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National Politics|By Charlie Cook, February 28, 2017
This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on February 24, 2017

The two-thirds of Re­pub­lic­ans in the House who have nev­er served when the GOP held ma­jor­it­ies in the House and Sen­ate along­side a GOP pres­id­ent can be for­giv­en for not re­mem­ber­ing the last time they were sim­il­arly situ­ated. It was 2006, and they lost 30 seats in the House. When Demo­crats were last in that situ­ation, it was 2010 and they lost 63 House seats. When one party con­trols all three of the elec­ted ele­ments of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, there is only one dir­ec­tion for angry fin­gers to point, and that’s at the party in power.

The last time Re­pub­lic­ans had charge of the House, Sen­ate, and White House, it was un­der the pre­vi­ous con­gres­sion­al bound­ar­ies, and now few­er dis­tricts are drawn to be com­pet­it­ive. But that doesn’t mean the laws of grav­ity have been re­pealed, it just means there is some­what less volat­il­ity. There are still 23 Re­pub­lic­ans in dis­tricts that voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton, and did so des­pite the fact that Demo­crat­ic voters were pretty leth­ar­gic and largely un­der­per­formed. An­oth­er dozen or so GOP mem­bers rep­res­ent dis­tricts that went for Don­ald Trump by nar­row mar­gins.

It is not writ­ten in stone that the party hold­ing the House, Sen­ate, and the White House has to lose seats in midterm elec­tions, but it’s prob­ably worth not­ing that only a hand­ful of law­makers were even alive in 1934, the last time it didn’t hap­pen. It was two years in­to Frank­lin Roosevelt’s pres­id­ency, and voters had not fin­ished vent­ing their spleens at the Re­pub­lic­an Party of Her­bert Hoover, who had been ejec­ted from the White House two years earli­er.

So what could tip off House Re­pub­lic­ans to po­ten­tial losses in their fu­ture? The first thing might be a sit­ting pres­id­ent with low job-ap­prov­al rat­ings; after all, midterm elec­tions are usu­ally a ref­er­en­dum on the party hold­ing the White House. Through Wed­nes­day night, the Gal­lup’s three-night track­ing poll showed 43 per­cent of the 1,500 adults in­ter­viewed na­tion­wide ap­prov­ing of Pres­id­ent Trump’s per­form­ance so far, 52 per­cent dis­ap­prov­ing. For Trump’s first four weeks in of­fice, his ap­prov­al rat­ings were 45 per­cent, 43 per­cent, 41 per­cent and last week 40 per­cent.

Each of these meas­ure­ments is the low­est of any newly elec­ted pres­id­ent in the his­tory of polling. It doesn’t mean that Trump’s num­bers can­not rise above the low to mid-forties, but in the ab­sence of a 9/11-type trauma, pres­id­ents see their job-ap­prov­al rat­ings de­cline over the first two years as their early hon­ey­moon peri­od ends. A bet­ter read­ing is that since Trump didn’t get a hon­ey­moon, his num­bers might not drop as pre­cip­it­ously as his pre­de­cessors’, but he could still get stuck in the low 40s.

A second clue that House Re­pub­lic­ans might be head­ing for trouble is any in­dic­a­tion that the op­pos­i­tion party’s base is more en­er­gized than the pres­id­ent’s party’s base. That’s the primary reas­on why the party hold­ing the White House tends to suf­fer midterm losses; the op­pos­i­tion party gets more torqued up than the pres­id­ent’s party. So how to meas­ure the en­ergy level? Per­haps by vit­ri­ol­ic town meet­ings and demon­stra­tions, with the rul­ing party’s mem­bers fa­cing protests when they go back home. Hmmm, that sounds fa­mil­i­ar.

Curi­ously, while the dy­nam­ics tend to be the same for the Sen­ate, there are reas­ons unique to the 2018 elec­tion cycle that might well off­set the GOP’s vul­ner­ab­il­ity. Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans have only nine seats up for elec­tion next year com­pared to 25 for Demo­crats, and only one GOP sen­at­or (fresh­man Dean Heller in Nevada) is run­ning in a state car­ried by Hil­lary Clin­ton. Ten Demo­crat­ic seats are in play in states car­ried by Trump, five in states that he won by 19 or more points. Suf­fice it to say that Re­pub­lic­ans are more likely to be on the of­fense in next year’s Sen­ate races rather than on de­fense.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, can­did­ates might seek to es­tab­lish plenty of dis­tance between them­selves and a pres­id­ent with lousy job-ap­prov­al rat­ings, but that’s where it gets com­plic­ated for most Re­pub­lic­ans these days. In the Feb. 17-20 Gal­lup poll, 42 per­cent ap­proved of Trump’s job per­form­ance and 54 per­cent dis­ap­proved. Among just Re­pub­lic­ans, though, 86 per­cent ap­proved and just 13 per­cent dis­ap­proved. By con­trast, only 8 per­cent of Demo­crats ap­proved and 89 per­cent dis­ap­proved. But among in­de­pend­ents, Trump’s ap­prov­al was 40 per­cent with 53 per­cent ex­press­ing dis­ap­prov­al. Once you get out­side the Re­pub­lic­an base, opin­ions run from very skep­tic­al to down­right hos­tile.

In his “Polling Mat­ters” column Tues­day, Gal­lup Ed­it­or-in-Chief Frank New­port cites an ax­iom from Steph­en Covey, au­thor of The 7 Habits of Highly Ef­fect­ive People: “Seek first to un­der­stand, then to be un­der­stood.” New­port writes that “this doesn’t im­ply that a lead­er has to agree with those who dis­ap­prove of him or dra­mat­ic­ally change his core be­liefs. But as Covey would ar­gue, at­tempt­ing to un­der­stand why the ma­jor­ity of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion dis­ap­proves of what one is do­ing al­most cer­tainly would al­low a pres­id­ent to be more ef­fect­ive than ig­nor­ing or den­ig­rat­ing those be­liefs.”

It’s prob­ably un­real­ist­ic to ex­pect Pres­id­ent Trump to sud­denly be­gin to try to un­der­stand why so many Amer­ic­ans are crit­ic­al of his views and pres­id­ency. But for a Re­pub­lic­an of­fice­hold­er forced to deal with swing voters who are in­creas­ingly un­happy, it might help to un­der­stand the source of their dis­pleas­ure as they try to straddle the gi­ant polit­ic­al di­vide between the GOP base and an in­creas­ingly an­im­ated bloc of in­de­pend­ent voters. In short, this is a time for a lot of Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers to tread very care­fully