Looking over the remnants of the Virginia Republican Party after last month’s electoral devastation, pundits largely agreed on one thing. A backlash tsunami is coming for the GOP in 2018, and the seismic event that triggered the wave, like a colossal, gold-plated luxury hotel crashing into the sea, is Donald Trump.
The left’s eagerness to “resist” Trump showed in Virginia’s turnout figures and, although unlikely to be a factor in next week’s special Senate election in Alabama, could make winning elections in swing states and swing districts very challenging for Republicans in 2018. Trump’s low approval ratings are considered to be gathering clouds on the horizon, which raises a fun question. Which elected official in Washington has a worse job approval rating than President Trump?
The answer: All of them.
Trump had a 35% job approval rating in the latest Gallup poll, within a few points of his average in all polls. Republican congressional leaders look at those numbers like their fictional counterparts looked at the alien space ship descending on the White House in “Independence Day.” But Congress hasn’t had a job approval rating that high since May 2009.
Its current average approval rating is 13%, according to Real Clear Politics. In the last AP poll the week of the stunning Tea Party takeover of 2010, the congressional job approval rating was 26% — double what it is now.
So what? The job approval rating for Congress always smells like unwashed gym socks the dog’s been sleeping on for six months. When it fell to 9% in two polls last month, it wasn’t even news. A poll in October had it at 7%. It’s been so low for so long that everyone in Washington just ignores it.
And that’s a problem. The reassuring cliche is that Americans hate Congress, but they like their own member of Congress. But what if that isn’t exactly true? What if individual members keep getting elected because of gerrymandering, name recognition and the other advantages of incumbency? What if the general congressional approval rating actually measures something meaningful?
If only the people had some way of signaling that they really, really, really dislike Washington. Like, a presidential election, maybe.
John Adams warned that a people who lost faith in Congress would elect a populist president as their champion against the ruling class. Smart guy, Adams.
Trump was the second president in a row elected on an explicit promise to end Washington’s self-dealing political culture. At this point, what the people want really shouldn’t be a mystery.
They want the government to serve their interests, not its own interests or those of the politically connected. Americans feel let down, if not betrayed, by their own government.
Consider the risk Americans took last year in electing Trump to the presidency. Given a choice between a seasoned Washington insider and a celebrity who seemed unfamiliar with the basics of constitutional government, they rolled the dice. Bigly.
You don’t take such a big risk if you want to play it safe. You do it only on the desperate hope for a huge return. A year later, what has been the payoff? That’s the question that ought to concern every Republican.
The average premium for health insurance plans bought in the individual market doubled from 2013 to 2017, a Department of Health and Human Services report released earlier this year showed. Under the “Affordable Care Act,” costs continued to soar. Promise broken. Republicans were trusted to fix that.This year? Premiums are still soaring.
For the first time in seven years, Democrats are favored to handle health care. This is how you lose the American people.
A Trumpnami is coming, but Trump isn’t the only cause. Republicans have to have a reason to turn out in 2018. Trump’s presence in the White House is the Democrats’ reason. Legislative victories are the only possible Republican reason. Without those, why shouldn’t they spend Election Day on the couch with a bag of Cheetos and a fist full of Clint Eastwood movies?
But what type of legislative victories? That ought to be clear by now. Practical solutions to problems people have asked Washington to fix for years. People are tired of hearing excuses. They want solutions, now. Deliver or suffer the consequences.
A sweeping reform that took power from Washington and returned it to the people would be ideal. Unfortunately, ain’t nobody got time for that. So focusing on practical, tangible results is the best option.
Forget for the moment about repealing Obamacare and focus on lowering premiums.
Pass a final tax reform bill that middle class families can easily understand as helpful to them.
Target opioid crisis funding to the places where it is needed most.
Pass a bump stock ban.
Pass an E-verify system to discourage illegal immigration and reassure Americans that you’re protecting their jobs.
And stop acting as if Democrats are the enemy. Your nemesis is not the other party, it’s Washington. Weaken it, empower the people.
Become the anti-Washington party, and you will make a strong case for being a long-term majority party. But buy a good life vest anyway.
Andrew Cline is interim president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord, N.H.