I have said many times that the party winning the 2016 presidential election would very likely suffer for it, considering how flawed and unpopular both candidates were. If Hillary Clinton had won, most likely we would see Democrats lose further seats in Congress and the state legislatures in 2018 and 2020. Opposition to Donald Trump should help the Democrats, especially with Hillary Clinton not on the ballot. The elections will largely be a referendum on Donald Trump. Will Jordan recently showed that historically a president with an approval rating as low as Trump’s typically loses thirty-nine House seats, with the Democrats needing twenty-four votes to retake the House. Larry Sabato had similar findings:
History is on the Democrats’ side: The president’s party has lost ground in the House in 36 of 39 midterms since the Civil War. The average loss is 33 seats, a shift in seats that would flip the House next year. Unpopular presidents can galvanize the opposition — and Democrats already seem highly engaged in battling Trump — and President Trump’s approval rating is already underwater in some polls, meaning he hasn’t had much of a honeymoon. Of course, there’s plenty of time for that to change, both positively and negatively for the president.
While it is far too early to be certain that Trump’s approval rating will remain at its currently low levels, there is considerable cause for concern among Republican House members. This is exacerbated by the complaints many are seeing from their constituents. CNN has reported on the anger at Republican town halls and The Washington Post reports that Swarming crowds and hostile questions are the new normal at GOP town halls:
Republicans in deep-red congressional districts spent the week navigating massive crowds and hostile questions at their town hall meetings — an early indication of how progressive opposition movements are mobilizing against the agenda of the GOP and President Trump.
Angry constituents swarmed events held by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Diane Black (Tenn.), Justin Amash (Mich.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.). They filled the rooms that had been reserved for them; in Utah and Tennessee, scores of activists were locked out. Voters pressed members of Congress on their plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, on the still-controversial confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and even on a low-profile vote to disband an election commission created after 2000.
House Republicans had watched footage earlier this week of McClintock’s raucous town hall in northern California and his police-assisted exit — a warning of what might come. And with Congress scheduled for a week-long recess and a raft of additional town halls starting Feb. 18, the warning may have been warranted…
Remembering how voter anger and heated town halls helped end Democratic control of Congress in 2010, Republicans have begun taking security precautions. Some have avoided in-person town halls, holding forums on Facebook or by telephone instead. Many were briefed on security recommendations for public events and their district offices at a closed-door meeting led by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), a former county sheriff.
If the Democrats are to retake Congress, it will depend on Trump’s popularity remaining low. Pollsters such as Mark Blumenthal are looking at both whether it is likely to remain low, and how low it can go:
One striking characteristic of Trump’s initial job rating is the relative intensity of disapproval. In our most recent full week of tracking, for example, far more Americans strongly disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job (41 percent) than strongly approve (29 percent). That gap means that Trump’s overall 46 percent approval rating includes 17 percent who only “somewhat approve” of his performance…
One of the themes of new administration, as the NBC News Politics team recently noted, is how “Trump picks fights with, well, almost anyone.” Those stories help reinforce the perception of his toughness and outspokenness.
The downside of these “sprays of attack,” as CNN’s Jake Tapper called them, are the “sprays of falsehoods coming from the White House” that accompany them. These controversies help further reinforce negative perceptions about Trump’s honesty forged during the campaign.
A second theme has been the flurry of initial executive actions that helped drive the sense, especially among Republicans, that Trump can get things done. But note that relative softness in perceptions of effectiveness among Trump’s least committed supporters. As the NBC Politics team points out, executive actions aside, the Trump team has made little progress so far on his “big ticket agenda items (Obamacare repeal and replace, tax relief, paying for that border wall).”
Again, it is very early in the Trump presidency and the long term trends in his approval rating will be influenced by the direction of economy and by war, peace and scandal, or the lack thereof. However, if the initial flurry of executive action gives way to gridlock and legislative stagnation, perceptions of Trump’s ability to “get things done” may atrophy, and with it, his overall approval rating.
We don’t know where Trump’s approval rating will be in 2018 and 2020. There are many factors beyond the actual actions of the president, and if the country is doing well despite Trump’s actions, the Republicans will benefit. However, the first three weeks of Trump’s presidency give Republicans a lot to worry about.