Trump the Vulnerable

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.

Trump Is Waging War on the GOP. He’s Winning.

if you’re looking for confirmation bias—and by all accounts, that’s the mode of analysis our president prefers—there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the only thing the Trump administration needs is More Trump.

.. the Trump clones did well. Sure, Corey Stewart and Kris Kobach lost. But Trump can tell himself that Virginia is a Clinton state he doesn’t need and that he couldn’t lose Kansas in 2020 if he tried. In important states—tossups he has to have for reelection—the Trump clones won. In Florida and Georgia, Ron DeSantis and Brian Kemp ran as Mini-Trumps. And not only did these two win, but they beat the kind of young, progressive minority candidates that the Democrats are itching to put up against Trump in two years.

.. Trump skeptics took a thumping. Barbara Comstock, Mia Love, Mike Coffman—all of those uppity conservatives who voted for Trump when they had to, but refused to bend the knee? Gone, gone, and gone. And in case you doubt how crucial this was to the president, he spent several minutes of his postelection press conference naming and shaming the Republican losers who did not sufficiently “embrace”—his word, he used it five times—him.
.. Because, as everyone knows, Carlos Curbelo would have held on to Florida’s 26th District—which is 72 percent Hispanic and 50 percent foreign-born—had he gotten on board with Trump’s plan to sign away birthright citizenship. Cuck got what he deserved.
.. The gains in the Senate are even better. Not only did Republicans add to their number, they did so while subtracting people, such as Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who never showed the same level of discernment as Beautiful Ted. The result is a bigger, Trumpier majority, which, by extension, will put even more pressure on the one or two remaining Republican senators who have been reluctant to embrace the president.
.. So if, for instance, the president needed the Senate to confirm a judge or a new attorney general, or—and we’re just spitballing here—vote on a trial of impeachment, then Trump is in a much stronger position.
.. for all the talk about how Trumpism is a reaction to leftism and social-justice warriors and political correctness, the truth is that it is principally an intra-party fight. 
.. And like the Maoists, the Trumpers aren’t really interested in picking a fight with the other superpower. They’re much more concerned with controlling the near abroad—which is to say, the Republican party. That’s why they tend to focus their hatred on Republicans and conservatives who decline to get on board, rather than on Democrats and liberals. Jeff Flake is the enemy; Kamala Harris is just a random nonplayer character.
.. Always remember that Trumpers—the people who believe in him, not the remora fish looking for their bits of chum—care very little about the left. Their real opponents are other Republicans. Seen from that perspective, Tuesday’s vote was a huge success. Because for Trumpers, it’s never a binary choice. Wherever a Trump-skeptical Republican was running against a Democrat, Trumpism couldn’t lose.
.. In the final weeks of the midterm campaign, 4 percent looked like the most important number in politics: unemployment was under it and GDP growth over it. This was, economically speaking, as good as it gets, and most political professionals thought Republicans should be running on these numbers.
.. Yet Trump decided to close the election with American Carnage 2. He obsessed about the caravan that was winding its way to our southern border. (No one seems to have asked why they wouldn’t be deterred by the Wall that Mexico paid for.) Trump ordered 5,000 troops to the border. Then the number was 10,000. Then 15,000. Then he said he was going to order these soldiers to fire on anyone who threw a rock in their general direction, even though the caravan was still a thousand miles away. The president ran an anti-
immigration ad so vile that Fox News—the network whose journalists appeared onstage at a Trump campaign rally—pulled it off the air.
.. In short, Trump looked at our fat, happy days of peace and prosperity and decided to run on fear, division, and chaos. And he was right.
.. In politics, as in every other facet of life, you must always consider opportunity cost. And yes, it’s possible that some other closing message from the president might have produced marginally better electoral outcomes for Republicans. But maybe not. At the very least, the president’s gambit did no great harm. There was no big break against Republicans. Most of the races went according to form.
.. The caravan worked. Sticking with Brett Kavanaugh was smart. There was no price for playing “false flag” games with the attempted mail-bombing of Democrats. No apologies, for anything, ever.
.. Those are the lessons of 2018 and the doctrines that will shape the war of 2020. You can understand why Trump looked across the country on Tuesday night and tweeted, “Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!” He was smiling. The GOP caucuses in both the House and Senate will be even more friendly to him than before. His enemies have been crushed beneath his feet.
.. The problem with getting rid of Love and Curbelo and Comstock is that it gives Democrats control of the House. Trumpism may not be interested in Democrats, but Democrats are interested in Trump. And now they have subpoena power.

.. Once a new speaker is sworn in, the Democrats will be able to investigate and call witnesses and poke and prod the administration in ways we can foresee and ways we cannot. There are, for instance, reports that the president’s son expects to be indicted. If that comes to pass, any attempt by the president to protect him will face scrutiny with the force of law behind it.

.. The White House and its surrogates have announced that they welcome Democratic overreach and are prepared to make war against congressmen who push investigations. Trump expressly threatened potential investigators in his press conference.

.. But the kinds of Democrats willing to take the hardest line against Trump will be from the safest districts. Trump can’t hurt them. And, moreover, getting to overreach means enduring an awful lot of pain during the initial-reach. Clinton and the Democrats benefited from Republican overreach in the 1998 midterm elections. The experience was not terribly pleasant for them.

.. There are other problems on the horizon. The Democrats who won on Tuesday—Jon Tester, Joe Manchin, Tim Kaine—tended to be more centrist. The party’s progressive stars—Beto! Andrew! Stacey!—were wiped out, leaving Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sitting forlornly in the corner with her movie-star cheekbones, glamorous jackets, and lost dreams of a socialist-Democratic future. This does not mean that Democratic voters will choose a nominee who is in step with mainstream politics in 2020. But these losses make that possibility more likely. The lesson has been taught, and all Democrats have to do is learn it.

.. There’s even the possibility that Democrats may look at the midterms and the caravan and learn a lesson about immigration. They’re never going to outbid Trump on nativism, but they don’t have to. All they have to do is convince a small share of marginal independent voters that they’re not secretly for open borders and that they do take illegal immigration seriously. If you can’t do that while maintaining your liberal base, then you don’t belong in professional politics. It’s not a heavy lift.
.. The other problem for Trump is that the numbers don’t look especially good for him. It is difficult to imagine external circumstances being better for Republicans two years from now—you can’t really top “no major wars and 4 percent.” So the macro-environment will either be equivalent or worse.
.. In 2016, he got the second-smallest share of the popular vote (46.1 percent) of any Republican since 2000. He ran 3 points—which is a lot—behind Republicans in the House popular vote that year. And in the 2018 midterms, he pulled the Republican share of the House popular vote down to his own 2016 level, to what is likely the third-smallest percentage for Republicans since 1994
..  Trump won in 2016 because even though he ran behind most congressional Republicans, their turnout was enough to pull him over the line. Over the last two years, Republicans have been pulled backward toward him, not the other way around.
.. The good news for Trump and his Republicans is that they won’t have to beat the ’27 Yankees. They just have to beat whomever the Democrats put in front of them.
.. for Trump in 2020, there cannot be a Morning in America campaign. There will be no 48-state mandate that realigns American politics for a generation. At best, Trump can hope to radicalize Democrats into nominating a weak contender and then gamble that the country is closely enough divided to give him a chance of drawing to an inside straight, again. This is not a crazy strategy. It might even be the best move available on the board.All of which means more chaos, more apocalypse, more carnage. More Trump.

The New Snowflake Caucus

Everyone’s talking about the civil war in the Republican Party. It seems more like a surrender to us. The great bulk of elected Republicans have surrendered to the forces of Donald J. Trump. And they didn’t even put up much of a fight. Has a hostile takeover of a historic institution ever been accomplished with less resistance? The flag of surrender went up before many blows were even landed.

.. What I find so shocking is not so much the capitulation but the terms of the surrender. Or, rather, I should say the term — singular — of surrender, because there seems to be only one requirement expected of Republicans: Lavish praise on Donald Trump no matter what he does or says. Or at the very least, never, ever criticize him. Policy is an afterthought.

.. A reporter for Politico recently asked John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, for his views on a potential bipartisan compromise extending cost-sharing payments under Obamacare. “I’m with the president,” Cornyn told Seung Min Kim. When she asked him where, exactly, Trump is on the plan, Cornyn threw his hands in the air. So Cornyn doesn’t know what Trump’s position is — but he knows that he shares it.

.. The Trump agenda begins and ends with personal loyalty to Trump — not to the Trump agenda, but to the Trump personality.

.. Sasse likes to point out he is the third most conservative senator by voting record. I’m not sure how he reached that figure, but it seems plausible given that the American Conservative Union gave him a 100 percent conservative score in both 2015 and in 2016.

..But, remember, Sasse is the RINO squish traitor.

..Ah, quoth the Bannonite mobs, but he’s thwarting Trump’s agenda! Conservatism is a dead creed. What matters now is the new nationalism and supporting our president’s pursuit of coveted wins. Nothing else matters. Well, according to FiveThirtyEight, Sasse has voted with Trump 90.2 percent of the time. He supported the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill, admittedly with reservations. But if Sasse had his way, the president would have had more than one big win by now.

.. Losing a seat to the Democrats is worse for the pro-life cause than appeasing the Trump White House — or at least a reasonable person could come to that conclusion.

.. They also talk about wanting to get things done and the importance of fulfilling the Trump “agenda.” But they reserve their purest passion and most sustained vitriol not for people who don’t vote with Trump, but for people who do vote with Trump but who also refuse to remain silent.

.. Why? Well, in the president’s case, the answer is obvious: his own Brobdingnagian yet astoundingly fragile ego. Because Trump cares so little about policy, he can forgive policy differences quite easily. What he can’t forgive is anyone even hinting that the emperor’s new clothes are, at best, invisible to the naked eye.

.. I’ll give Steve Bannon credit. He understood this from the get-go. He understood that criticizing Trump for the Access Hollywood tape was the kind of disloyalty Trump cares about. But criticizing a tax-reform proposal? He won’t care, at least not if it’s couched in compliments.

.. The Breitbart folks are quick to point out that they criticized Trump when he seemed to be capitulating on DACA — “Amnesty Don” and all that. This was at Bannon’s direction of course. But Bannon & Co. never, ever criticize the man himself. When Trump is doing wrong, it’s because the “Globalists” or the “Establishment” are giving the king bad information and whispering treason in his ear.

.. THE NEW SNOWFLAKE CAUCUS

It really is amazing. The people most likely to mock “snowflakes” and ask if you’ve been “triggered” have the most Pavlovian responses to criticism of Trump. They can’t seem to handle hearing anyone pointing out Trump’s personal, ideological, political, or managerial failings.

.. Ted Cruz is right that the Republicans have work to do. But who has taken his eye off the ball more than anyone else in Washington? Hint: It’s not Jeff Flake, it’s not Bob Corker, and it’s not Ben Sasse. It’s most emphatically not Mitch McConnell, who gave Trump his biggest win — Justice Gorsuch — and who is doing yeoman’s work to get conservatives on the lower courts.

.. It’s the guy who’d rather fight Gold Star families and rant about the NFL. It’s the guy who talks about revoking licenses for the press and talks about Confederate generals as “our heritage.” But just as there’s no reasoning with Dad when he gets into the Dewar’s, there’s no talking Trump out of his Twitter when he gets into one of his “moods.”

.. the culture-war spats and nasty personal fights are to a very real extent Trump’s true agenda, or at least it’s what people who love the Trump Show love about the Trump Show.

.. “But he fights!” can be a principle for everyone — for people without principles and also for those of us who have them.

Steve Bannon Vows ‘War’ on His Own Party. It Didn’t Work So Well for F.D.R.

Nearly 80 years later, President Trump’s former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, has declared a “season of war” to push out problematic Republicans in midterm elections, just as Roosevelt tried to do to balky Democrats. But Roosevelt’s purge backfired. Not only did he fail to take out his targets, but he also emboldened them, all but dooming his domestic program for much of the rest of his presidency.

Whether Mr. Bannon’s purge will be more successful has become the consuming question in Washington these days.

.. said he might rein in Mr. Bannon’s planned assault on Republican incumbents. “Some of the people that he may be looking at, I’m going to see if we talk him out of that, because, frankly, they’re great people,” Mr. Trump said.

.. he called three incumbent Republicans —

  • John Barrasso of Wyoming,
  • Deb Fischer of Nebraska and
  • Roger Wicker of Mississippi

— to assure them of his support in next year’s midterm elections.

.. voters resented the intervention and repudiated him by re-electing nearly all of his Democratic rivals.

.. “His attempt to purge the party of conservative Democrats proved to be a serious mistake,” said Robert Dallek, whose biography “Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life” will be published next month. “He lost every primary contest except one, and 60 percent of the country disapproved of his purge.”

.. Roosevelt’s purge was part of a desire to force a party realignment.

.. In those days, both parties had liberals and conservatives. Roosevelt in effect was trying to make the Democrats the more uniformly liberal party while leaving the Republicans as the conservative party. He would fail, but in decades to come, that realignment would eventually occur on its own.

.. “His goal was two responsible, unified parties to replace, as he said, ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee’ parties,” said Susan Dunn, a Williams College historian and author of “Roosevelt’s Purge,” the definitive book on the 1938 election. “To me, Trump’s purge is only about vindictiveness. He wants to strike out at and defeat the people who have dared to criticize him.”

.. Mr. Rove, who has sharply criticized Mr. Bannon’s efforts. “The lesson is it’s better to try to influence by encouragement than by opposition,” he said. “It’s important to keep focused on the main things people want you to keep focused on — what are the big issues of the day? And don’t let your personal pique guide your political actions.”

.. The confrontation came to a head when he sought to pack the Supreme Court by adding as many as six more justices to seize control of the bench, an idea that provoked fierce opposition in both parties and ultimately collapsed.

.. Roosevelt put together a team to organize a campaign against the conservative Democrats. The newspapers called it the “elimination committee” and labeled the campaign Roosevelt’s “purge,” a reference to Stalin’s terror in the Soviet Union.

.. He took on conservatives like Senators Walter F. George of Georgia, Ellison D. Smith of South Carolina, Millard E. Tydings of Maryland and Guy M. Gillette of Iowa. Mr. Smith, a fierce segregationist known as “Cotton Ed,” despised Roosevelt and referred to the New Deal as the “Jackass Age.” But Mr. Smith and the others won anyway.

..  “The good news for history,” he said, “is that this embarrassment taught him an important lesson: Don’t get too far out in front of the American voter, a lesson he applied just two years later as he carefully laid the groundwork for America’s entry into World War II.”