Has the shutdown changed Trump’s political standing?

Even Donald Trump knows he is in a disturbingly deep political hole.

That’s why he went on television Saturday to offer his version of a “compromise” to Democrats. He is trying to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her party for the partial government shutdown and to paint them as intransigent and extreme.

But after decades in the public spotlight — and two years in the White House — the president has his own well-earned reputation. Americans either love him or hate him.

His job approval has been poor for months, usually sitting somewhere between the upper 30s and the mid-40s.

Still, has the Trump-Pelosi standoff damaged the president badly? Count me as skeptical, even though polling consistently shows most Americans are not clamoring for a wall and hold the president responsible for the shutdown.

On “Meet the Press” Sunday, moderator Chuck Todd, who is also NBC News’ political director, asserted that the president is suffering politically. “The government shutdown is now in its 30th day. And the spread between Mr. Trump’s approval and disapproval ratings has grown noticeably since the start of this shutdown. He went from 10 points underwater to 15, according to FiveThirtyEight.com’s polling average,” Todd said.

In fact, looking at the change in the margin between Trump’s job approval and his disapproval exaggerates any alleged “change” in public opinion.

That 5-point change probably reflects a drop of 2.5 points in Trump’s favorable rating and an increase of 2.5 points in his disapproval.

Given the usual difficulties of polling these days and polls’ statistical margin of error, there is little reason to believe that Trump’s standing has eroded dramatically.

A small dip? Possibly. A significant downturn? Not yet.

As Jeffrey M. Jones of Gallup wrote a week ago following a Jan. 2-10 Gallup poll, “Trump’s rating has been little affected by the shutdown.”

Gallup showed Trump’s job approval at 37 percent, down 2 points from his approval before Christmas.

Gallup found what you would expect — virtually no change in Trump’s job ratings among Republicans and Democrats, but a measurable drop among independents.

Traditionally, independents are less engaged in politics, so their opinions tend to move around much more than partisans.

Economist/YouGov polling from late November 2018 to mid-January 2019 also showed little or no movement in the president’s job ratings, ranging from 43-46 percent approval over that period of time.

Of course, this is but a single poll, and other surveys, including for CNN and NPR/PBS/Marist, suggest at least some movement.

So, this is one of those cases where you can find data to support whatever view you hold. But given the country’s polarization, it’s difficult to believe the shutdown is having a substantial impact on the president’s job approval numbers.

The wall and Trump have become one, both for supporters of the president and for opponents.

As Gallup’s Frank Newport wrote recently, “[Trump] is very unlikely to lose support for the wall among his base, regardless of what he does. It also follows that Trump is unlikely to gain support for his wall among those not in his base.”

But while the shutdown has not yet redrawn the political battle lines or remade party coalitions, it is not without risk for Trump.

The standoff could further erode the president’s already poor standing among independents, and while that’s not likely to move the needle much, Trump can’t afford to lose any support given his very narrow victory in 2016 and the disastrous Republican midterm House losses.

The deadlock over the wall and the shutdown also make it impossible for Trump to talk about other issues, like the economy, where he has obvious accomplishments and should have an advantage.

Even more dangerous for Republicans, the standoff could eventually damage the economy.

As the New York Times reported last week, “The revised estimates from the Council of Economic Advisers show that the shutdown, now in its fourth week, is beginning to have real economic consequences. The analysis, and other projections from outside the White House, suggests that the shutdown has already weighed significantly on growth and could ultimately push the United States economy into a contraction.”

Slower growth, whether because of eroding consumer confidence or increased nervousness in the business community, could have a much greater impact on Trump’s ratings than the shutdown.

The same goes for the results of the special counsel investigation of Robert S. Mueller III, of course.

The president’s “base” strategy of whipping up support among his acolytes and relying entirely on the Republican Congress has caused him to paint himself into a corner.

Now, unable to crush Pelosi through sheer force of will, the president may feel he must do something dramatic to reset his presidency. The question is whether that step would stiffen the resolve of opponents, rattle his core supporters or fundamentally improve his positioning.

Note: This column first appeared in Roll Call on January 22, 2019.

An Initial Rating of the 2020 Presidential Race

I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win in 2016, and after his election I wrote an entire column in The Washington Post examining my analysis and mistakes. Now older, hopefully a little wiser, and definitely more cautious, I turn to the 2020 presidential contest, which has already started.

My initial rating is based on a combination of Trump’s current standing, his electoral performance in 2016, his party’s performance in 2018, questions about the Democratic Party’s ability to unite behind a broadly appealing nominee next year, and assumptions about the economy and state of the nation a year and a half from now.

Obviously, some of those factors will change over the next 22 months, altering the two parties’ prospects at least a few times between now and Nov. 3, 2020. But you have to start somewhere.

The fundamentals

Trump lost the popular vote by about 2.9 million votes (just over 2 percentage points), but won the White House by carrying states and districts that accounted for 306 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 232.

Narrow wins in three key Great Lakes states that often go Democratic in presidential contests — Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes), Wisconsin (10) and Michigan (16) — were crucial for him, as were Florida (29), Arizona (11) and North Carolina (15), which he also won narrowly. Clinton fell 38 electoral votes short of winning the election.

Democrats showed renewed strength last year in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan (including winning races for governor in all three), which complicates Trump’s re-election effort.

Of course, Trump narrowly lost four states he could conceivably carry in 2020 — New Hampshire (4), Minnesota (10), Nevada (6) and Maine (4), giving him at least a couple of paths to 270 electoral votes next year. (He did receive one of Maine’s four votes in 2016 when he carried the state’s 2nd District.)

Most other states don’t start off being in play in 2020, although a handful (e.g., Colorado, Iowa, Virginia and even Georgia) could be worth watching, if only to understand the dynamics of the larger fight.

In terms of his coalition, the good news for Trump is that he has suffered relatively few defections since his election. He remains strong in rural America, among evangelicals, with non-college-educated white men and with conservatives.

But the president has made no effort to broaden his appeal, a reality very much in evidence in 2018 survey data and in the midterm results.

How little has Trump’s coalition changed? He won 46.1 percent of the vote in the 2016 presidential contest. Two years later, his job approval in the exit poll stood at 45 percent, and Republican House nominees drew 44.8 percent of the vote in midterm balloting, according to data gathered by David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Given the results of 2016 and 2018 (when Democratic House candidates drew almost 10 million votes more than GOP nominees), Trump again looks unlikely to win the popular vote next year.

In that case, the president’s re-election map probably will need to resemble 2016’s if he is going to win a second term.

The midterms showed that core Democratic constituencies that didn’t vote for Clinton in 2016, including younger voters, minorities and progressives, were back onboard against Trump.

In addition, white college-educated women (particularly in the suburbs) moved toward the Democrats last year.

If both of those developments occur again, the president will have huge problems, which is why Trump’s single-minded focus on his base over the past two years looks like a strategic error.

The polls

While initial 2020 polls should be taken with a pound of salt, they illuminate the president’s vulnerabilities. The Dec. 9-12 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Trump trailing a “generic Democrat” by 14 points, 52 percent to 38 percent.

Of course, without a specific Democrat named in the hypothetical ballot test, the matchup is more of a referendum on Trump than the choice of nominees that 2020 will be.

The “generic ballot” test therefore may well exaggerate the president’s weakness, since the eventual Democratic nominee is likely to have liabilities that don’t show up in any generic ballot.

In addition, Democrats will have a potentially nasty primary fight in 2020, which could easily produce a flawed nominee who, like Clinton, cannot unite anti-Trump voters.

And the eventual Democratic nominee may have to tack so far left to win the nomination that swing voters will not be comfortable supporting a progressive who calls for higher taxes and Medicare for all (single-payer health care).

It’s wise to be cautious about early polls, since the president’s numbers surely will bounce around over the next year and a half.

But his mediocre job approval ratings and weak early standing in ballot tests are troubling for GOP strategists.


There is no way of knowing what events will draw America’s attention 18 or 20 months from now, but Republicans have reasons for concern.

Trump clearly likes to keep himself in the middle of things, and that inevitably leads to disruption and chaos. That’s not a problem for most of his base, of course, but it could make the Democratic nominee more appealing to some voters who supported Trump in 2016 but have tired of the circus.

The economy, which has been strong during the first two years of the Trump presidency, looks increasingly vulnerable to higher interest rates, slower international growth and the normal ups and downs of the business cycle.

Most economists expect slowing growth in the U.S. economy by later this year and in early 2020, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean a recession, even slower growth could cause additional headaches for the president’s campaign.

Administration turnover, Trump’s leadership style, and questions involving trade/tariffs, China, Russia, NATO, the Middle East, the budget deficit, health care, immigration, gun control and defense could all be issues over the next couple of years, keeping the president on the defensive.

And that doesn’t even include additional Trump problems stemming from the special counsel investigation by Robert S. Mueller III and House investigations into his business dealings and administration’s performance.

Of course, House Democrats could overplay their hand, giving Trump more and better options than he has now and making themselves an issue rather than keeping the focus on the president and his administration.

But so far, the Democratic leadership seems to understand the risks to impeachment.

The bottom line

Both parties face significant challenges. The president has alienated too many voters for his own good, limiting his appeal and forcing him to negotiate a narrow path toward a re-election that looks more difficult after Democratic victories in the midterms.

Democrats, on the other hand, face turnout and persuasion challenges as they seek a nominee who can both rally the party’s base and appeal to swing voters, some of whom find the party’s progressive agenda no more palatable than Trump’s performance in office.

The president is not the political basket case that some portray him.

Barack Obama won a second term even after a disastrous first midterm election, and Trump’s base remains largely intact.

Moreover, the electoral college narrowly favors the GOP.

Given all of these considerations, 2020 starts off as a competitive contest, though not a pure toss-up.

There are too many questions surrounding the president’s re-election prospects to call the race even, and there are too many opportunities for the Democrats to blunder toward a weak general election nominee to rate the race Leans Democratic.

So, given the upset in 2016 and the uncertainties of the next year and a half, I would start rating the 2020 contest broadly as a toss-up/tilting Democratic. And, once again, fewer than a dozen states likely will pick the next president.

Note: This article initially appeared in the January 3, 2019 edition of Roll Call.

Donald Trump’s Toughest Adversary? That Would Be Donald Trump

While President Trump complains about the national media, Democrats, Robert S. Mueller’s Russian “witch hunt” and the political establishment, none of those things is why the November House elections are a major headache for the Republican Party. Donald Trump’s biggest problem is Donald Trump.

Trump has turned what could have been a challenging midterm election environment into a potentially disastrous one. Through his tweets and statements, the president continues to make the 2018 midterm elections a referendum on his first two years in office.

Of course, that could be a good thing, since unemployment is down, economic growth is up and ISIS is in retreat.

But instead of running on those accomplishments, Trump prefers to stir the pot of grievance, drawing applause from his hard-core supporters for his attacks on individuals and institutions, and refusing to reach out to potential new supporters.

He goes after Republican officeholders, professional basketball stars, NFL players and members of Congress.

He whips up anger toward the media, undermines the FBI and criticizes America’s allies and NATO.

He imposes tariffs that hurt American agriculture.

That might not be a terrible strategy if Trump had won comfortably in 2016. But he lost the popular vote by more than 2 points and drew only 46.1 percent of the vote, so any leakage from his original coalition or increased turnout from anti-Trumpers could have a dramatic impact on the midterm’s results.

In fact, Republican self-identification seems to be slipping, while Democratic enthusiasm is up.

Typically, when a president is unpopular, candidates from the president’s party try to “localize” their races. They want voters to focus on the individual nominees — their records and qualifications — rather than on the performance of the president.

But that is difficult to accomplish when the president dominates the news and makes controversial comments daily.

Trump clearly loves rallies. As an entertainer, he enjoys (even craves) being the center of attention. He is energized by the applause and cheers. His success in swaying GOP primaries through his endorsements has also fed his ego, which in turn has increased his desire to do more events and to whip up his audiences with more and more outrageous assertions and charges.

Not surprisingly, the president recently promised that he will be on the stump almost continually for Republican nominees in the fall.

“I’ll go six or seven days a week when we’re 60 days out, and I will be campaigning for all of these great people that do have a difficult race, and we think we are going to bring them over the line,” he said during a recent interview with Sean Hannity.

That strategy may feed the president’s ego and reflect his view that he is his party’s best advocate, but it shows he misunderstands the midterm dynamic.

Trump’s national campaign blitz will no doubt generate effusive applause in Mississippi, rural West Virginia and northeastern Pennsylvania, but it is not helpful in suburban counties with college-educated voters, congressional districts carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 or even competitive Republican-leaning congressional districts.

It isn’t helpful for GOP Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Leonard Lance of New Jersey, Jason Lewis of Minnesota or Rod Blum of Iowa.

Trump’s campaign plan guarantees the November midterms will be a referendum on the president — not the “local” contests so many Republican nominees in swing districts prefer.

That could help Republican Senate nominees in Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia, but it increases the likelihood that the House will flip to the Democrats.

To be sure, given the president’s performance during his first two years in office, the Democrats were always going to make Trump the issue in the midterms. But by being so divisive and so active on the stump, the president has made it easier for the Democrats to nationalize the November elections and more difficult for those Republicans who are trying to swim against the midterm tide.

Because Trump thinks that everything is about him, he is simply incapable of receding into the background or allowing the midterms to be about anyone other than himself. And because he cannot acknowledge his own missteps and relies on caricatures and exaggeration to demonize his foes, he is incapable of reaching out to voters who are not already reliable members of the Trump base.

The combination of those flaws makes the president of the United States the biggest problem for the Republican Party this year. Donald Trump has met the enemy — and it is himself.

This column appeared originaly on August 7, 2018.

The Trump Agenda’s Unintentional International Consequences

President Donald Trump, who preaches pro-business policies at home and more favorable terms for the United States in trade deals, may well help elect more anti-American leaders around the world and leave the United States more isolated and embattled.

We could see the first manifestation of this in Trump’s confrontational approach with Mexico. His positions on trade (particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement) and immigration, and his characterization of the people of Mexico, have boosted the prospects of presidential hopeful Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico’s July 1 election.

López Obrador, who has talked about possibly granting amnesty to drug traffickers, is widely viewed as a nationalist, left-wing populist who favors restricting foreign investment and protecting his nation’s domestic economy.

Earlier this year, López Obrador promised to put Trump “in his place.”

In the area of energy, for example, The New York Times recently reported that López Obrador “wants to reverse policies that have tied a knot between Mexico and the United States in recent years in energy production and consumption. And he has promised to make sure that oil never falls ‘back into the hands of foreigners.’”

Polls conducted in April and May have shown López Obrador holding leads of 10 to 20 points in the multicandidate presidential contest. (Mexico does not have a runoff system, so the first-place finisher is elected, even with only a plurality of the vote.)

French flattery

Meanwhile, in France, Emmanuel Macron has faced a torrent of criticism for his obsequiousness to Trump. The French president’s poll numbers are down, as critics from both ends of the ideological spectrum have blasted Macron for allegedly humiliating himself during his meetings with the American president.

Macron, like some other foreign leaders, has tried to flatter Trump to ingratiate himself with the president — and to convince Trump to change his positions on trade, the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and other crucially important issues. So far, those efforts have failed.

France is not alone in its disdain for Trump. The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes and Trends annual survey shows respondents have a less favorable view of the United States than they did before Trump was re-elected, and they have less confidence in the president doing “the right thing regarding world affairs.”

The declines have been most notable in Western Europe and Japan — including in countries that have been among America’s closest allies for decades.

Pew Research polling in Latin America showed the same general trend, with a dramatic drop in the public’s view of the United States and in the public’s confidence that Trump will do the right thing.

Although Trump’s standing is down throughout Latin America, the drop is most pronounced in Mexico. Only 5 percent of respondents in Mexico in a spring 2017 survey said they had confidence that Trump would do the right thing in world affairs.

Enemies of his friends

One of the few places around the globe where Trump’s standing has improved is Israel, but that improvement masks a dangerous development.

For decades, Israeli political leaders and American advocates for Israel have sought to portray the relationship between the two countries as above partisan politics.

Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives could all support the Jewish state. It was one of the few things on which most Americans, regardless of party or ideology, could agree.

But Trump’s strong support for Israel, which includes moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, carries some risk for the Jewish state.

Trump is such a polarizing figure at home that his support for Israel could actually undermine bipartisan support for the country.

In particular, weakening support for Israel among nonwhites and Hispanics in the United States has concerned Israeli officials for years, and they have been looking for ways to connect with the minority community.

But Trump’s rhetoric and actions could make that more difficult. The combination of Trump’s support for the Jewish state and his historic unpopularity among some Americans could undermine support for Israel among younger voters, progressives and minority voters, who don’t have the same connection to or affection for Israel as most Jews and Christians.

In other words, if Donald Trump supports Israel, some voters automatically cannot.

Indeed, a Pew Research survey conducted earlier this year showed a sharp drop in support for Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute among Democrats. While part of this change almost certainly can be traced to Israeli actions, Trump’s possible impact shouldn’t be ignored, considering the animosity that many hold toward him.

Many Republicans complained that Barack Obama “led from behind” and weakened American power around the globe. But Trump seems to be encouraging America’s critics and alienating its friends, weakening America’s standing and unleashing forces that could do additional harm in the future.

Note: This column first appeared in Roll Call on May 22, 2018. 

Trump Numbers Are Up. And Down. But Really Unchanged.

New national polls show voters are more upbeat about President Donald Trump’s performance and more pessimistic about the Democrats’ chances of taking back the House. Or not.

An April 8-11 Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Trump’s job approval rating at 40 percent, while 56 percent disapproved of his performance.

An April 8-11 NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey showed almost identical numbers, with the president’s job approval at 39 percent and his disapproval at 57 percent.

But when you look below the topline numbers or start comparing survey results to earlier polls, things start to get a little more, well, complicated.

The Post-ABC survey found Trump’s job approval had improved from its January poll (when the president’s job approval stood at 36 percent), while the NBC/Journal survey showed Trump’s approval had worsened since its previous poll in March, when it stood at 43 percent.

This no doubt caused some head-scratching by news anchors and talking heads who have relatively little experience with or understanding of survey research — and who insist on focusing on every bump in the road rather than on the road itself.

Hold the horses

In fact, it’s best not to try to explain every data point.

“Margin of error” exists for a reason, and treating every survey number as if it is a perfect reflection of reality is an invitation to an emotional breakdown.

Most results from reputable national surveys show the president’s job approval in the 38 percent to 42 percent range. Try to live with that until there is a clear breakout in one direction or the other.

It’s best to approach survey results with a dose of common sense. That may make those of us seeking complete objectivity a bit uncomfortable, but it is still necessary given the increasing difficulty in getting accurate results at a time when many voters refuse to respond to public opinion surveys.

I find it difficult to believe the president’s job approval has been moving around much — or that it has improved significantly over the past few months.

Few Trump enthusiasts are defecting from him, and his opponents are as “locked in” as can be.

Yes, good news for the White House can move the president’s numbers up a couple of points for a few days, and bad news can cost him a few points for a matter of days or weeks. But public opinion always seems to return to the same 38 percent to 42 percent job approval range we have seen for many months.

A horse race?

Of course, if you want to be confused, there is always the “generic ballot.”

The NBC/Journal poll from April showed Democrats with a 7-point advantage, 47 percent to 40 percent, while the Post-ABC survey put the Democrats’ advantage at 10 points among voting-age adults but at only 4 points among registered voters.

But when you adopt a longer time frame, things suddenly get more complicated.

The Post-ABC surveys of adults from April, January and November showed Democrats with a low double-digit lead in the generic ballot. But the Democratic advantage in the generic ballot among registered voters plunged from 12 points in January to just 4 points in the latest survey.

While I’m certain you can come up with some elaborate explanation for the shift among registered voters, I wouldn’t waste the time.

It seems very unlikely that there has been a fundamental shift in sentiment among registered voters. It’s much likelier that the Post-ABC result is a statistical hiccup that doesn’t mean much.

That’s why I was surprised how The Washington Post played the results, suggesting the findings were a “signal to party leaders and strategists that they could be premature in anticipating a huge wave of victories in November.”

Maybe that 4 percent number is a signal. And maybe it isn’t.

It could simply be that the January survey was misleading or the April survey understated the Democratic advantage. Or a little of both.

If I were you, I’d wait for the next round of generic ballot tests from the major pollsters before getting too excited about the most recent Post-ABC generic ballot result.

More horsing around

Of course, if you really want to drive yourself crazy, you can consider Quinnipiac University’s generic ballot polling.

An April 6-9 Quinnipiac poll showed Democrats with a 3-point advantage, 46 percent to 43 percent. Another Quinnipiac poll conducted three weeks earlier gave them a 6-point edge.

Two weeks before that, Democrats had a 10-point advantage, and two weeks before that, Quinnipiac found them with a 15-point generic ballot lead.

That means that between mid-February and early April, a period of about seven weeks, the Democrats’ advantage in the congressional generic ballot shrunk from 15 points to 3 points.

Feel free to believe that if you want, but it strikes me as unreasonable given that the overall news flow hasn’t been favorable for Trump, and recent special elections suggest growing Democratic enthusiasm and strengths.

I have spent years watching polls, and I value them immensely. My repeated warnings about reading too much into the responses to any single question doesn’t change that.

I’d merely like to see everyone show a bit more skepticism and caution, rather than simply regurgitating the numbers and accepting them at face value.

Note: This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 19, 2018.

Can a President Preaching Change Lead a Party of Incumbents?

I have long argued that on the most fundamental level, all elections are choices between continuity and change.

The “in” party needs voters to believe that things are going well — or at least improving — while the “out” party needs to sell its message of change.

On rare occasions, when things are obviously not going well, the in party acknowledges the discontent and responds that the out party is still responsible for the mess or would only make things worse. This leads to the question of how someone like Donald Trump, whose entire message is built on disrupting the status quo and bringing dramatic change, can lead his party as an incumbent.

At least during the campaign leading up to his first midterm election, a new president can argue that while he has brought change, his job isn’t yet done — in part because the opposition has blocked him from achieving everything he promised. In other words, more disruption is necessary. (This argument is much more difficult to make after four or six years in office.)

Trump, of course, has been making that claim for months, complaining about “the swamp” in Washington, Democratic “obstruction,” “arcane rules” that paralyze the Senate (such as the filibuster), the media’s hostility, and even the alleged “deep state,” which some Trump supporters insist is trying to stop the president from succeeding.

Since he entered the presidential race almost three years ago, Trump has argued that only he can jump-start the economy, successfully renegotiate trade agreements and military arrangements, get rid of Obamacare, and protect our borders and achieve immigration reform.

If he comes up short on anything, it can’t possibly be his fault. Other forces must be conspiring against him.

History repeats

To be sure, Trump is not alone in believing this.

Incumbents always look to blame someone for their failings, and they rarely look in the mirror to find the person at fault. Moreover, this president does have adversaries who are fighting him and his agenda.

Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama used a genteel version of the “blame game” strategy during their first midterms, as has virtually every other sitting president who had a rocky first two years in office.

Reagan and Obama argued that their respective predecessors, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, left them with messes to clean up (stagflation in the case of Carter, and the meltdown of the financial services sector under Bush), and insisted that they had made a good start reviving the economy and strengthening America’s standing in the world.

They had stopped the bleeding, they asserted, and just needed a couple of more years to achieve their goals.

The problem for Trump is that when both Reagan and Obama tried this strategy, it failed miserably.

Republicans lost 26 House seats in the 1982 midterms even though the party began with a mere 192 seats, and in 2010 Democrats lost 63 seats and control of the chamber. (Two years later, when circumstances improved, both Reagan and Obama were re-elected.)

The 1982 results were particularly noteworthy since there was every reason to believe that Republicans would avoid the midterm jinx that year.

After all, Democrats held a large majority in the House and had controlled the chamber uninterrupted for thirty years. Clearly, there was no quick fix to the combination of inflation, high interest rates, growing unemployment and little economic growth that Reagan inherited, so blaming Carter and his party for the nation’s problems — and thereby minimizing GOP midterm House losses — should have been easy. But it wasn’t.

Bill Clinton’s experience also doesn’t offer much reason for optimism for the GOP. Clinton ran as a candidate of generational change in 1992, but his first midterm was a disaster for House Democrats, who lost 54 seats and the majority in the balloting. Voters apparently didn’t like the kind of change he was delivering.

Election exceptions

The other two presidents since Reagan who had to survive “first midterms,” George H.W. Bush in 1990 and George W. Bush in 2002, don’t offer much guidance to Trump. After eight years of Reagan, George H.W. Bush was the candidate of continuity when he ran for president in 1988, and his son was not a “disruptive” force 12 years later.

Moreover, George W. Bush’s first midterm occurred a little more than one year after the 9/11 attacks, which caused voters to value continuity and rally around the White House.

In November 2002, Gallup found roughly equal percentages of registered voters saying they were “satisfied” and “dissatisfied” with the direction of the country. But during the first week of March this year, only 28 percent said they were satisfied, while 68 percent were dissatisfied.

Those numbers demonstrate how different the political environment was in 2002, and how dissatisfied voters are now.

Given that, the question is: As the midterms approach, can Republicans reclaim the banner of disruption (without creating voter fatigue), or is the GOP, which controls the House, the Senate and the White House, automatically the party of continuity, even with Trump in the Oval Office and leading his party?

Right now, the answer doesn’t look like a close call, which is why Trump and the Republicans are in such deep trouble in the fight for the House.

Note: This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 10, 2018.