The Republicans now think they’re in good shape going into the 2018 election.
This is quite a change from the beginning of the year when party operatives were in a state of what could be described as near-ubiquitous panic. The Democrats were beating the GOP on the generic ballot test, badly, and President Donald Trump’s failure to achieve anything close to a positive approval rating had people afraid the Republicans would lose not just control of the U.S. House of Representatives but the entire Congress, more than a few governorships and many of their hard-won majorities in state legislative chambers.
What’s changed? Trump’s numbers are up. Congressional Republicans pulled ahead, at least for a while on the generic ballot question and in doing so closed a double-digit gap, and the economy has turned around, largely because of the tax cuts and reform and the president’s deregulatory policies. Since January 2017 the economy has added 2.3 million new jobs and unemployment – now at 4.1 percent – is at a 17-year low.
Thanks to an aggressive campaign to “sell” the new tax law to the American people, it is gaining in popularity. A recent New York Times poll found 51 percent of Americans now approve of the tax law – an increase of 14-percentage points since December.
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Looking out across the country, the average unemployment rate has decreased in 32 states, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, with 186,000 manufacturing jobs added over the past 12 months.
Business confidence is also up. According to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s largest small business group, 32 percent of NFIB members believe now is a good time to expand – the highest level in the survey’s history.
The recovery, long overdue, has finally arrived. So far, 417 companies and counting have announced new investments, pay raises, bonuses and/or other benefits. More than 4.4 million workers have been positively affected. In total, companies have committed $482 billion in U.S. investments, according to the White House. The Democrats, meanwhile, are left complaining the amount of money the tax cuts have put into people’s pockets amounts to “crumbs” and should not be taken seriously.
Why then should the GOP be worried about the future? Well, to begin with, the Democrats have managed to flip state legislative seats in special elections in just about every region of the country. On Tuesday they picked up seats in the New Hampshire House (which Trump carried easily in 2016) and in the Connecticut House which, while marginal by the numbers, had been held by the GOP for more than 40 years. That’s on top of seats they took away from the Republicans in Wisconsin, in Kentucky, in Oklahoma, almost 40 in all.
With results like that it’s no wonder many Democrats think, despite the national party organization being just about broke, that a big blue wave is coming. Part of that is due, oddly enough, to the Republicans’ success in keeping many of the promises they made – particularly where the economy is concerned. Now that it’s up off its back people are starting to worry about so-called lifestyle issues rather than those that have been most important over the last decade like jobs, jobs and jobs.
Polling being conducted for potential statewide candidates running on the Republican line show education and the cost of health care to be the primary concerns of many Americans rather than jobs and the economy which, up to now, have been Trump’s bread and butter. Now that they can take care of themselves once again – or at least believe they can – voters want their elected officials to pay attention to issues that will improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.
These are ominous signs. It doesn’t help that the president continues to use his Twitter account to blow up any semblance of civil discourse that remains in the American system. Sure, he has his enemies, but the people expect our presidents to rise above all that and act “presidential.” Instead Trump continues to hit back harder than he’s been hit which may put him on top temporarily – he still has what is probably the biggest base of any politician currently in the arena – but it leaves him vulnerable. People forget how certain kinds of Republicans began to abandon George W. Bush and the party when things began to go south in Iraq. These are the same people who have never been comfortable with Trump either as nominee or president and they could – and maybe already are – making a difference in electoral outcomes by failing to show up.
GOP policies are working. Whether the Republicans will continue to make policy is up to the voters, and they’re signaling they may be looking for a change, even though the number of state legislative seats that have flipped are a mere fraction of the total. The party ignores these results at its own peril.