Donald Trump is under siege. He is being hounded by a dogged, partisan special counsel intent on leading a witch hunt. Trump’s own party is lukewarm about his presidency (and many are looking for the exits). The Democrats, obviously, are out for his blood. Trump’s staff keeps shifting at light speed. And, of course, the media is adding fuel to all of these fires, in order to get ratings and satisfy their own ideological interests.
Currently, President Trump’s approval ratings are at historic lows when compared to several of his predecessors at similar points in their administrations. Also, we must keep in mind, Trump did lose the popular vote in 2016 by a substantial margin.
As I have argued repeatedly, the 2018 midterms could be the make-or-break moment not only for President Trump but also for America’s future.
Currently, the Democrats believe they are leading a wave election akin to the one Republicans led in 2010. Whether true or not, one thing is apparent to even the most casual political observer: the Democratic Party’s base is energized. In January, I argued that the Democrats may need to reassess their hopes for 2018, based on the success of Trump’s tax cut. It is now clear that the strategy of Democrats to redouble their incessant efforts to shout down the president is galvanizing the party faithful. Regardless of how obnoxious their campaign may seem to those on the Right, the fact is the Democrats are making considerable headway in their attempts to turn-out-the-vote in 2018.
Republican consultants (yes, yes, I know) are debating whether the president should take an active role in campaigning for candidates this year. At the moment, it appears after the outcome of the special election in Western Pennsylvania, the president will keep a low profile on the campaign trail (though we’ll see how long that lasts).
Run on What Works
In reality, the best thing President Trump could do to bolster the GOP’s chances in the midterms is double-down on the issues that won him the presidency.
The talk is cheap. Also, forget about the tax cuts. They did some good, but they didn’t go far enough—and the voters likely aren’t going to focus on that issue, since the media is intent on making this a popularity contest. Trump is going to need to turn out significant numbers of the coalition of blue-collar voters that showed up for him in 2016.
Midterms notoriously are elections where the party in power suffers turnout problems. The average presidential election sees only around 60 percent of the voting population turn out to vote. The numbers are halved for most midterms. Thus, the key to winning for either party is to do a better job of galvanizing their bases.
Right now, the Democrats are far more inspired and encouraged to show up and vote against Donald Trump than Republicans are willing to turn out and vote for Trump. The issues, such as illegal immigration and tariffs, are what will get the vote out for Trump and the GOP in most contests. Trump’s greatest strength is that he appeals not only to Republicans but also to blue-collar workers who usually vote Democratic.
In 2016, Trump focused on matters that concerned America’s blue-collar working-class communities. Resisting open border anarchy, free trade wrongheadedness, and combating the opioid epidemic—these were all issues that pushed Trump over the finish line.
Don’t Lose Your Nerve
President Trump has already initiated the tariff program. Although a trade war remains possible, as I’ve written for the last two years, protectionism itself is not the problem (the world’s most successful economies are protectionist). In fact, protectionism is the only thing that will defend critical American sectors from foreign usurpation. Whatever happens with America’s manufacturing communities in the long-term, the reality is that America’s steelworkers “will not forget” how Trump went to bat for them. Ditto for most of the other forgotten men and women in America.
But, the president cannot stop there. And now that China is unleashing its former anti-corruption tsar, President Xi Jinping’s so-called “firefighter,” Wang Qishan, on Sino-American trade disputes, Trump will need to hold fast to his protectionist stances and hold firm against a tough Chinese backlash.
Yet, the most important issue that Trump fixated on in 2016—immigration, illegal and legal—remains relatively unchanged. Yes, illegal immigration into the United States has declined since Trump took office. No, it has not stopped. Neither has the flow of illicit narcotics into the country. What’s more, the wall is a long way off. And Trump’s travel moratorium keeps meeting stiff resistance in the courts. Unless Trump visibly breaks ground by building the wall (both metaphorically and literally), the blue-collar worker who made Trump’s election a possibility will be disinclined to turn out again. Why support tariffs if blue-collar jobs will end up with cheaper foreign-born workers?
Trump could help to ensure a Republican victory in 2018 (even if he chooses not to campaign actively for candidates) by pushing his nationalist-populist agenda. That is the only way he will galvanize his supporters to come out in droves and vote for the GOP candidates, despite his name not being on the top of the ticket as it was in 2016.
If Republicans cannot achieve a solid victory in 2018, then the Democrats might just get the votes they need to impeach the president. (Remember: impeachment is a quintessentially political act.) That would not only be bad for Trump personally, but it would be a disaster for the United States.
For the GOP to win, Trump had better return to the core themes that won him the presidency, no matter what the damned establishment says.
Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images