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I thought I was so smart back in 2016 when I wrote that Democrats, who were confident they would defeat Donald Trump, should be pulling for him to win.
A Trump win, I explained, could be a good thing, not for the country perhaps, but for the future of the Democratic Party.
Barack Obama’s win in 2008 elated Democrats, but it hurt them in elections later on. So, I opined, a 2016 Trump victory would hurt Republicans in future elections.
Obama’s 2008 victory seemed to be the prelude to a long period of Democratic dominance and control of the House and Senate. But it did not last long, because Obama’s victory provoked a powerful Tea Party-like response from an angry segment of the public who marched to the polls in 2010 and reversed Democratic gains and retook control of Congress.
Therefore, I wrote, “if Trump were to win and become president, he would provoke anti-Trump and anti-Republican voters in the 2018 and 2020 elections, which would be monumental, surpassing even the anti-Obama reaction in 2010.”
I backed up my prediction with some history that showed how the party of the incumbent president fares badly in midterm elections.
In the 1994 elections, two years after Bill Clinton won the presidency, Democrats lost 54 seats and control of the House. They lost nine seats and control of the U.S. Senate.
In 2006, two years after George W. Bush won re-election, Republicans lost 32 seats and control of the U.S. House. They lost six seats and control of the U.S. Senate. In 2010, two years after Barack Obama won the presidency, Democrats lost 64 seats and control of the House. They lost five seats in the Senate and kept control only by a two-vote margin.
In 2014, two years after Barack Obama won re-election, Democrats lost 13 House seats. They also lost nine seats and control of the U.S. Senate. I argued that a Trump win in 2016 would assure Democratic victories in 2018 and beyond.
On the other hand, had Hillary Clinton won in 2016, her party would be experiencing legislative losses in this year’s midterm elections. In 2020, running for re-election, Clinton would be facing angry voters rising up again against the establishment and demanding change. Republican enthusiasm and the anger of Clinton-haters would then make the Republican nominee the overwhelming favorite to beat her bid for re-election. Republicans would also have a good chance to sweep state legislative races as they did in 2010, opening the door for more gerrymandered redistricting that would ensure their control of the U.S. House and state legislatures for years to come. All this still sounds reasonable. What did I miss?
First, although a blue wave of anger could still drive Democrats to the polls this fall, there is a matching red wave of ardent Trump voters. What accounts for their enthusiasm? According to Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, a former aide to Senator Jesse Helms, even lukewarm Trump supporters, “energized by the left’s nonstop, over-the-top attacks on Trump are not peeling those voters away from him; they are pushing them further into the president’s camp.”
You do not have to agree with Thiessen to see that Trump’s core support is still solid and motivated.
Secondly, Democrats are still struggling to find messages that will excite their base without turning off more moderate Democrats. If the angry factions of the party drive away the moderates, they will find that they cannot make a winning blue wave this fall by themselves.
Maybe Democrats can still make progress in the upcoming elections, but I was certainly wrong to imply that it would happen automatically.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Thursdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m. on UNC-TV.