It would seem an obvious answer to a question that should never have to be asked: Can Democrats actually take control of the House and/or Senate in this new year of 2018 if they have no agenda beyond virulent opposition to every accomplishment and policy of President Trump?
This is not a rhetorical question, one that answers itself, though it should be. If all a political party has to offer is that it’s not the other party (and is violently opposed to the disgusting racist/sexist/fascist/whatever chief executive), there is little in the way of policy prescriptions for voters to process. But in the age of Donald Trump, it could be enough.
Consider that neither Virginia’s Ralph Northam nor Alabama’s Doug Jones, the two big Democrat victors in recent elections, were exactly spellbinding candidates. Neither offered much beyond the standard, age-old Democratic talking points. But what they really provided as virtual placeholder candidates was for Democrats to turn out in record numbers for, not the candidate himself, but the opportunity to vote against Trump. It’s almost as if many Democrats in those two states felt guilty for not voting in 2016 (even though Hillary Clinton won Virginia handily, and Trump romped in Alabama).
When Democrats rolled out their long-since-forgotten policy agenda entitled “A Better Deal” in the fall, their singular attempt to actually advance some ideas of their own, it hit like a lead balloon and was quickly relegated to an historical footnote. It was a naked attempt to compensate for their neglect of working class voters in the 2016 election and contained about as much legitimate material as Al Capone’s vault.2018 Senate Election Map. Democrats (in blue) are defending 26 of the 33 seats up for election.
But if you ignore the fact that Democrats must defend 26 of the 33 seats up for election in the Senate, and you believe those voter preference polls that show a generic congressional Democrat candidate defeating his Republican counterpart by about a dozen points, the Dems’ lack of a specific agenda appears not to matter to the mass of voters. Will it be enough for Democrats to simply vow to oppose this President at every turn, and count on the half of the country that hates Trump to be energized enough to show up and vote for them?
Or will the Democrats decide that working with Trump on a bipartisan issue like infrastructure is the better bet? On one hand, that would allow them to promote the idea that they will work constructively even with a despised president of the opposing party when there is a modicum of common ground. But while that strategy might appeal to independent voters and traditional Democrats, it also runs the risk of inflaming and suppressing turnout among their current electoral base, the left-wing “Resistance.”
Clearly, the Democrats are counting on much higher turnout than usual for midterm elections to negate any fallout from their lack of a discernible agenda. And the polls so far have done nothing to dissuade them from a strictly anti-Trump position.
But there is still the matter of the economy. When Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush in 1992, he did it by following the now immortalized strategy: “It’s the economy, stupid.” In that case, Clinton used that maxim in the negative, successfully hammering Bush for an ongoing recession. 2018 stands to be the opposite, as Republicans seem likely to tout improving economic growth and better employment numbers to appeal to voters’ self-interest. Absent a still-possible reversal of the many positive economic trends we have witnessed since the early spring of 2017, not to mention the real possibility of more good news resulting from the GOP tax reform bill, would enough voters decide to vote against their own economic interests in order to send a message to Donald Trump and overthrow GOP control of Congress?
That is the $64,000 question as we enter this new year. And while much will happen between now and November when voters go to the polls, it stands to reason that voters will be left with a stark choice: vote for the Republican if the economy is the most important issue to you, or for the Democrat if you are so appalled at President Trump that an improving economy becomes strictly a secondary issue.