The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans’ midterm prospects are going from bad to worse

During a speech in Richfield, Ohio, on March 29, President Trump warned Republicans about the 2018 midterms. “We cannot be complacent,” he said. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Republicans desperate to find scraps of good news latch onto every blip in President Trump’s poll numbers. They tell themselves a good economy will save them — provided that Trump doesn’t “light American agriculture on fire,” as Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) put it, by igniting a trade war. In reality, their midterm prospects worsen by the day.

Part of the problem is the stream of retirees. David Wasserman of Cook Political Report writes: “If Democrats pick up at least eight Republican open seats (and today, eight of the 36 are leaning their way), they’ll already be a third of the way to the 23 they need for a majority.”

Even the Pennsylvania redistricting fight went against the GOP, despite threats to impeach the state supreme court judges. (“Pennsylvania’s new court-ordered congressional map was another blow to Republicans. Under the old lines, Democrats already had a good chance to add two to four seats from the Keystone State; now they have a chance to pick up four to six seats versus 2016.”)

A series of special elections has further raised Democrats’ hopes. Conor Lamb’s win in the Pennsylvania 18th congressional district, which Trump carried by nearly 20 points, gave them confidence they could break through not only with upscale suburbanites but also with white, working-class voters who had gone for Trump in 2016. Then the Wisconsin Supreme Court contest set off GOP alarm bells. Michael Tomasky notes in the Daily Beast that in Rebecca Dallet’s win, “the county results of the 2012 presidential contest, the 2016 presidential race, and Dallet’s win over Michael Screnock, you’ll see that she won back the famous lost Obama-to-Trump voters—all of them and then some, in certain cases.” He explains: “She won in exactly the kinds of places Democrats need to win this fall to bring out the brooms: suburban and exurban counties with working-class white voters. The fact that she outperformed [Barack] Obama in a number of these counties sure looks like a sign of something big to come in those kinds of counties in Wisconsin and in other states outside the South where Democrats can gain ground.”

Overall, we see a map highly favorable to Democrats, and tipping further in their direction. Cook Political Report now sees 55 competitive seats “including 50 currently held by Republicans and five held by Democrats. There are also three non-competitive seats poised to switch parties thanks to Pennsylvania’s new map (PA-05 and PA-06 to Democrats, PA-14 to Republicans). Overall, Democrats would need to win 27 of the 55 competitive races to win a majority. We continue to view Democrats the slight favorites for House control.”

Moreover, there is no sign the map won’t keep improving for Democrats. For one thing, fundraising for Democrats has gone through the roof, making it possible to fund more races and to register more voters. The number of Democratic candidates continues to rise, 30 percent of which are women energized by their hostility toward Trump. In addition, Trump’s increased volatility and irrationality continue to roil markets and depress Republicans. And finally, the gun safety movement, the #MeToo movement and the “dreamers” help keep Democrats politically engaged and, quite bluntly, irate at Republican officeholders.

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

Democrats would be foolish to take anything for granted. However, as Trump doubles down on appeals to his most extreme supporters, the rest of the country is left to ponder how to control an increasingly unhinged president. Democrats running for House and Senate offer themselves as the solution.

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