by Juliegrace Brufke and Scott Wong · September 15, 2018
Bob Woodward’s new best-selling book portrays Donald Trump’s White House in a state of chaos. The president is under fire for claiming Democrats inflated the death toll from Hurricane Maria. And Trump’s former campaign chairman is now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller.
Congressional Republicans say ignore all those distractions: The booming economy is the only thing that will matter to voters in November.
The unemployment rate is below 4 percent. The stock market is climbing. Blue collar jobs are growing. And help wanted signs are abundant.
Just this week, the Census Bureau released data showing that median household income climbed to $61,400 last year, back to levels not seen since before the 2008 financial crash.
“At the end of the night, when people look at their paycheck and they look at the discretionary funds that they have today that they didn’t have two years ago, they will say, ‘I may not like the president, but I like the policies,’” said Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus that’s closely allied with Trump.
Polling shows Trump’s approval rating has dipped into the 30s and House Democrats have a double-digit advantage over Republicans among likely voters in the generic ballot. A recent FiveThirtyEight forecast projects Democrats have an almost 83 percent chance of winning back the House in the midterms.
But Yoho and other House GOP lawmakers are putting on a brave face, arguing that the strength of the economy will be enough to stave off a blue wave on Election Day.
“I think we’ll lose some seats, but I think we keep the majority,” Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) told The Hill. “The other side, when you really look at what their message is, it’s not a message.”
“Impeachment is not a message … people are not buying that,” he added.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has described the challenges Republicans face this fall as a tornado rather than a tidal wave, touching down in spots rather than wiping out the party.
He also likened the current political climate to the 1998 midterms, when Republicans failed to pick up seats even though the Clinton administration was mired in scandal. Many Democrats then attributed their surprising midterm victory to the booming economy.
“Everyday we get new, stronger economic numbers from the work that we’ve done here,” said McCarthy, who is running to be the next Speaker if the House stays in GOP hands. “I still believe it’s results versus resistance. So, I just wish we didn’t have as many retirements.”
The strong economy — buoyed by the historic tax cuts enacted by Trump in 2017 — will be the GOP’s central argument for why voters should stick with Republicans in November, said Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). But he and his GOP colleagues also plan to warn the electorate about what Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats would do if they win back the House.
“We’re going to be campaigning not only on the results that we’ve delivered for the American families but what Pelosi wants to do in reversing the tax cuts and abolishing ICE and radical policies that don’t mesh with middle-class families,” Scalise said in a brief interview with The Hill.
The House Republican Conference, which handles party messaging, has been urging its members to tune out the distractions and, with a laser-like focus, talk up the party’s work on tax reform and deregulation. Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) has been equipping members with talking points and statistics tailored to individual districts to help boost their reelection chances, aides said.
One Democratic target this cycle, former Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), was doing his best to tune out the latest Trump controversy this past week, when Trump tweeted that the death toll in Puerto Rico had been grossly inflated after Hurricane Maria.
Asked twice about the president’s allegations, Upton replied that he had not seen the comments because he had been busy marking up a half-dozen bills in his committee and preparing for a floor speech.
“I’ve been in a markup. I have not followed them at all,” Upton told The Hill. “I don’t know what he said or what the context was.”
Despite the strong economy, some Republican operatives fear it won’t be enough to save the GOP this fall. With the party facing historic headwinds and a fired-up Democratic base, some strategists are concerned the growing deficit and parts of the tax cuts could prove problematic in certain swing districts.
GOP strategist Liz Mair suggested that many Republican voters won’t turn out in November to say “thank you” to Trump.
“They have to have something that is an offer as a future prospect for them to justify voting for people,” she said.
It’s unlikely that endangered Republicans in districts hit by changes to the state and local tax (SALT) deduction will be touting the 2017 tax law as a success, Mair said.
“Tax reform obviously hasn’t been uniformly great for everybody,” she said. “If you’re in California, Illinois, New York or New Jersey, there’s a very high probability that you don’t want to say ‘thank you’ anyway,” said Mair, a former spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “You probably want to say ‘F-you very much’ — so that’s a problem.”
Rep. Gus Bilirakus (R-Fla.), who is facing a formidable challenge from former prosecutor and FBI agent Chris Hunter this fall, said there are decent odds that Democrats take back control of the House.
“Well, we’ve got to work hard, and it’s going to be tough,” Bilirakus conceded. “It’s probably 50-50 right now.”
“Historically in the first term of a president, the majority party loses seats,” he said, “so we’ve just got to work hard and show the American people what we’ve done.”
The Hill · by Juliegrace Brufke and Scott Wong · September 15, 2018