will pursue “a trade policy that will basically result in all the benefits of the tax reform being taken away by higher manufacturing costs being passed on to consumers.”
.. In the end, American consumers will pay for Trump’s tariffs. Such broad protectionist measures will affect every sector of US manufacturing in one way or another, and manufacturers certainly will not eat the full costs of higher-priced steel and aluminum inputs.
.. So, Trump has essentially proposed a new tax on US consumers and export industries, the costs of which will be borne largely by his own supporters in the American heartland and Rust Belt.
.. It turns out that Trump’s decision was taken against the advice – indeed, over the objections – of not just his
- chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, but also his
- national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, his
- treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and his
- defense secretary, James Mattis.
On the other hand, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross apparently favors the tariffs. But it is not at all clear why. The Department of Commerce itself surely recognizes that more Americans benefit from lower steel and aluminum prices than from higher prices.
Another supporter of the tariffs is Peter Navarro, who was recently promoted to Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy and Director of the White House National Trade Council. That comes as no surprise. Navarro has written a number of alarmist books about America’s trade relationship with China, including one titled Death by China. Nevertheless, Navarro has not yet been able to explain how creating a larger domestic steel industry through tariffs will yield a net benefit for the US economy.
A final key supporter of the tariffs is US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who formerly worked as a lawyer for the steel industry. As with Ross, it is not entirely clear what Lighthizer is thinking. He has to know that Trump’s tariffs will have little to no chance of boosting the US steel and aluminum industries without also imposing substantial costs on the economy. Doesn’t he realize that his own reputation will ultimately depend on whether the administration has a successful trade policy or an obviously stupid one?
The GOP senators insisted that the tens of billions in cuts to federal health spending proposed in the bill would not result in coverage losses because, they said, the states would have more flexibility.
.. The GOP senators insisted that the tens of billions in cuts to federal health spending proposed in the bill would not result in coverage losses because, they said, the states would have more flexibility.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS):
“If we do nothing, it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections”
.. as a general rule the states do things better than the federal government does [things]. And that is essentially what the bill is
.. I think the efficiencies that come with transferring the funding to the states can very well make up the difference between what the federal thing would be.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX):
“It lets states innovate and adopt creative solutions”
the heart of the legislation takes the policymaking role of Washington and sends it to the states. It lets states innovate and adopt creative solutions to local problems, which vary state by state.
But it’s not just devolving power from the federal government to the state. It also involves a 16 percent cut in federal spending [upfront] and a 34 percent cut over the next 10 years.
.. Ted Cruz
CBO’s analysis throughout this process has been ridiculously slow, unreliable, and based on policy assumptions that are demonstrably false.
You really believe that cutting federal spending by 34 percent will not result in any other people losing their insurance?
What federal spending is cut?
Well, the Medicaid expansion would be sunset, for one, is my understanding.
The decrease in future rates of growth is not a cut. And it is only in the bizarre world of Washington that billions more money is characterized in the press as a cut rather than an increase, which is in fact what it is.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA)
.. I have sent four amendments to Lindsey [Graham] and Bill [Cassidy] that I think will strengthen the bill. The one I feel most strongly about is that I want the Medicaid work requirement — I don’t want it to be optional; I want it to be a requirement. Just like we did with welfare reform.
.. number two, I want to get us to give guardrails to the states to say, “You cannot use these moneys to set up a state-run single-payer system.” I don’t believe in it. I think it’s a mistake.
[Guardian reporter] Lauren Gambino
Do you think that kind of goes against the idea of states’ rights and being able to use this money [as the states want to]?
No, no. We have plenty of federal rules that apply to every state, but we still agree with states’ rights.
I think it spends scarce resources in a more rational manner. It will control costs. I like the idea that it encourages states to innovate.
How does it do that? Any of those things?
Well, you need to read the bill.
Well, you’re voting for it, right? So what is the explanation for how it does those things?
I am. Because it gives states added flexibility. Read the bill and you’ll understand.
The bill would cut federal funding to states by 34 percent over the next —
But it wouldn’t cut Alabama, though.
Well, do you think the other states should deal with —
Well, you see some of our states, four of our states, are getting a disproportionate amount of money from health care now. You know which ones.
.. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
What is the policy explanation for the Graham-Cassidy health care bill?
Policy explanation? I’m not into policy, so I don’t really know. I’m into facts.
[In a follow-up interview hours later on Tuesday] You were joking earlier, but what is the health policy in the Graham-Cassidy proposal that you like?
More state innovation. More input from the states.
.. Johnny Isakson
The governors — I’m from a state that didn’t expand Medicaid, and the way we were going in health care looked like those states would actually be hurt worse than other states.
By going to block grants, back to the states, the control of money stays with the states, and you have less [un]predictability and external deviation in terms of funding.
.. Jeff Stein
So just a follow-up on that. It’s one thing to say the bill gives the states power — that’s one thing.
But it doesn’t just do that. It also cuts the money they have — some estimates say around 16 percent of federal funding.
I’m not going to confirm that statement one way or another. I don’t know what the numbers are going to end up looking like.
Right, but if it does cut federal spending overall, would you support it?
You know, those are dangerous questions. I’m waiting until I see the totality of the legislation to say whether I support the whole thing or not, anyway.
I’m not a no, but I’m not a yes either — and I’m waiting for my governor to respond to me with their input as well. It’s really key what they’re doing.
.. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY):
“The governors who decided to expand [Medicaid] knew that they were going to lose federal funding”
I want to ask, in a big-picture way: What is the policy explanation for how this bill makes people’s lives better?
It gets the money out of Washington, lets people at home make the decision, and gets state legislatures involved, and governors involved. It moves money out of Washington. It’s away from socialism.
CBPP says it will also reduce federal health spending on Medicaid and the exchanges by about  percent.
I’d love to reduce federal spending on health insurance.
Right, but so it’s not just about moving power to the states — it’s also about cutting funding.
It’s about moving power to the states, where money can be spent much more effectively.
How does it do that?
Well, you have to read the formula and read the bill, and it will tell you how it moves money to the states and how much they get and how much they don’t get. …
There’s a concern from Republican governors who have come out and said, “This is too dramatic a cut in spending; we won’t have enough money to insure everyone.”
You have to interview them on that.
Do you think they’re wrong?
Well, it depends on if they’re states that expanded Medicaid or not. …
In the Medicaid expansion states, they still have a lot of people who rely on Medicaid expansion for health insurance.
I opposed Medicaid expansion. I think the Supreme Court got it wrong [when it ruled in 2012 that Congress did have the constitutional authority to implement most of Obamacare].
The governors who decided to expand [Medicaid] knew that they were going to lose federal funding over time, and they’re objecting to that — but they knew it. You could say, “Some of them didn’t understand it, and so-and-so wasn’t there, and he wasn’t governor yet,” but they understood that this would be part of the process. So if they used the money poorly —
And my concern with Medicaid is that the people who Medicaid was designed for originally have been cut out of the process, because they’re still on the waiting list to get on Medicaid. I don’t know how much you understand about Medicaid, but this whole expansion of Medicaid went for healthy, working-age individuals — it did not go for the people who [Medicaid] was designed for, which was low-income women, children, and the disabled.
.. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA):
“This is the last attempt to do what we promised in the election”
.. Chuck Grassley
Let me give you a political answer, and then I’ll give you a substance answer.
The political answer is that Republicans have promised for seven years that we were going to correct all the things that were wrong with Obamacare, and we failed the first eight months. This is the last attempt to do what we promised in the election.
The substance answer is that Obamacare starts with the principle that all knowledge about health care, and all decisions on health care, ought to rest in Washington, DC. The complete opposite of that is Graham-Cassidy, that Washington doesn’t know best and we’ll let each of the 50 states [decide what’s best].
The security clearance of any officer or employee of the federal government who has exercised extreme carelessness in the handling of classified information shall be revoked.” — Senate Bill 3135, co-sponsored last year (to shame Hillary Clinton) by 16 Republican senators: Cory Gardner, John Cornyn, Shelley Moore Capito, Tim Scott, James Risch, Pat Roberts, Dean Heller, Kelly Ayotte, John Barrasso, David Perdue, Johnny Isakson, Thom Tillis, John Thune, David Vitter, Mike Rounds and James Inhofe
“Those who mishandled classified info have had their sec clearances revoked, lost their jobs, faced fines, & even been sent to prison.”
— Reince Priebus, tweet, July 6, 2016