House Republicans are headed for a bloodbath in our nation’s suburbs in 2018.
In the 2017 Virginia governor’s race, Ed Gillespie got more votes than the last victorious Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, did in 2009, yet he still lost by nine points. Gillespie hit every single vote goal that he had, but was doomed because Democrats in the Northern Virginia suburbs turned out at a level typically only seen in presidential years.
It’s not just Northern Virginia where we see this dynamic at work. Whether you’re looking at places like Cleveland, Las Vegas, Miami, Detroit, or Philadelphia, despite a growing economy, Donald Trump is deeply unpopular among millennials, minorities, and college-educated women. As a result, dozens of suburban Republican members of Congress are in big trouble in 2018.
Most frighteningly for the GOP, special elections this cycle have shown that Democrats absolutely cannot wait to turn out to vote in 2018 and stick it to Trump. While Republicans historically have a turnout advantage in midterm elections, that advantage has always been muted in the modern era when a Republican was in the White House. The party with the more motivated base almost always wins.
Here is the bottom line: Treating this campaign like a conventional midterm is simply not going to get it done this year for Republicans. Not with the Democratic base this angry. The GOP has to change the math or face a bloodbath in the ‘burbs.
The Democratic Base Is Out for Blood
Republicans have one big card to play: Trump needs to start tweeting the following words: “If Republicans lose the House, Democrats will impeach Trump.” (It’s okay, Trump loves the third person.) Republicans everywhere should follow his lead and echo this message every time they leave home.
Just wait until primary season starts, when Tom Steyer is funding left-wing candidates in House primaries across the country who are saying, “Vote for me and I’ll fight to impeach Trump.” This will create incredible pressure on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to bless the movement.
Democrat leadership will of course try to avoid this for as long as they can, but they know that’s dangerous for them. The liberal base wants their pound of flesh and they are not going to rest until they get it.
Explaining the very real threat of impeachment might be the only thing Trump and congressional Republicans can say to make their base understand the stakes in this election. This has happened before. (Note: the purpose of this piece is not to debate what you think of Trump. Just doing political analysis here.)
What Happened in 1998
Look at the 1998 midterms. President Bill Clinton spent the better part of the year mired in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Republicans were riding high, certain voters would punish Clinton for his bad behavior. But on Election Day, Republicans actually lost five seats to the Democrats.
How did this happen? The Democratic base was outraged by what they saw as shameful treatment of their president by the opposition party and the media. Come election day, an angry Democratic Party showed up, big league, and voted. There’s a lesson for Republicans here in 2018. Call it the Clinton Corollary: “If a party base sees that their president’s political future on the line, that party will turn out to support their president.”
A few years ago, Republicans used the rallying cry of “FIRE PELOSI” in districts across the country. They’d be wise to do the same thing now with “STOP IMPEACHMENT.” If I’m House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and I’m staring at these Democrat turnout numbers, I’m swallowing hard and wondering how to change the game. This might be the only way to do it.
Republicans have a Trump card in 2018. They should play it.