The politics of Trumpcare: Five reasons why an ’18 Democratic wave may not happen

     A protestor holds up a sign during a rally across the street from the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, where President Donald Trump arrived for the 75th Anniversary Battle of the Coral Sea Commemorative Dinner on the USS intrepid, Thursday, May 4, 2017, in New York. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

    A protestor holds up a sign during a rally across the street from the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, where President Donald Trump arrived for the 75th Anniversary Battle of the Coral Sea Commemorative Dinner on the USS intrepid, Thursday, May 4, 2017, in New York. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

    According to the new conventional wisdom, Democrats will surf a tsunami of public anger over Trumpcare and capture the House of Representatives in 2018. They signaled their delight yesterday by serenading Republican lawmakers with “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye,” which may indeed prove to be prophetic.

    But wait. Maybe it won’t.

    Granted, a House Democratic takeover would appear to be a slam dunk. Paul Ryan’s Republicans, being who they are, passed a kill-Obamacare bill that (among its many horrors) screws a projected 24 million people out of their health insurance, guts the provisions that protect people with pre-existing health woes, and slashes taxes for the wealthy. Then they broke out the Bud Lite.

    And, granted, the math suggests that the landscape has shifted toward the Democrats. They need a net gain of 25 seats to take the House next year; 14 Trumpcare Republicans represent districts that favored Hillary Clinton in ’16, and 10 Trumpcare Republicans represent districts that favored Trump but with less than a majority of the vote. Also, the 10 states with the highest percentages of adults with pre-existing health conditions are red Trump states.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Also, the polls have been showing record-high support for Obamacare and hideously low support for Trumpcare. Also, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office will soon release its analysis of the approved House GOP plan (Republicans passed it without waiting for the CBO’s assessment of how many Americans it will hurt and what it will cost), and the new CBO report will likely have stats that Democrats can highlight in their inevitable attack ads.

    Also, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which handicaps congressional races, has today identified 20 House Republicans whose re-election prospects now seem dicier, thanks to their Trumpcare votes. According to the Cook report, “House Republicans’ willingness to spend political capital on a proposal that garnered the support of just 17 percent of the public in a March Quinnipiac poll is consistent with past scenarios that have generated a midterm wave.”

    I get all that. And for sure, a House Democratic takeover would be great for America, because that’s the only way to ensure that Trump will be fully investigated and perhaps impeached — hopefully before he does major damage. As conservative columnist George Will warned this week, “it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.”

    So yeah, based on what happened yesterday, Democrats seem teed up for a House takeover. But I’m still not convinced — for these interrelated reasons:

    1. Thanks to the plethora of gerrymandered red districts — the GOP-favored boundaries were drawn by Republican state lawmakers; Republicans dominate state legislatures because Democrats are so weak at the grassroots level — there will be relatively few seats in play next year. (Perhaps 50 out of 238 Republican seats.) So the Democratic margin for error is still relatively small.

    2. The midterm electorate typically favors Republicans because midterm voters are older, whiter, and more ideologically conservative than the norm. The Democratic base — with the exception of the anti-Iraq wave of 2006 — inexplicably stays home in droves. Maybe the ’18 midterm will be different, but let’s remember that even in the ’16 presidential election, when the national GOP ticket was headed by a dangerous dolt who vowed on a daily basis to destroy Obamacare, the Democratic base still didn’t vote in sufficient numbers to prevent a Republican sweep of Congress.

    3. The midterm elections are 18 months away; in our hyperpolitical climate, that’s like a millenium. Everyone to the left of Paul Ryan is infuriated right now about the House passage of Trumpcare, but we can’t possibly know what will command Americans’ attention in November ’18. Trump could start a war. Terrorists could strike American soil. Putin could move on Estonia. Not to mention the manufactured distractions that this White House is capable of concocting, for the purpose of driving Trump’s acolytes to the voting booth.

    4. Obamacare killed off a lot of Democrats in the ’10 midterms because it was law. Trumpcare may never get that far. It’s a bill that will be radically altered by the Senate (which doesn’t like the Medicaid cuts or many of its other right-wing draconian features). The Senate will rewrite it, send it back to the House, Republicans will fight over it again…and who knows, it could die before it ever gets to Trump. In November ’18, what are the odds of an anti-Republican wave if Trumpcare turns out to be just a ’17 bill that wound up hurting nobody? Or even a watered-down law with relatively minimal impact?

    5. This is a personal observation. After what happened in the ’16 election, I am wary of all conventional wisdom. Buoyed by what I saw in the polls last autumn, and the numbers I crunched, and my own soundings, I frankly believed that Americans would never be so foolish as to elect a reality-show buffoon with demagogic authoritarian aspirations. I foresaw a just election result. Having learned that lesson, I refuse to foresee divine punishment for the GOP’s Trumpcare vote.

    Although I would love to be wrong. Again.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal