FOES and admirers of Donald Trump alike have since his inauguration 18 months ago been pointing to this November’s elections in the United States. While no national office is at stake, there is a broad perception that Trump himself is at the centre of this pivotal election.
Republicans, who now support this president by an 87 percent margin, see the need to vote in November as pivotal to retaining Trump’s ability to execute his policy priorities.
Democrats, at least subconsciously, see opposing Trump and capturing majorities in the House and Senate as a kind of shadow impeachment process. Many Democrats and liberals realize that actual impeachment and Trump’s removal from office is at best improbable, but dismantling the Republican majorities in Congress would at least frustrate the Trump agenda until 2020 when he can be replaced.
Several primary elections have already been held this year, including in pivotal states such as California, Virginia and Pennsylvania. What do the results so far foretell for November? Two experienced observers have recently offered their views. One is veteran pollster John Zogby, who says he usually votes for Democrats but whose work has generally appeared in right-leaning newspapers and Forbes magazine. The other is Christopher Buskirk, a staunch Republican conservative polemicist.
Buskirk observes recent electoral trends from a later 20th century perspective. He sees true conservatism enshrined in the policies of post-war conservative icon William F Buckley, founder of the National Review, and of president Ronald Reagan. Buskirk believes that for Republicans who adhere to the policies of Buckley and Reagan, “the 2016 election was a chance to help the (US) break the 30-year spell the Clintons and Bushes cast. It was also a chance for rank-and-file Republicans to replace an insulated party leadership that had elevated its own interests over everyone else’s.”
Buskirk sees a conservative renaissance in this effort to recapture the GOP. He asserts that Trump is central to this effort, because he is seen as populist and anti-elite. Never mind that Trump routinely derides and acts in direct opposition to Buckley and Reagan tenets like free trade. “What is important,” Buskirk writes, “is that the tumult caused by Trump’s unusual candidacy created an environment in which an intellectual refounding of Republican politics became possible.”
Buskirk feels that “issues of citizenship and solidarity – what it means to be an American – have returned to the fore.” Supporting this last thesis is evidence provided by Zogby and others that has identified immigration as the key issue for voters planning to support Republican candidates this November. When Trump bombastically shouts “America First,” he appeals directly to these sentiments.
At this early point in the 2018 election cycle, Zogby wisely terms the November election certainly too close to call. Republicans know who Trump is and what they are voting for. Trump’s base of support has gained somewhat over the past six months and his strength in the GOP has confronted party candidates with clear evidence that to oppose him is to seriously risk defeat in primary elections. Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford was just rejected last week in his Republican primary election after speaking out against Trump.
Overall, though, Zogby sees a possible blue wave coming. He cites traditional losses by new presidents in their first off-year election, and notes that seven of the eight House seats contested since Trump was elected have been won by Democrats. And the Democrats did defeat disreputable Roy Moore in the 2018 Alabama Senate race.
Zogby’s polling tells him key parts of the Obama coalition – women, Hispanics, African Americans and Asians – is reinvigorated and is ready to turn out in record numbers this fall. More women in particular are entering primary races and are, so far, receiving strong support.
If immigration is the top issue for Republicans, health care and education – two family based issues traditionally critical for women in particular – dominate for Democratic voters. The related issue of income inequality between men and women underpins these concerns.
In looking ahead, it is important to recall that US unemployment is down and wages and the stock market are still up since Trump took office. But widespread disenchantment with this president, his behaviour and policies is also still up.