Two weeks before Democrat Doug Jones won a spectacular victory over arch-culture warrior Roy Moore in deep-red Alabama, Ronna Romney McDaniel warned the White House that the Republican Party’s support among female voters was collapsing. Nevertheless, Donald Trump persisted in endorsing Moore.
According to POLITICO, “those closest to Trump are bracing for a possible bloodbath in the 2018 midterms” as the alleged president’s approval ratings continue to slide. The signature Republican legislative achievement of 2017 remains deeply unpopular with Americans.
But because this is the gang that “won” the 2016 presidential race with Russian assistance and James Comey’s last-minute help, denial still runs deep.
In an interview this week, [political director Bill] Stepien acknowledged the pattern of presidents losing seats in Congress in their first midterm election. But he argued that it’s far too early to write off the GOP in 2018.
Stepien pointed to positive economic numbers that could buoy the party, along with a favorable Senate map and an RNC field deployment program that has been ramping up for months. Trump is also set to sign major tax cut legislation that Republicans are betting voters will reward them for, despite its unpopularity in polls before passage.
The White House political chief also noted that polling during the presidential election failed to pick up on Trump’s support. It was a pattern, he argued, that could be repeating itself.
“History tells us it will be challenging. How challenging, time will tell,” Stepien said. “But we have a strong sense of optimism.”
Despite warnings from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Trump reportedly “has shrugged off some early setbacks” by convincing himself that his campaign rallies can counteract the blue wave building up across the country.
Yet Stepien’s Pollyanna approach to the GOP tax cut legislation is the most telling sign that Republican Washington has lost touch with middle America. Nor is a persuasion campaign by the Koch brothers likely to have much effect on public opinion.
As Christopher Federico explains elsewhere at POLITICO today, the communications strategies being touted to make the bill more popular are sailing directly into the headwinds of human nature that Trump once exploited.
For the most part, studies indicate that self-interest in the pocketbook sense matters a lot less than we assume: Citizens are not moved to political action by perceived shifts in how they are doing as isolated individuals. They can, however, be roused to political anger when they think others will end up doing better in comparison to people like them—that is, when they experience what social scientists refer to as “relative deprivation.” Thus, even the promise of a few more dollars in one’s wallet might be dissatisfying if other folks end up with thousands more.
Trump talks of global trade as China and Mexico stealing “our jobs” and railing against “globalists” to invoke this sense of relative deprivation. Never mind that automation accounts for more than 90 percent of the decline in manufacturing work — what matters most in the American mind is that “they” are getting “our” jobs.
This is the very essence of Steve Bannon’s “populism” and “economic nationalism,” a phenomenon that social science understands very well. But Trump seems not to understand that he is on the wrong side of it this time, while his advisers are counting on the electorate of 2016 to reappear next year as if nothing has changed.
Instead, red America is more likely to resemble the map of Doug Jones’s Alabama, with reduced participation in the reddest areas and impressive turnout in the blue zones. No matter how favorable the Senate map is for Republicans, it is no guarantee they can hang on to their slim majority.
A Quinnipiac poll released this week shows that 67 percent of respondents are “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the direction of the country. Those numbers are only going to get worse in the next ten months.
Trump is already on the wrong side of the biggest question in American politics. At the moment, Democrats are divided over impeachment talk. But further revelations in the Robert Mueller investigation — and Republican efforts to stifle the probe on Trump’s behalf — will only galvanize the public consensus in favor of investigations and impeachment. By November, every Democrat in the country may be running on that platform, and the more Republicans try to protect Trump, the worse the damage will be.
Featured image via WhiteHouse.gov under public domain