Monday, October 22, 2018


How should we interpret the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that was released over the weekend? It seems clear that President Trump is doing a bad job of helping Republicans in 2018, but he's doing a much better job of helping himself, presumably with an eye toward 2020.

His numbers are improving:
Trump’s job rating among registered voters stands at 47 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove — up from 44 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove a month ago.

That’s his highest rating as president in the NBC/WSJ poll.
But they're not improving among likely voters:
Among likely voters, however, Trump’s rating dips to 45 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove.
Likely voters support Democrats:
In the poll, 50 percent of likely voters prefer Democrat to control Congress after the November elections, versus 41 percent who want Republicans to stay in charge — up 1 point from Democrats’ lead in the September NBC/WSJ survey.
So Trump isn't making Republicans more likely to vote this year. In fact, he's making his opponents more likely to vote. But he's demonstrating that his numbers go up when he campaigns. That suggests that he's not much of a surrogate for fellow Republicans, but he'll be capable of rallying his own voters -- including the ones whose support for him has wavered in the past two years -- by going on the road in 2020.

In other words, we shouldn't assume that a strong showing by Democrats this year means Trump is toast in 2020. He'll still be hard to beat (although greater congressional scrutiny by a Democratic House might change that, as might a cooling economy). We can't let up. Nearly half the country is susceptible to his, um, charms, and they might vote in much larger numbers two years from now even if many of them stay home this year.

On CNN yesterday, Carl Bernstein said that Trump is planning to contest the results if Democrats narrowly win the House:
"I talked to people ... in touch with the White House on Friday who believe that, if the congressional midterms are very close and the Democrats were to win by five or seven seats, that Trump is already talking about how to throw legal challenges into the courts, sow confusion, declare a victory actually, and say that the election's been illegitimate," Bernstein said....
That's one report. I think what Politico is reporting today is more plausible:
According to two people familiar with the conversations, Trump is distancing himself from a potential Republican thumping on Election Day. He’s telling confidantes that he doesn’t see the midterms as a referendum on himself, describing his 2020 reelection bid as “the real election.” And he says that he holds House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responsible for protecting their congressional majorities.

According to one person with knowledge of these talks, Trump has said of Ryan and McConnell: “These are their elections ... and if they screw it up, it’s not my fault.” ...

“Look for the White House to say something like, ‘Paul Ryan chose to be a lame duck speaker instead of leaving, which cost Congress the chance to do several things before November,’” said an aide to one GOP member who speaks with the president often.
Remember that a couple of weeks ago the president and vice president were claiming that China is interfering with the midterms. That hasn't become a prominent part of Trump's daily message. Every day we hear about the "Democrat mob" and the immigrant caravan and Brett Kavanaugh. We're not regularly hearing about China as an election meddler. So while Trump might try to delegitimize any Democratic victories in November, he's not laying the groundwork for a delegitimization campaign now. So he might largely accept the results and focus on shifting the blame.

Trump is campaigning for Trump. He's doing a dry run for 2020. And while now is not the time to worry about this, we should remember for the future that he's still very capable of rallying his supporters, including the casual ones. The midterms have been a hard fight for Democrats, but 2020 could be even harder.

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