‘Remember, remember the 5th of November/ The gunpowder treason and plot . . .’ Well, it’s not Guy Fawkes who is planning to blow up things this November. It’s our version of the Picts: blue-dyed political marauders swarming over the ramparts in Hollywood, universities, Democratic campaign offices, and woke, acronymic former news channels.
If you calibrate the performances just right, it can look like a confident pep rally. ‘We’re really going to show those knuckle-dragging, toxic male Caucasian deplorables this time! Two, four, six, eight, whom do you repudiate? Trump! Trump! Trump!’ The networks and newspapers and internet sites are abuzz with polls and prognostications. A headline on the Drudge Report the other day captured the $64,000 question: Was the election of Donald Trump the start of a movement? Or was it only an anomalous moment?
Movement or moment? That’s the question that’s behind the frenzy surrounding the midterm elections tomorrow.
If you shift your gaze just slightly, though, all that shouting, all those Democratic-leaning polls, all that hysteria and those planned blue-wave surfin’ safaris look decidedly staged, orchestrated, deliberately dramatized. The horrible reality — horrible for all those anti-Republican pep rallies, anyway — is that the polls these last weeks have across the board seen a softening if not an outright decay of Democratic support. The real mood among the Democratic faithful is spooked, not cheerful, as a skit on Saturday Night Live this past weekend captured perfectly.
While no one knows what is going to happen at the polls tomorrow, one may predict with confidence what the meaning assigned to the results will be.
1. Should the Democrats take both the Senate and the House, the correct answer on the test will be ‘Thorough repudiation of Donald Trump and all his works.’ But the Democrats will not take the Senate; indeed, they will lose three to five, possibly six seats. Which brings us to:
2. The Democrats win 40 or more seats in the House, allowing them to re-install Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, exchange Devin Nunes for Adam Schiff as head of the House Intelligence Committee, put Elijah Cummings and Maxine Waters in charge of important committees, and otherwise reprise Halloween everyday for the next two years. The meaning of that result will be the same as was assigned to 1: a thorough repudiation of Donald Trump and all his works.
3. The Democrats win 24-30 seats in the House, giving them a slender majority (they need at least 23 seats to take the House). That, too, will be hailed as a mandate from heaven, a ‘shellacking’ (as Obama put it in 2010 when he lost 63 seats in the House), but the reality will be considerably more muted. Some red-state Democrats will break ranks on various issues and a mood of tenuousness will prevail in fact if not in the press releases from the central committee.
4. The Republicans hold the House as well as add a few seats to their majority in the Senate. Ring general quarters, push the panic button, break glass and pull the emergency stop handle.
5. Is there a ‘5’? Well, yes. The last option would be that the Republicans actually pick up a seat or two in the House. I’ve heard some people express this possibility, but such data as there is suggests that it is unlikely. I include it merely for the sake of completeness and to note that, should that happen, the ringing of general quarters would turn into a disorganized rout.
Which of these scenarios is the most likely? I’d say 4 followed closely by 3. We’ll see soon enough. In the meantime, here are a few numbers to conjure with. Predictions of a blue wave in the midterms were predicated partly on a look at the electoral map and assessment of which party had the most vulnerable seats, partly on the historical observation that, most of the time, midterm elections involve a giving back of seats won by the party in power in the previous election.
But one of the oddities of this election that I’ve not seen much remarked upon is that there is not much in the way of House seats for the Republicans to give back. Curiously, the Republicans lost six seats in the House in the 2016 election even though they took the White House. Contrast that with the dynamic in 2012 and 2014. In 2012, Obama won the White House and also picked up eight House seats. In the 2014 midterms, the Democrats lost 13 seats. Go back to 2008, when Obama swept into the White House with a landslide, taking the House and the Senate as well. It turned out to be an instance of what Alan Greenspan called ‘irrational exuberance,’ however, for (as mention above) the Democrats promptly lost an eye-watering 63 seats in 2010.
The curious thing this time around is that there is no just-won surplus for the Republicans to give back. They lost seats in the House even as their man won the White House. And what’s happened since November 2016? The market (despite a rough couple of weeks) is up some 6,000 points. Growth is well north of 3 percent, a figure Obama said was impossible until it happened, at which point he attempted to take credit for it. Unemployment, especially black unemployment, is at an historic low. Consumer confidence is soaring. Job and wage growth is palpable everywhere except the boudoirs (that’s French for ‘rooms for pouting in’) of The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and kindred machines for whining. Hundreds of business-blighting regulations have been scratched. Trump has had two Constitutionalist Supreme Court nominees, and scores of Federal Court nominees, confirmed. He has moved our Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, taken the wind out of the Iran deal, and negotiated a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada. Manufacturing jobs are flooding back to the United States. Need I go on?
Absorb that astonishing list of accomplishments, the psychological ones as well as the ones you can measure. Refract it through the odd numbers game of 2018: the Republicans simply did not do well in the House when their man won in 2016. In large part, I suspect, this was because Trump was not yet ‘their man.’
He is now. Success breeds success. Love him or hate him, any honest person has to acknowledge that he has enjoyed an extraordinarily successful 21 months. In the weeks and months to come, I think people will turn back to that SNL skit I linked to above and marvel at how prescient it was.