Partisan political lines deepen as a starkly divided country faces the November midterm election of exceptional passion and importance. The divisions between our two political party “tribes” are so profound that fully 31 percent of the American people believe the country will be in a civil war within the next five years, according to a Rasmussen survey.
Late last year, polling predicted a Democratic “blue wave” election. When asked if the country was headed in the right or wrong direction naysayers had a 40 percent advantage. That number has dwindled to 13 percent. Democrats who enjoyed an 18 percent advantage on a generic ballot for Congress, now have a seven percent lead. President Donald Trump’s approval numbers last year were awful. Those numbers too have changed. Trump is hardly wildly popular but his favorable to unfavorable rating on job performance is now 42 percent to 53 percent.
Trump’s improved standing is a direct result of a strong economy. Economic output in the second quarter is estimated to have expanded at a 4 percent annual rate or more. Americans are flocking to the job market as the already robust economy revs up. The president’s signature legislative accomplishment, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, made our corporate tax code globally competitive and reduced the tax burden on millions of Americans. Together with reducing unnecessary regulations, Trump can claim responsibility for an economic boom.
The good economic news may be undercut by Donald Trump’s global trade war — with China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico, among others. His trade policy is inconsistent with Republican orthodoxy. As Trump’s broad-based tariffs are announced, retaliation has begun and casualties mount among U.S. farmers and manufacturers.
Then there is “Trump being Trump” —mocking fellow Republicans, John McCain, who is dying from brain cancer, and 94-year-old President George H.W. Bush, who just lost his wife. And, among Democrats, the disgust at his manner and his tweets is so intense that a Trump-induced general hysteria exists — labeled “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
But Trump has inspired overwhelming loyalty from the GOP rank and file. Polls show that 88 percent of Republicans are Trump supporters. Prominent Republicans are troubled by the personality-driven following he has attracted, including former two-term Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, considered by Republican conservatives and moderates alike to have been a top-quality potential candidate for president in 2012. He now says: “I feel homeless.”
The 2012 Republican Party presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, a “Never Trumper” in 2016, is the GOP candidate for Senate from Utah in 2018. While generally supportive of the “Trump Agenda”, Romney reserves his right to “call them as I see them,” notably on trade policy.
The extremism of Democrats may yet save Republican congressional majorities. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an ardent advocate for Trump’s impeachment, has called on supporters to confront and harass Trump officials in public. That raises the specter of the politically-inspired shooting last June at a congressional baseball practice that wounded five Republicans.
The upset primary victory of 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over Rep. Joe Crowley, the House Democratic Caucus Chair, is noteworthy. Ocasio-Cortez is a member of Democratic Socialists of America, a group calling for the abolition of capitalism. She also advocates the abolition of the U.S. Immigration Service (ICE).
That call was echoed by Democratic Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, both presidential hopefuls in 2020. This anarchistic vision of open borders will stand in sharp contrast with Trump’s call to “build a wall” with Mexico.
The near-certain outcome in 2018: even fewer “moderates” in Congress and the two political party “tribes” will be in ever-increasing conflict.
Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa, Nevada.