As with everything else in the Trump era, the midterm elections are about Donald Trump.
It was inevitable. It was inescapable. And the president has decided to own it.
Like Hurricane Michael hitting Florida with Category 4 intensity, Trump is the gale-force wind who will propel his party to either victory or defeat.
As you probably know, the president’s party almost always loses seats in the first off-year election. That’s why the occupant of the White House usually tries to avoid nationalizing the midterms.
By trying to avoid a national referendum, even as they hit the trail, these presidents gave their congressional candidates the space to run local races that are tailored to their states and districts. They even got room to disagree with the party’s leader.
And that insulated the leaders, to some degree, from a disastrous outcome.
So when George W. Bush said in 2006 that his party had been given a “thumpin’,” and when Barack Obama said in 2010 that his party had gotten a “shellacking,” they could at least argue that it was not all their fault.
Trump will have no such luxury. If the Republicans hang onto the House, he can claim most of the credit. And if the Democrats take the House, Trump will get virtually all the blame.
But you know what? He’d get the credit or blame anyway, even if he went on vacation for a month, even if Melania took his phone away. Local issues matter, but this is going to be an up-or-down vote on Trump and Trumpism, period.
That’s because Trump dominates the public life of this country like no other modern commander-in-chief. He dominates politics, the media, Twitter, entertainment and the cultural debate. He is the driving force in the most hyperpolarized climate in a generation.
So if Trump is destined to be the hero or the goat in November, he figured he might as well own it.
Politico says that Trump “is making the midterms a referendum on the one thing he appears most comfortable talking about: himself.”
The president is “asking supporters to suspend their disbelief and imagine that his head is on the chopping block.” I really could do without that metaphor.
Trump told a Mississippi rally that “I’m not on the ballot. But in a certain way, I’m on the ballot. So, please go out and vote.”
The story adds that “Trump often personalizes events and tends to approach issues through the lens of his own experiences.”
And if the Democrats are going to run against the president as an authoritarian, racially insensitive divider, he is the one with the megaphone to demonize them as well.
In a USA Today op-ed filled with factually challenged statements about the Dems’ health care plan, Trump made this argument:
“The truth is that the centrist Democratic Party is dead. The new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela.
If Democrats win control of Congress this November, we will come dangerously closer to socialism in America.”
Radical socialists may not be coming to get you, but the president is right that Democratic centrists have all but vanished. So have Republican centrists. It’s all base politics now as each party has abandoned the mushy center.
This was the reason that Trump didn’t make a unity appeal after getting Brett Kavanaugh on the high court, and instead dismissed the allegations against him as a “fabrication” spawned by a Democratic “hoax.”
Steve Bannon has been saying for months that 2018 is Trump’s first reelection campaign, a do-over of sorts for the Democrats. That’s why the president is acting as if it is.