For President Trump, this can’t be much of a vacation.
The onetime chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign, Paul Manafort, is on trial in federal court for tax fraud and other alleged crimes. The prosecution’s star witness in that trial is Rick Gates, the deputy chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee. The first sitting member of Congress to endorse Trump for president, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), was indicted on federal charges of insider trading. And Tuesday’s election results showed that Trump’s insurance policy — the Republican Party’s iron-fisted control of Congress — is in danger of cancellation.
Trump is at his New Jersey golf club , ostensibly relaxing but probably stewing. I’ll go out on a limb and predict a storm of angry tweets in the near future.
The president’s initial reaction to Tuesday’s voting was his version of putting on a brave face, which is ridiculous and shameless self-flattery. Wednesday morning, he had this to say on Twitter about his own awesomeness:
“As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win! I LOVE the people, & they certainly seem to like the job I’m doing. If I find the time, in between China, Iran, the Economy and much more, which I must, we will have a giant Red Wave!”
As with any Trump statement, the evasions and falsehoods must be noted for the historical record. By “within reason” I have to assume he means “unless they lose.” The people certainly do not like the job he’s doing; according to the most recent Gallup weekly survey, 54 percent of Americans disapprove of his performance vs. just 41 percent who approve. And nobody I know of — surely not even Trump — seriously believes there is a prayer of a Republican “Red Wave” in the midterm elections.
What really happened Tuesday is that Democrats were given reason to hope for a more sweeping victory in November than they had dared to imagine — if, and only if, they work their hearts out between now and then.
In the marquee race — a special election for the House seat in Ohio’s 12th District — by Thursday there was still no final result. Republican Troy Balderson led Democrat Danny O’Connor by a little more than 1,500 votes, with several thousand provisional ballots yet to be counted. Assuming Balderson hangs on, one could argue — and Trump already has — that even the narrowest win is still a win. But most Republicans with experience in politics don’t see it that way.
That district, encompassing the northern suburbs and exurbs of Columbus, has been regarded as an impregnable GOP stronghold for more than three decades. Trump won it in 2016 by 11 points. Faced with polls showing a tight race, Trump staged a last-minute rally there Saturday in an attempt to drag Balderson across the finish line. By the slimmest of margins, he may have succeeded.
But if Ohio’s 12th District is competitive, if it’s not a safe Republican district anymore, then a host of similar districts across the nation are also up for grabs in November. And Trump, for nervous GOP candidates, is the classic double-edged sword: His overwhelming popularity among his base does boost Republican enthusiasm to some degree, but it also provokes Democrats and other opponents of Trumpism to turn out in large numbers to vote against the captive and supine GOP.
Meanwhile, Trump’s own Justice Department is giving Democrats another powerful issue to run on: corruption. Rather than drain the swamp, Trump has expanded it into some kind of vast protected wetland.
His own conflicts of interest — those in plain sight, such as the Trump International Hotel in Washington and the publicly known dealings of the Trump Organization — are staggering. Members of his Cabinet have played fast and loose with ethical rules since Day One. And now, the Manafort trial and the Collins arrest — both deny any wrongdoing — make it impossible to ignore the way Trump has warmly embraced the Washington swamp creatures he pledged to banish.
Trump and his aides reportedly understand how grim the midterms look. The table is set for Democrats to take the House and at least hold their own in the Senate. But Democrats should act as if they’re behind, not ahead, because complacency would be politically fatal.
Democrats should assume that the president’s visit did boost Balderson’s vote, at least marginally, and that Trump will do everything imaginable to motivate his base. The Democratic base needs to be similarly fired up. Pedal to the metal, folks, all the way to November.