2018 — A good year for Trump

2018 is the year of the first Trump mid terms. Much is being written about how 2018 will turn out for President Trump and the outcome of mid term elections in November, coming conveniently near the end of the year, will surely dominate the end of year political commentary for 2018.

There are two schools of thought. In one school the Republicans retain control of both the House and the Senate: they defy the patterns of recent history where the party that regains the White House looses control of one or more of the houses of congress in the mid terms immediately following that victory.

This happened in Obama and Clinton’s first terms (92 and 2012) and whilst it did not happen in G W Bush’s first term because of the boost to his popularity that 9/11 created it came to pass in his second (2006). Owing to the Democratic lock on the Senate for over 40 years prior to Clinton this pattern of the party in executive power losing legislative power in the first mid terms does not hold well in years before 1994. For example, in GH Bush’s midterm the Republicans lost seats but did not control either house in the first place. However, a wider pattern does prevail in the second half of the 20th century with the party in power in the White House performing more poorly in the mid terms of the first presidential term than in the second term.

How might Trump overcome this? The narrative here is that recent gerrymandering of house districts, plus the particular Senate seats that happen to be up for electon in 2018 make any democratic return to power highty unlikely. This, plus President Trump’s contiunuing popularity with his base should see continued GOP control of both houses despite the now wafer thin majority in the Senate following the victory of Doug Jones over Roy Moore in the Alabama special Senatorial election.

The alternative narrative shows recent history holding true: a democratic base energised to turn out by President Trump’s policies and behaviours, a softening of support by the wider base that elected Trump over the less than popular Clinton, civil war in the GOP primaries as candidates out do each other in an attempt to appeal to the Trum base and a relatively narrow GOP majority in both houses sees the Democrats return to power on the hill and Trump impeached in his second term.

I buy the first narrative. The gerrymandering of the past few years districts has led to a GOP fortress in the House. By some counts Democrats would be required to win 58% of the votes nationally to regain control. The victory of Doug Jones over Roy Moore does not represent an election losing weakening of Trump’s popularity in a robustly pro Trump state, but rather the victory of a moderate Democrat over a highly distasteful Republican in a state with a 20% African/American population. Trump’s approval ratings are low but do not of themselves define turn out: his behaviour, which has seemed to drive turn out in Alabama and Virginia in 2017 will become more part of the norm in 2018 creating less indignation and less turn out in 2018. Yes, the Democrats will do well in the 2018 mid terms but this will not be the turn of the tide for Trump, and by 2020 his policies will have delivered the short term bump that all populist policies deliver to any economy and will thus deliver relection for a second term. Sorry.

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