Democrats Are Betting This Will Help Them Retake The House. Will It Work?

Matt Vespa
|
Posted: Oct 16, 2017 8:30 PM
Democrats Are Betting This Will Help Them Retake The House. Will It Work?

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) shared the podium in the Rose Garden this afternoon, where the two men tried to downplay the reported souring relationship between the White House and Senate Republicans (via ABC News):

Trump claimed that his relationship with McConnell is "outstanding," a refutation of reports ranging back to the summer that documented growing frustrations between the two powerful Republicans.

After first discussing his administration's current efforts at a tax overhaul, Trump suddenly pivoted to describe his rapport with McConnell.

"My relationship with this gentleman is outstanding [and] has been outstanding." Trump said.

McConnell later echoed Trump's sentiment and directly pushed back on the rumors of discord.

"I think what the president and I would both like to say to you today, contrary to what some of you may have reported, we are together totally on this agenda to move America forward," he said.  

I’m not sure how long this love fest will last, especially since it’s proven to be advantageous to Trump—politically—to bash his own party. Whatever the legislative trip ups may be; Democrats should read through the polls more carefully because lack of success on the legislative front and campaigning on that in the midterms and possibly 2020 might not have a resounding impact. For starters, his base, views the president as a man against the world. Falling short on health care and tax reform is not good, but his base sees Democrats, the media, anti-Trump Republicans, and other Washington players stifling his agenda. Oh, and the plain reason that the vast majority of his base will probably never leave him. For now, the polls show that more American voters blame Congress than Trump for the slow pace of Washington (via WaPo):

Scapegoating the Senate GOP is proving to be an effective political strategy for President Trump. Activists and donors on the right are primed to blame congressional Republicans, not him, if there is no sweeping rewrite of the nation’s tax laws — just as they did after the failure to repeal Obamacare.

-- A CBS News Nation Tracker survey published Sunday showed that majorities want more cooperation between Congress and Trump, especially the president's strongest backers and most Republicans. The most fascinating nugget from the poll: 39 percent of Republicans feel that their party’s congressional representatives “don’t like” the president and are actively trying to undermine him, while another 37 percent think congressional Republicans don’t like Trump “but pretend to” to try passing their own agenda.

-- Several polls have shown that Americans lay more blame on Congress than the president for inaction in Washington. Quinnipiac University asked in an August survey who is most to blame for the gridlock on health care: 46 percent said congressional Republicans, 29 percent said congressional Democrats and only 15 percent said Trump. Among self-identified Republicans, just 4 percent said Trump deserves blame for the failure to repeal Obamacare, while 27 percent blamed the congressional GOP and 57 pointed the finger at Democrats. A separate Kaiser Family Foundation poll in August found that 35 percent of the country thought it was a “bad thing” that the Senate failed to pass the bill. Among that group, 29 percent said Republicans in Congress deserved most of the blame while 15 percent said Trump did. (37 percent said Democrats.)

Over at National Journal, Josh Kraushaar wrote Democrats, who have been searching for an attack that could undermine Trump’s political power, are copying his attacks on the GOP. So far, Trump has been the Teflon Don. No attack has worked against him—nothing. So, what they’re doing now is solely focusing on the Republican Party. Forget Trump; get the GOP senator or congressman or woman.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee aired a scathing ad in 11 districts this month, slamming Ryan and establishment Republicans for supporting health care legislation that “cater[s] to drug companies and special interests.” The party’s official House super PAC complemented the effort with a digital campaign featuring a “Fancy Paul Ryan” website, tagging him as a “D.C. politician who puts the ultrarich first.” It attacks Ryan for supporting tax cuts for the wealthy, while passing along higher health care costs for seniors. Trump isn’t mentioned at all as part of the advertising blitz.

The strategy is predicated on three factors, according to Democratic strategists familiar with the emerging game plan.

First, many voters view Trump more like an independent president and less like a traditional Republican. So even if many voters disapprove of his conduct in office, they don’t necessarily take out their anger at their Republican representative… Second, the strategy painting Ryan as part of the hated establishment is a subtle way to send the message that Democrats agree with part of Trump’s overarching message in office—that Washington is a swamp and that Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are ineffective at their jobs. The argument helps ensure Trump loyalists stay home in the midterm elections, while traditional rank-and-file Republican voters remain disillusioned by the lack of legislative accomplishments by the unified GOP government… Third, it allows Democrats to press their advantage on their most politically potent issue: health care. Party leaders recognize that fighting the cultural issues that animate their base—from immigration to race relations to law enforcement—are huge turnoffs to the very voters they need to win back in 2018.

Kraushaar added that Trump might not be the poison that’s killing the GOP. At the same time, it’s not a magic bullet that Ryan and the GOP leadership will be the impetus for a blue wave. But Kraushaar does point that it’s a sign that Ryan is viewed as a GOP elite.

We’ll see. We also have to look at the flip side because Nancy Pelosi is considered to be more toxic than Trump in some parts of the country—and that’s coming from members of her own party. Pelosi could have very well been a contributing factor to killing Jon Ossoff’s chances in Georgia’s special sixth congressional election. It was the most expensive House race in U.S. history, but Republican Karen Handel was able to clinch victory. After the defeat, Democrats were starting to view Pelosi and company as radioactive, with some admitting that their brand of politics was more unpopular than Trump. Recently, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) called on Pelosi to make her exit to allow new leaders to take the reins. So, while Ryan could be a source of attack, the extent of its effectiveness remains to be seen. It’s still very early, and the Democrats still have some catfights from their own members that need to be settled first.