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Outsiders vs. Insiders: If enthusiasm is key to 2018 midterms it’s time for the GOP to worry

Is it time to worry yet?

For far too long conservatives and Republicans have lived off the high of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory over the hated Crooked Hillary Clinton. When combined with critically important senate wins in Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, 2016 meant Republicans ran the proverbial political table, guaranteeing the party MAGAcomplete control of the federal elected branches.

A series of special congressional election wins last year only bolstered the notion that the GOP was virtually unbeatable in the age of Trump. Democrats hooted and hollered over relatively narrow margins of victory for Republican candidates in reliable GOP districts but overall the minority party failed to seriously dent the juggernaut in any of them.

The tide began turning last November with impressive Democrat statewide wins in Virginia and New Jersey, holding onto the governor’s seat in the Old Dominion and replacing outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie in the Garden State. Then GOPers shot themselves in the foot (in December) by all-but conceding a crucial senate seat in Alabama because the elites wouldn’t support Roy Moore.

Last week the Republican losing streak continued in Pennsylvania (18th district). As would be expected Democrats bragged that their win represents just a trifling taste of the big meal on order for November when the minority party will supposedly retake the House and throw a scare into Mitch McConnell as senate Majority Leader.

How bad was it in the Keystone State (where liberal Democrat Conor Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone)? It’s hard to say -- but in a day and age where it’s all about the president, Trump shares at least some of the blame.

Should we see a bad sign here? Jay Cost wrote at National Review, “History suggests that the thing that can save the Republican majority is an uptick in Trump’s job-approval numbers. Gallup has him at 39 percent right now, and the average of all polls puts him around 41 percent, or thereabouts. If he can push that number up to 45 percent, I’d say the GOP has a fighting chance at the majority.

“But if he doesn’t, I would get used to saying ‘Speaker Nancy Pelosi’ once again. The results probably will not be as bad as these special elections suggest — where Democrats are moving the needle by ten to 20 points. During the midterm this fall, the Democratic enthusiasm advantage should fade a bit as more regular voters show up, and as the ability to focus on a single district at once will no longer be in play. But with Trump’s approval at 39 to 41 percent, Democrats are favored take the House.”

There’s little doubt Trump’s approval rating is a factor to consider yet his numbers as a presidential candidate weren’t any better than they are today and Republicans still managed to decidedly prevail in 2016. As last year proved special elections don’t necessarily equal a trend so much as providing an indicator of how “enthusiastic” the parties’ core supporters are on any given day at any given place.

Numbers crunchers pore over the data to discover how Lamb was able to win in a district that Trump carried so decisively. Was Lamb a better candidate than Saccone? Were Democrats especially motivated simply because they hate Trump? Were Republicans and conservatives upset over Trump’s potential sell-outs on guns and immigration and decided to stay home?

Unless you survey every voter in the district it’s impossible to tell. Even the generic congressional ballot poll doesn’t tell the entire story (it shows Democrats up by about 8 points) considering individual elections aren’t generic. I’ve never seen a ballot yet that unassumingly says “Democrat candidate 1” and “Republican candidate 2”.

Candidates matter as do their issue preferences. The smartest thing any Republican can do at this point is strongly identify with Trump’s MAGA agenda and do whatever’s necessary to say he or she will vote according to principle and not waver from honorable promises – no matter what. Trump will take care of himself – he’ll tweet when he feels like it, the media will sense a potential breakthrough and continue their negative onslaught against him and the GOP leadership will do as little as possible to alter the status quo in fear of losing their positions.

In other words, it looks a lot like politics as usual. November’s results will depend on which party can get the most voters to the polls. Enthusiasm is key.

Statistician Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com wrote last week, “[S]pecial election results consist of actual people voting, whereas generic ballot polls are mostly conducted among registered voters — or sometimes all adults. (Very few pollsters will apply their likely voter models until later this year.) In midterm years, polls of likely voters sometimes show a substantial gap from those of registered voters — there was about a 6-point enthusiasm gap favoring Republicans in 2010, for instance, which took that year from being mildly problematic for Democrats into a massive Republican wave that saw them pick up 63 House seats.

“And there were signs of an enthusiasm gap even within Pennsylvania 18 on Tuesday night. According to the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman, turnout in Democratic-leaning Allegheny County equaled 67 percent of presidential-year turnout, but voters turned out at only 60 percent of presidential levels in Republican-leaning Westmoreland County. That sort of turnout gap suggests that registered-voter polls could be underrating Democrats in this year’s midterms — and could turn a challenging year for Republicans into a catastrophic one.”

Yes it could, but I would be cautious in placing too much stock in the eternal media narrative of “everyone hates Trump so they’re going to make a beeline to their voting precinct on election day to send him a message.”

Common sense suggests as the election nears and people pay close attention they’ll give much consideration to the notion of who will control the House – and if Democrats win a majority of seats it not only means Nancy Pelosi will be annoying everyone on TV a lot more it could also ultimately lead to impeachment of President Trump.

Each special election occurs almost in its own echo chamber with the Democrats focusing all their resources and angst on one particular geographic location. It’s going to be a much tougher sell as November gets closer and Americans fully comprehend what they’re about to do in returning the agenda-less leftist Democrats to power.

Seven and a half months out there’re a lot of things that could happen to influence how the elections turn out. For all we know Republicans will get a clue and actually start fighting for the things that get the base ramped up -- like Second Amendment rights, the pro-life cause and stepping over Democrats on immigration.

There’s also the upcoming Trump meeting with Kim Jong-un and a potential infrastructure package on the congressional docket that might get voters to feel better about the GOP.

Then there are the intangibles – party primary results and events that can’t exactly be foreseen months in advance (Justice Kennedy retires?). President Trump may recognize the writing on the wall and finally do something about his Twitter habit. First and foremost Trump hates to lose – and if he sees tweeting as becoming a net negative he could change his behavior. You never know.

In the meantime it looks like Trump has decided to take a more aggressive approach. W. James Antle III wrote in the Washington Examiner, “Trump has been a team player in promoting the tax cuts he signed into law, which some hoped would usher in a new era of cooperation among Beltway Republicans. But he also refused to budge from his immigration framework to make a bipartisan deal on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and has moved forward with proposals on trade and infrastructure that split the GOP. A trial balloon Trump floated in which he seemed more flexible on gun control seems to have been short-lived, however.

“After getting generally positive reviews for his polished State of the Union address and even his White House meeting with those affected by the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, Trump has also delivered some real stem-winders. He rambled while rallying on behalf of Pennsylvania Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone and largely chucked his prepared text at the Conservative Political Action Conference to indulge in crowd-pleasers like his reading of ‘The Snake.’

“’President Trump is also looking at the polls and realizes that Republicans could very well lose the House in 2018,’ O’Connell said. ‘And since he feels he is by far the best advocate for the Trump agenda, we are going to see more of these rally-style speeches to fire up the GOP base.’”

Trump needs to get out more to breathe life into the “deplorables” who put him in office all those months ago. Back then there was an angry screeching face to characterize the Democrat beast – that of Hillary Clinton. Many independent voters weighed what it would mean to have the Clintons in the White House for another four or eight years (the country as we know it would cease to exist) and couldn’t wait to vote against her.

Liberal Supreme Court Justices (Hillary would appoint) would extinguish what’s left of religious freedoms and other precious God-given rights people used to take for granted. In addition America would continue to founder in the foreign sphere under a woman who can’t stop blaming the country’s citizens for every problem. And big socialistic programs like Obamacare would be the norm rather than the exception.

One can only hope Trump successfully pins Nancy Pelosi’s and Chuck Schumer’s mugs to every Democrat candidate this year, providing fence-sitters a reason to participate in the election.

To put it mildly, if Republicans fail to nationalize the election bad things will occur. And if they act stupidly now – like agreeing to bailout Obamacare insurance companies – they’ll further depress the GOP turnout. David Catron wrote candidly at The American Spectator, “The congressional leadership of the GOP seems determined to hand their congressional majorities back to the Democrats. Otherwise, why would they even consider including two Obamacare bailouts — the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) and risk mitigation programs — in the upcoming omnibus budget bill?

“These bailouts would allegedly reduce future increases in health insurance premiums and incentivize insurers to remain in the Obamacare exchanges. They will accomplish neither, but they will send a clear signal to the voters that the GOP was never serious about getting rid of Obamacare. The taxpayer-funded bailouts would be, in other words, bad policy and worse politics.

“Beginning with the politics of these bailouts, it should be blindingly obvious to the Republicans that they have a serious enthusiasm gap to close, and that chasm is largely the result of their failure to honor the pledge to repeal Obamacare. That promise fueled Republican gains in the 2010 and 2014 midterms, and it would be an egregious understatement to say that the voters who believed it are extremely unhappy to find themselves still laboring under the yoke of the ‘Affordable Care Act.’ If the Republicans actually prop it up with these bailouts, many of their constituents will stay home on November 6.”

Well put. Republicans don’t have to pay top dollar for consultants when they should realize on their own what needs to be done to rouse the faithful.

It may not yet be time for Republicans to worry but it’s clear if they don’t improve that more elections like last week’s Pennsylvania disaster will follow. There’s still plenty of DC swamp left to drain – and they’d better get back to doing it or the base’s enthusiasm will evaporate.

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