For quite some time during the primary season for the 2016 presidential race, Democratic party leaders were delighted that Donald Trump was leading the Republican pack. They assumed the brash reality TV star would expose the bigotry of the Republican base before flaming out and leaving a more plausible candidate beholden to an energised mob, and consequently unelectable. After Trump insulted Heidi Cruz (a Goldman Sachs executive and wife of fellow Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz) for her looks, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, said: “I want Donald Trump to talk every single day for the rest of this election.” He did. And he won.
More than two years later, Trump is still talking. Last week he branded journalists “horrible, horrendous people” to a large crowd in Pennsylvania, who chanted, “Lock her up!”, referring to Hillary Clinton. “We’re building [the wall],” he told them. “And we’re going to start getting very nasty about it … It’s our country, so get the hell out.”
The question is: who is still listening? And do the Democrats have anything more convincing to say this time? A slew of election results earlier this week gave some indication as to the impact two years of Trump’s presidency are having on the electoral and political landscape.
The first and probably most important development is that the Republicans are consistently down. Way down. In a congressional byelection in Ohio, the Republicans appear to have eked out a narrow victory with just a one percentage-point margin (postal votes have yet to be counted). Trump, of course, claimed this as a triumph. But this was in a white, mostly suburban district that Republicans have held since 1982. Trump won it by 11 percentage points in 2016; the previous Republican incumbent enjoyed margins three times as great. It shouldn’t have been close. But the Republicans threw everything at it, including visits from the president and vice president. The Democrats need to win 23 House seats in order to win control – according to the Cook Political Report there are 68 Republican-held seats as, or more, vulnerable in the lower chamber. Strong Democratic showings in three congressional primaries in Washington state, some in districts where Republicans were thought to be quite safe, further illustrated that this was no one-off.
But while they are down they are by no means out. Trump’s approval ratings are only marginally lower than Barack Obama’s were at this stage in his presidency, and trending up. The proportion of Americans who think the country is moving in the right direction is also growing, and is at a considerably higher level than at this point during Obama’s first term. [Continue reading…]