Eeeeenteresting, as most observers — and media outlets — believe that Donald Trump is ballot-box poison. One might have predicted that House Democrats would double down on Trump’s hold on the GOP in the upcoming midterms. However, Politico reports that several vulnerable House Democrats would prefer to keep Trump off the midterm ballot:
With their fragile House majority on the line, many Democrats are imploring their colleagues not to take the Trump bait after last November’s referendum on the ex-president ended up costing their party a dozen seats. Instead, those Democrats are eager to deploy a policy-heavy playbook to help stave off a potential midterm whipping — and are careful to avoid putting Trumpism on the ballot next November, too. …
In some corners, Democrats see a shining opportunity to hammer Republicans over their opposition to the certification of the election and the riot commission, eager to frame those votes as the GOP choosing to stand with Trump over their country, the Constitution and law enforcement. A group of Democrats recently launched the “Never Again PAC”, solely dedicated to targeting “Trumpism” and Republicans who spread the “big lie” about the election.
However, some in the party are privately contending that their midterm strategy should resemble that of 2018 — the last time Trump wasn’t on the ballot, when their party netted a total 40 seats to wrest back the majority. That year, they said, Democratic candidates pummeled their GOP opponents on health care, rather than Trump, and it worked.
There are two big flaws with this strategy. The first is that there is a large difference between Trump in office and Trump sidelined. Trump kept interfering with the party’s attempts to focus on the economy by bigfooting his border-security demands, especially on Twitter, where his megaphone had the most impact. Republicans had a good story to tell with its 2017 tax cut and accelerating wage growth, a message that would have appealed to the suburban districts that cared much more about that than the border — which had largely been quiet, thanks to the changes in incentives that Trump already had put in place.
Trump can’t bigfoot messages on Twitter or Facebook this time around. Those social media platforms have locked him out, which gives the GOP some breathing room on message discipline. However, Trump has been far from quiet, and it might have been worth it to Democrats to amplify his messaging, especially on the “stolen election” canard.
Furthermore, Trump’s loss of 40 seats in 2018 wasn’t exactly an anomaly. First-term presidents routinely lose a significant number of House seats, and that cycle wasn’t even that far outside of the average of ~30 seats. Barack Obama lost 63 seats in his first midterm election, for instance, and he had a broad base of voter support — far broader in terms of percentage of votes in the win than either Trump or Joe Biden.
The real story here isn’t how much House Democrats will talk about Trump. It’s how much they’ll talk about Joe Biden. Midterms are almost always referendums on the incumbent, which is why Trump mattered in 2018 and won’t matter at all in 2022, even if House Democrats try to focus on Trump next year. With gas prices shooting upward, inflation rearing its ugly head, and the border crisis crossing over into catastrophe, the situation is even worse — since the status quo ante under Trump was demonstrably better on all those fronts. And that will matter most to the suburban district voters on which Democrats have built their majority.
That’s the real reason they don’t want to talk about Trump, and why they’ll try to talk about anything other than Biden too.
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