Where We Stand: America in 2018
Obviously, America is rather divided. At any one moment, between 30% and 40% of each side will support their own side and oppose the other side reflexively – regardless of the issue or the truth.
Just over a year into the Trump Presidency, we find:
1. He has completed 64% of his agenda (according to Heritage) with the help of the Republican House and Senate majorities, which includes:
a) Tax reform and deregulation that has the economy on its strongest footing in decades (minus the national debt);
b) Trump has appointed many judges that believe it is their job to apply the law not create the law; and
c) Trump has moved away from Obama’s apologetic foreign policy to a more assertive policy, which has claimed such victories as the diminishment of ISIS.
2, The basic dynamics that divided the Country when Trump took office have not changed significantly – yet:
a) philosophically, between the Left and Right and the role of government, we are as divided as ever – HOWEVER, added to that is . . .
b) the competition remains as it was (i) to get $6 trillion in federal, state and local spending/spoils, (ii) to be the party that dispenses those spoils, and (iii) to avoid being taxed to pay for them. The number of those reliant on government checks, whether it is a defense contractor or individuals receiving welfare, remains at historic highs although the number will be reduced as the private economy continues to expand.
c) our media is growing in partisanship with the added influence of tech giants of FB, Google and other teach media imposing their views. Given the pervasiveness of the media, we are reaching the same level of division in the media that existed and fostered the divisions of the North and South in the 1850s – with people getting their news only from one side of the spectrum.
3. Major issues such as guns and immigration continue divide us. They have played that role for decades to varying degrees.
4. It is, of course, an election year.
a) Midterm election losses? Only once since Eisenhower was elected in 1952 has the Party of the President not lost seats in the House of Representatives in the first midterm election. That was Bush 43 in the wake of 9/11 (resulting in national unity) and a rebounding economy. There were two very large losses in The Divided Era by the Party of the President. In 1994, Democrats lost 54 seats under Bill Clinton (after he raised taxes) and in 2010, the Democrats lost 63 seats under Barack Obama.
b) Legislation? There still are big issues out there like DACA/Immigration, healthcare and the issues raised by the Parkland High School shooting. Elections years, however, rarely result in major legislation. The parties generally prefer setting up issues for election purposes and promise future action.
So what lies ahead this year?
1. Trump’s approval rating in the non-media poll of Rasmussen Reports is significantly higher than Obama’s was at the same time. The economy, all other things being equal, should keep Trump’s approval in the range it is now. If he decides to go on a charm offensive, he could perhaps improve it a little more. But our level of division places a ceiling on any one President’s ability to go much higher – absent a national tragedy.
If Trump’s approval rating stays where it is now, because of the nature of the districts in the House, the risk that the Republicans could lose the House seems low. Although, the Democrats have the current edge in voter enthusiasm. Republicans could even gain seats in the Senate because of the States involved. However, November is a long way away.
2. There is, of course, the “scandals.” The Trump Russia collusion story is a bust. There is evidence of illegal action by the Hillary campaign, the FBI and the DOJ. We have yet to see any such evidence by the Trump campaign. Will that affect the Fall campaign? In the short run, it will hurt the Left because of the Inspector General’s report will hit the FBI for helping Hillary. The question is whether Mueller will pull an October Surprise against Trump.
In the final analysis, we remain quite divided. The sides are talking past each as they have done for thousands of years in times like this. The Democrats have concentrated on opposing Trump not offering their own agenda as they search for new leadership (the Republicans did the same in opposing Obama). Generally, parties without an agenda do not shift the electorate significantly. If the Republicans lose the House, political division could sky rocket as House Democrats push investigations and some seek impeachment.
Republicans, for their part, need to offer voters a plan going forward. Simply running on the past is not enough in The Divided Era.