It’s a well-established fact that midterm elections are heavily influenced by the natural tendency of voters to undercut the strength of the party controlling the White House. Some of that phenomenon flows simply from the likelihood that opposition-party voters will be “energized” to give their team a comeback. But the size of the almost-universal midterm gains made by “out” parties is highly correlated to the job-approval ratings of the president at any given moment. And with President Trump’s ratings apparently stuck in the low 40s for the foreseeable future (they haven’t hit 45 percent in the RealClearPolitics averages since March), Republicans have to be worried: Since World War II the average midterm House losses for parties led by a president with approval ratings under 50 percent has been 36 seats. Democrats need a net gain of only 23 seats to regain control of the House.
In this kind of circumstance, it’s common for the White House party threatened with losses to try to insulate its candidates — especially in tough districts — from presidential fallout, making the election less of a referendum on POTUS. That is hard to do when the president in question is a figure like Donald Trump, who dominates public discourse to a remarkable extent. And it’s even harder when the president is a narcissist who really does want everything to revolve around his imperial self.
As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted, we got a taste of Trump’s craving for a referendum at his rally last night in Mississippi:
“Republicans have to go out and vote. And they say if I was on the ticket, everybody would go. It would be a landslide. Even the fakers back there, they say that,” Trump said, referring to the news media.
“And I’m not on the ticket, but I am on the ticket because this is also a referendum about me and the disgusting gridlock that they’ll put this country through.”
Yes, Trump is clearly trying to energize his own base with such comments (including the ludicrous assertion that the man who won 46 percent of the popular vote in 2016 would win by “a landslide” if everyone voted this year). But it’s also obviously a reflection of his narcissism, which he perpetually demonstrates by loudly going his own way in speeches and tweets and policy pronouncements when his party needs him to stay in harness with them or just shut up.
As Bump notes, Trump’s willingness to endanger his own party shortly before a perilous election was illustrated in the same speech when he chose to deliver a mocking rendition of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The decision to disparage Ford was questionable for a number of reasons, but most obviously for political ones….
One of the reasons that Republicans are in such a precarious position is that women broadly prefer Democratic candidates over Republican ones. Women are also more likely to view Trump with disapproval — and women are much more likely to believe Ford’s testimony than that of Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee. In other words, Trump not only decided to dismiss Ford’s claims, he decided to pour salt on the very issue that has spurred the most antipathy to him and his party from a critical voting bloc in recent weeks.
Perhaps Trump really means his occasional comments expressing disdain for both parties, and is consciously or unconsciously making sure the Republicans have no illusions that they can win votes he doesn’t personally win for them. If so, he may soon discover what it’s like to have a Congress controlled by people whose disrespect for him isn’t muted and denied the way it is today, but is as loud and proud as Trump himself.