Trump needs limit losses in 2018

The Briefing, Volume VI, Issue 15

This week:

  • Wisconsin race highlights just how bad things look for GOP
  • Why Trump needs to limit losses
  • Scott to enter Florida Senate race

Key upcoming primary elections:

May 8: Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia. (All three include contested GOP Senate primaries.)

May 15: GOP gubernatorial primary in Idaho.

May 22: Texas runoffs for certain House races.

June 5: Mississippi. (Senate GOP primary)


The political environment doesn’t favor Republicans at the moment. To say the very least, this is one of those moments for Republicans when any election victory is a huge deal.

The massive 12-point victory in Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court race by left-wing judge Rebecca Dallet serves as yet another wake-up call for the GOP. No liberal judge had won an open-seat race for the Badger State’s high court in 23 years, and Scott Walker’s state GOP had been on a roll. Conservatives will still have a 4-3 edge on the court, but they’re obviously in a much more perilous position now than before.

And more immediately, it means Republicans are in terrible shape and face massive losses in the midterms unless something changes dramatically.

In by-election after by-election, the voters who want Republicans out are showing up to vote in large numbers, and the voters who normally support the GOP are either checked out of the whole process or else actively working against Republicans. The GOP cannot count on Trump’s majority showing up for them in this fall’s election.

But Trump needs to do whatever he can to make sure they do show up. And it’s about more than just the continued viability of his agenda in Congress. Trump also faces a big risk, and it’s very much in his interests to make sure that the election doesn’t turn into a rout.

A Republican debacle in Trump’s first midterm could tempt the party to think about other options for 2020, and Trump would by no means be a lock to win that New Hampshire primary if the right Republican were to challenge him. Trump certainly doesn’t want that happening.

So what to do? The proper answer is to go big on policy. Re-engage the base and hope for the best, because it doesn’t seem like Republicans have much to lose.

Are there any ways for Trump to do this? One would be to pass a recission bill that cuts some of the spending out of that demoralizing and bloated package that passed last month. Another would be an effective tax cut in the forms of inflation indexing for capital gains — something Trump’s new economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, is very much a fan of.

Both of these things could be done without any Democratic input, and there’s at least a chance they would get Republican voters’ attention. But even if that isn’t enough, at least it will present one more obstacle to Democrats if they do take over the House and make Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Speaker again.

Senate 2018

As we’ve noted in this space previously, things look really bad for House Republicans at the moment, after the recent loss in Pennsylvania-18. In fact, the House is looking like it’s going to be lost if things keep going as they have.

So how is it that Republicans can simultaneously feel confident about the Senate? Well, nothing is certain, but as we’ve often said this cycle, when it comes to the Senate it’s all about the map. The states where the Senate will be decided lean so heavily toward Republicans that there might as well be elections taking place in two different countries for House and Senate.

A new look at Trump’s poll numbers helps confirm that where it matters most in this year’s Senate races, he’s doing pretty well. The new 50-state tracking poll this month from Morning Consult shows that there are six states with contested Senate races where Trump actually has a net even or positive approval rating. These include Florida (even), Indiana (+1), Missouri (+4), Montana (+5), North Dakota (+10), and West Virginia (+26).  Again, if Republicans can win even two of those, Democrats’ chances of taking over the Senate become almost non-existent.

Florida: The political trajectory of Republican Gov. Rick Scott is something to behold. He went from being America’s least popular governor to winning re-election and becoming one of his party’s most attractive Senate recruits of 2018. His announcement is expected Monday making his run against three-term Sen. Bill Nelson, D, official.

Scott polls competitively against Nelson, and given his practically infinite resources it’s sure to be a serious fight.

Mississippi: Former Rep. Mike Espy, D, announced that he is running for the open Senate seat to which Republican former Ag Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith was just appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant. This seat would not be competitive but for the ferocious primary that Hyde-Smith faces against conservative state Sen. Chris McDaniel.

Democrats are not likely to win a race like this one in Mississippi, but people might have said (and did say) the same of Alabama before Sen. Doug Jones’ victory over Republican Roy Moore. It’s wise for the Dems to have a candidate of decent stature waiting in the wings just in case things go better than expected.

McDaniel’s electability is a big question mark that must be watched carefully. In the worst case for Republicans, it could depend on how bad a year it turns out to be for the Republicans.

Governor 2018

Iowa: It turns out that Gov. Kim Reynolds, R, will be unopposed in the June 5 Republican primary thanks to the failure of former Cedar Rapids Mayor and state House Speaker Ron Corbett to collect enough signatures. (He fell short by just eight signatures!) If she wins, Reynolds will be the first woman ever elected to the position she has held since her appointment last May.

Minnesota: Former Gov.Tim Pawlenty, R, is indeed running to get his old job back. As the last Republican to win a major statewide race there 12 years ago, he might be just the thing for a party that’s seen better days but still has a lot of potential in the Trump era. After all, don’t forget that Trump came within 45,000 votes of carrying the state in 2016.

Pawlenty, on the other hand, is not Trump. Having spent his off time as a bank lobbyist, he can expect both the Democrats and dis primary opponents to point out that he is something of a swamp creature.

He won’t have this primary to himself, either, unless there are further developments. Hennepin County (Minneapolis) Commissioner Jeff Johnson, R, is already in the race.