The Republicans’ response to its unprecedented power in all three branches of government is that they are powerless to do anything constructive and need to win another election. Thus, they go on vacation for six weeks while holding the ball. The response from voters? If you don’t like the power, we can take it away from you.
Republicans have never learned the most important adage in politics: “There’s no such thing as lukewarm hell.” Once you’ve incurred all the liabilities of being in power, the only path to survival is harnessing that power to equally energize your base and reap all the benefits of that power.
In order to appreciate the massive 10- or 20-point swings away from the GOP that we are seeing in every special election, as well as the loss of so many state legislative races this past year, we need to understand the political landscape and coalitions.
Even without the Trump effect, we have irrevocably entered a political era where the party in power is going to face a relentlessly energized blitz from the other side, the same way the team with the ball will always face the determined defensive linemen of the other team trying tirelessly to sack the quarterback or force a fumble. That is a given because of the polarization factor and social media. We will never return to the boring era of the midterms in the late ’90s. This phenomenon benefited Republicans in 2010 and 2014, and it is now hurting them in 2018.
The only option for Republicans is to make swift, nimble, and decisive plays, promote an aggressive and bold agenda, and drive a relentlessly focused vision and message to march the ball down the field with a no-huddle offense. We must relentlessly promote our legislation and messaging on the key wedge issues and energize our side while dispiriting the other side.
Half a Trump agenda is the worst of both worlds
This is where the Trump factor comes in. If you look at the electoral map of Trump territory vs. Romney territory, obviously, you will see much more red for Trump. After all, Trump won 304 electoral votes, 230 congressional districts, and 2,626 counties compared to 206, 226, and roughly 2,425 respectively for Romney. However, there are some suburban areas where Romney did better. Because of Trump’s persona, he has lost some of these traditionally Republican voters. Fortunately for him, in 2012, this was not a problem because he netted even more votes among conservative white rural voters and also picking up blue-collar Reagan Democrats and disenchanted voters.
Fast-forward to 2018, and Republicans are staring down the barrel of an election map where they are continuing to accelerate the loss of certain white suburban and college-educated voters more quickly than they are retaining the new Trump voters in rural and white blue-collar counties. Having Trump as president electrifies the other side and bleeds some voters in the middle, but Trump is not on the ballot, and congressional Republicans are impotent with no message to pull in these voters and get them out to the polls. Electorally, Trump as president and weasel Republicans in Congress are the worst of both worlds.
This is exactly the dynamic that played out in the Ohio 12th District special House race, where the GOP candidate, Troy Balderson, won by a mere 0.9 percent in a district Trump carried by 11 points. Take a look at the county-by-county results comparing Romney’s performance in 2012, Trump’s in 2016, and Balderson’s in 2018, as presented by NBC’s Steve Kornacki:
Ohio-12, before and after the rise of Trump: pic.twitter.com/z7DdUoYYO7
— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) August 8, 2018
This picture is worth 1,000 words. You can see that the areas in which Republicans were already losing ground in Trump country got even worse this year, but the areas that got even redder under Trump underperformed for Balderson. The only exception was Muskingum County, which contains the Zanesville-based legislative district that Balderson represented for a decade.
Balderson is another establishment stand-for-nothing candidate tied to Kasich and recruited by Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers. He believed in “dream” amnesty and talked about the false notion of “covering pre-existing conditions,” which is the heart of Obamacare.
Thus, even the non-Trump-style candidates are still incurring the liabilities of Trump as the face of the party, but they are not benefiting from the more robust Trump coalition because they stand for nothing. There’s a very good case to be made that Trump’s last-minute visit helped Balderson pull it out by bringing a couple thousand more Trump voters to the polls and plugging Jim Jordan. But otherwise, there is no reason for them to show up. The same reason they didn’t turn out for Romney (or previous Republicans) is the same reason they will not turn out with Trump not on the ballot and no agenda to excite them.
Keep in mind that Trump bled seven points from the all-important Delaware County, yet still swung Ohio by 11 points compared to 2012 because of his gains among white blue-collar voters. Balderson shed yet another eight points in Delaware County but didn’t maintain the gains elsewhere.
Imagine if Republicans had a knock-down drag-out fight over the budget on sanctuary cities, the border invasion, MS-13, and the drug crisis.
Imagine if they had a message of stripping jurisdiction from radical courts and impeaching wayward judges who steal our sovereignty.
Imagine if they had an agenda to push back on photo ID and checking for citizenship to vote, not counting illegals in the census and as citizens, and stopping illegals from using our legal system to force us to pay for their crimes and welfare.
Imagine if they had a coherent message on health care of repealing not just Obamacare but all of the crony government intervention on behalf of John Kasich’s insurance and hospital cartel friends.
Imagine if they’d run Willie Horton ads on the Democrats every day from now until November. Instead, they are promoting the Willie Horton agenda.
Republicans can either fight or lose
Across the board, Republicans are performing poorly. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the number-four ranking House Republican, edged out her Democrat opponent in a “jungle primary” in WA-5 by just one point, even though Trump carried it by 13. Ditto for Jaime Herrera Beutler in WA-3, who got just 40 percent in a district Trump carried by seven points. The four Democrats on the ballot collectively got more than 50 percent of the vote.
Even in districts that Republicans will hold in November, they continue to nominate the most liberal candidate in the primary. In the open KS-2 district, once held by conservative Jim Ryun, Steven Watkins won with just 26 percent of the vote. Who is Watkins? According to three Kansas Democrats, Watkins approached them last year to feel them out about running … as a Democrat.
This is what happens when conservatives are not focused on the right policies, personnel, and candidates. Nobody is steering Trump to the right House candidates the way he’s focused on statewide candidates.
Thus, we are left with all the liabilities of controlling government but none of the benefits. Republicans have no narrative and are electing even more liberal nominees. Many of the good things Trump is doing unilaterally are being countermanded by the courts, thanks to the complacency of Congress. And many positions in the executive branch are still vacant, run by Obama administration officials, or controlled by establishment Republicans.
We can spend the next few months focusing exclusively on fake news, media censorship, and the latest hot takes on everything the media wants to talk about, or we can forge an agenda to counter the Left’s energy and win voters by standing for something.
Whether Trump helps or hurts candidates in the election is a loaded question. Obviously, his presence as the top Republican has energized the Democrat base and has converted some people in the middle to the D side. But there is also a tremendous opportunity to energize our base and win other people in the middle who aren’t sold on transgender/illegal alien/Muslim Brotherhood socialism. Most suburban voters don’t want to embrace MS-13 and Hamas while banning straws. But until we marshal a disciplined, focused, and principled movement to make the right play calls, the voters will be stuck with a false choice between the Left’s agenda vs. the Left’s agenda with slight reservations. They will always pick the more authentic candidate.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.