Right Opinion

The Midterms Have Finally Arrived

Bill Wagner · Nov. 5, 2018

It’s hard to believe the midterms have arrived. Maybe time just moves faster as you get older. Or maybe things moving at the speed of Trump just sneak up on you. Either way, here we are.

I have some predictions. The GOP will hold the House by a three- to five-seat margin and pick up four seats in the Senate – Florida, North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri — while holding Texas, Arizona, and Tennessee. Republicans have a shot in West Virginia, Montana, and Nevada, but I think victory is unlikely. And while I would really love to see New Jersey flip, the Democrat machine there will likely find a way to pull out a win. There is a bit of logic behind this, so you can read on to check it out — or you can just wait for Wednesday to roll around and chime in with “What were you thinking?” comments.

First, polls play a very small role. They are utterly useless as a predictive tool and only marginally useful as a commentary on the state of play. However, they continue to undercount (sometimes significantly) GOP votes — both because of skewed samples and the reluctance of GOP voters who don’t want to be considered “bad people” to pick up the phone. So the substantial number of races that are in the low single digits are highly likely to break toward the GOP. Second, early voting has favored the GOP, which is very unusual. Typically, the numbers flip significantly the other way. Both argue for the generic “bulk” vote tilting toward Republicans.

Now for the specifics. Midterms are tough. Getting people to pull the lever when the president is not on the ballot, particularly for core Democrat constituencies, is a struggle. For two years the Democrat strategy, to the extent they had one, was built primarily around “Trump is bad. We must resist.” It began with his being illegitimate on such dubious claims as losing the popular vote, which morphed into “the Russians did it” and continued with lockstep opposition to tax cuts.

The mantra on that last one was the totally accurate but completely misleading statement that 85% of the benefits went to corporations and the “rich.” But that’s only true if you believe the individual tax cuts will be terminated in Year 7 while the corporate cuts will last 10 years. Good luck with that. But since you can’t put that explanation on a bumper sticker, the GOP gave up trying to explain it and kept with the sound bite that Nancy Pelosi wants her crumbs back.

Along the way, Democrat causes du jour hop-scotched all over the place:

  • Trump is racist because he told the truth about Charlottesville — there were provocateurs on both sides.

  • Trump is cold-hearted and anti-Hispanic because he “ripped” babies from the arms of their mothers trying to enter the country. (That lasted about a week until it was shown that the photos depicting kids in cages were actually from the Obama administration.)

  • Then along came the Brett Kavanaugh fiasco wherein Democrats acted like spoiled little kids and unhinged fanatics — hardly the leaders that voters wanted in charge.

  • Tucked into the fast-moving events were daily shifts toward radical socialism, open borders, Medicare for the masses, the abolishment of ICE, and free stuff for all.

All of this flies directly in the face of the best economic numbers in decades, with the most recent jobs report perhaps the best mix of data ever. Trump’s border security stance actually played well with a surprisingly large number of Hispanics who also were on the receiving end of the lowest unemployment figures in history, significantly undercutting the Democrats’ racism theme.

Ditto with the African-American demographic— huge employment numbers, rising wages, and self-sufficiency, all of which offset the “Trump is racist” theme that ultimately coalesced around the assertion Trump was engaging in voter suppression. Sorry, guys, it’s more racist to claim blacks are incapable of obtaining free state IDs than it is requiring an ID to vote. So the anger and enthusiasm that are needed to fuel Democrat turnout in these demographics simply isn’t there.

The other constituency that Democrats targeted from Day One was women, particularly educated, economically well-off, suburban women. That started with the DC pink-hat march and has continued through the election. It is the only Democrat demographic that continues to be mad as hell. I can tell you from anecdotal personal experience that this is real. I live in a town that’s the poster child for this constituency, and I hear claims every day that Trump is horrible. Democrats will get a huge chunk of this demographic, but it’s just not big enough to swing the Senate. But it’s also why the House is much tougher to predict. It may depend on where these constituents are concentrated, and that’s almost impossible to scope out.

After all else failed, Democrats trotted out “health care” as their signature issue sometime in September, with preexisting conditions on the neon sign. It sounds good, but I guarantee you that no one actually understands what that means, and the GOP is saying that it too will protect preexisting conditions. So this issue is a bit of a jump ball. Democrats lie about the GOP position, and the GOP denies it. Therefore it’s far more likely to lock in existing voters than convince new ones.

And then Democrats decided it was time for the big guns and trotted out The One. The only problem was that all his speeches were far more about his legacy than about supporting individual Democrat candidates. Even his signature statement that the great economy started with him struck me as odd. While it’s certainly a factual head-scratcher, it also implies the economic turnaround began with a GOP-controlled Congress. The midterms are all about Congress, not the president or his legacy, so what exactly was he arguing for? A GOP-controlled Congress?

The bottom line is I just don’t see the fire in enough Democrat constituencies to matter overall, and House seats will depend on where the enthusiasts reside. All bodes well for the GOP.

Trump has the unbelievable economy on his side to bolster GOP candidates, and under most circumstances that is usually enough. But this time anger and enthusiasm also need to be stirred. To the extent that polls can capture a sense of attitude, up until Kavanaugh the GOP lagged on enthusiasm, and then Democrats handed out the gift of the “mob” talking point.

You can quibble with the use of that term, but no one who watched the way Democrats conducted themselves, from the most unfair political ambush in memory to the unhinged attacks on the Supreme Court to the disruption of the confirmation proceedings, can deny the images. Toss in the harassment of GOP legislators in public, which were encouraged by Democrat leaders, and you have an eyebrow-raising sense of doubt from even moderate Democrats.

Trump has the economy, and there has been a drumbeat of confusion over why he isn’t out there with detailed economic speeches every day. For a while it also confused me. He does mention the economy in every speech, but the core of his monologues has to do with rallying the GOP behind issues that might be considered divisive, like immigration. But I think it has been much broader than that and more consistent with the theme that Democrats are an unhinged mob that cannot be trusted with power.

Look at the issues he has toasted up, all of which cause real head-scratching among “normal” people. First was the Kavanaugh episode, which was followed by the caravan. The latter was used as more evidence of the Democrats’ focus on open borders that vast majorities of voters on both sides reject. Both issues have rekindled the attention on how bad a Democrat Congress would be and how important it is for GOP voters to hit the polls.

But that wasn’t all. Recall a couple weeks ago when Trump had his Department of Health and Human Services consider a ruling that would base gender-focused federal programs on the biological characteristics of the person, not the concept of what he or she “identifies with.” He baited the Left beautifully. Normal people reacted by saying, “Sure. What’s wrong with that?” But Democrat elites, the media, and academia went ballistic. That lasted just long enough for focus groups to show it was hugely damaging to Democrats. When is the last time you heard this issue?

And Trump baited them again with his questioning of the 14th Amendment. You can argue over whether an executive order is sufficient to change it, but the debate over its validity is real. Contrary to the hysteria, there are good legal arguments on both sides, and it is worthy of debate, not the demagoguery that Democrats brought to the party. When explained in anchor-baby terms, most reasonable people would raise a few eyebrows. Ditto with chain migration and refugee programs. But Democrats only used these to attack Trump, not solve problems most folks want solved. And that isn’t sitting well.

But this isn’t about “immigration,” even though that’s what the media is pushing. It’s about finding subtle and not-so-subtle ways to communicate with voters how radical and unhinged Democrats are. That’s the thread that has gone through everything. Trump is an instinctive marketing genius, and obviously his instructs saw the need to rally his troops, particularly without him on the ballot, without engaging in over-the-top rhetoric that might alienate other voters. Immigration may play with a portion of his base, but the examples of unhinged Democrats play well with a far larger part of the electorate. Conventional wisdom would say this is nuts and that Trump should spend five hours a day on the economy. But the president gets it.

We only have to wait another day to find out if this will work. After two and a half years of watching Trump’s instincts confound traditional pols and conventional wisdom, I’m betting it will.

Don't miss Bill Wagner and other great columnists. Subscribe today!

Click here to show comments

It's Right. It's Free.