Republicans are bracing for a Blue Wave expected to hit the House of Representatives elections in 2018, and with good reason. Researchers at the University of Virginia have determined that in the last 150 years the incumbent president’s party has lost House seats in 36 of the 39 midterm elections. The average number of lost seats was 33. There are 435 Representative seats in the House, so a party has to control 218 seats to claim a majority. Presently there 238 Republicans and 193 Democrats in the House with 4 vacancies (3 of those 4 were formally held by Republicans). To claim control of the leadership in the House in the 2018 elections, Democrats have to maintain their current seats and win 24 seats formally held by Republicans.
In addition, when the sitting president was unpopular, the historical trend was even more pronounced. Examples include when George W. Bush in 2006 and Barrack Obama in 2010 when their parties lost control of the House after sustaining large loses. So based on historical context, a Democratic takeover of the House appears to be doable. In addition, the Real Clear Politics average of the recent poles has Democrats beating Republicans by 7 percentage points (46%-39%) in a generic House election.
However, the polls of individual House races show a close battle. According to CNN calculations, currently 201 Republican seats are safe or likely safe in 2018 while on the Democratic side that number is only 185. The battle will be for the remaining 49 seats. To take control of the House with 218 seats, Democrats need to win 33 (218 – 185) of those 49 seats in contention. That is far from being a given – Republicans have been gerrymandering the House districts for years. According to CNN, of the 49 seats up for grabs, 9 lean Democratic and 21 lean Republican, and 19 are tossups. If the Democrats win the 9 seats currently leaning their way and all of the 19 toss up seats they will claim only 213 seats (9 + 19 + 185 relatively safe Democratic seats), still 5 seats short of the 218 seats needed to control the house. That means that Democrats will have to win all races leaning their way, plus all of tossup races (not an easy task), plus win least 5 of the elections that are currently leaning Republican to take control of the House. By any measure that is an uphill climb.
However, the 2018 elections are almost eleven months away. That’s a long time in the political arena because so many things could happen during that time frame. For instance, heaven knows what insane actions Trump might take if his feelings that the Muller investigation is closing in on him intensify. In addition, it looks likely that Muller’s team will complete their investigation into possible collusion and obstruction of justice sometimes this year. Flynn and Papadopoulos would not have been allowed to plead to only single charges of lying to the FBI if they didn’t have the goods on someone higher in the food chain. Before it’s over, others with behind the scene knowledge, including Rick Gates, may join the list of those who have agreed to a plea deal.
What gives me hope in the 2018 House elections
is the manner in which House Republicans, led by Devin Nunes, are tying their political careers to the deck of the sinking ship that is Donald Trump. It is obvious why many Republicans in the House of Representatives are still turning themselves into pretzels in their effort to defend Trump. They are deathly afraid of his support among the Republican base. While Trump’s overall job approval numbers still hovers around 40%, in the latest Gallop poll shows his job approval rating among Republicans at 87%. Many House Republicans running for reelection don’t want to be accused of not vigorously defending Trump by their opponents in their Republican primaries.
Now what might be a good 2018 strategy for Republican incumbents in ruby red Congressional Districts where Democratic candidates have almost no chance of winning, may lead to disaster in Congressional districts with close elections. The strategy that allows Republicans incumbents to win their primaries will work against them in the general elections. Independent voters are often the deciding factor in close elections and that same Gallop pole (mentioned above) shows Trump’s job approval rating among independents is only 33%. In addition, another very recent Gallop pole shows that the number of voters who identify as independents makes up 43% of the US electorate, far greater than the 30% who identify as Democrats and the 26% who identify as Republicans.
Nunes and the other twelve Republican members for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence went all in defending Trump when they voted to release the highly controversial memo written by Nunes’ staff despite grave warnings by the FBI and Trump’s own Justice Department that the memo contains omissions which make it factually inaccurate. Any misconceptions that this wasn’t a blatantly partisan attempt to discredit the Muller investigation were dispelled when Republicans on the Intelligence Committee rejected via a party line vote an attempt by committee Democrats to release their counter memo at the same time. A number of other House Republicans with no knowledge for the under lying documents on which the Nunes memo was supposedly based also went all in, blindly defending the release of the Republican memo on the cable news channels. Meanwhile there were reports that Trump has been telling his friends and allies behind the scenes that the released memo was intended to discredit the Russian investigation.
However, if the Nunes memo was intended to be hand grenade thrown at the feet of the Muller investigation, the explosion more resembled that of a small firecracker. I suspect that the viewers of Fox News received ample doses of the message that Trump and his Republican enablers wanted to spread. However, as I watched several lengthy segments of CNN the day after the memo was released I found that on that network it was met with skepticism which sometimes crossed the line into downright derision. On CNN, and I suspect MSNBC as well, the Nunes memo was revealed for what it really is, a blatantly political attempt to impugn the (Republican) leadership of the FBI and the Justice Department, and by default to derail the Muller investigation. The memo’s errors and omissions were examined in excruciating detail by CNN analysists and contributors. Democratic House members criticizing the misleading nature of the Republican memo and its hasty release were given free reign to state their cases while Republican representatives were grilled on every element of their defense of the document.
What was clear was that Nunes and his House cohorts have cast their lot with that of the President. If Trump goes down, as it now seems likely, he will take them with him. Their attempt to discredit the Muller investigation is not working; in fact, even without the publication of the Democratic memo, it seems to have backfired. It is very reasonable to believe that if Trump or any of this team are charged with collusion or obstruction of justice, the voting public will understand that House Republicans were attempting to protect the guilty. Now I suspect that Republican House incumbents who expect to encounter close races in their general elections may may be trying to keep a low profile for the time being. However, they cannot avoid being tarnished by the actions of their Republican House colleagues.
Even House Republicans in districts previously controlled by the Republicans may pay the price for their undying allegiance to Trump. One good example is Devin Nunes himself. Nunes has been elected to the US House of Representatives three times in what has been has been a reliably Republican district in Northern California which includes Sacramento. Each time he has vanquished his Democratic opponents by wide margins; in 2016 he received 68% of the vote, in 2014 72%, and in 2012 62%. Of the 16 California Republican House incumbents, the Los Angeles Times rates his House seat among the safest.
Yet Nunes’ unrelenting attempts to discredit the Muller investigation have begun to take their toll on his credibility – the Sacramento Bee, the most prominent newspaper in his district, called him “Trump’s stooge”. A recently released Public Policy Polling survey shows Nunes with only 50% to 45% lead over a generic Democratic opponent. His most likely Democratic opponent, Fresno County Deputy District Attorney Andrew Janz, displayed his intention to try to fully exploit this weakness when he took out a billboard showing Nunes on a child’s leash controlled by Trump who in turn is on another leash controlled by Vladimir Putin.
While the Blue Wave of 2018 is not guaranteed to magically give Democrats control of the House of Representatives, they possess not so secret weapons which may well catapult them over the top. Those weapons are House Republicans and their blind devotion to Donald Trump.