GOP anxiety rises over ’18 midterms

Distressed Republicans say Democratic victories across the country on Tuesday night show their congressional majorities are at risk in next year’s midterm elections.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: GOP lawmaker takes unannounced trip to Syria | Taliban leader pens New York Times op-ed on peace talks | Cheney blasts paper for publishing op-ed GOP lawmaker makes unannounced trip to northeastern Syria Meghan McCain after Gaetz says Trump should pardon Roger Stone: 'Oh come on' MORE (R-Ariz.) said he “predicted” the rough election night and said the party needs to make changes quickly before the midterms arrive.

“Unless we get our act together, we’re going to lose heavily,” he said.

The results offered fresh evidence of a political backlash against President Trump, which several Republicans said, in combination with a failure to win legislative victories, could cost the party the House majority.

“The best way to get run over by this train is to stand still,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeTrump's best week ever? McCarthy raises over million in Q4 for House GOP GOP leader warns lawmakers on fundraising: 'Getting our ass kicked' MORE (R-Okla.), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

ADVERTISEMENT

Next year’s map makes it much tougher for Democrats to win back the Senate, since Republicans are only defending eight seats compared to 25 for Democrats. In the House, Democrats would need to gain two dozen seats to win back the majority.

House Republicans in swing districts acknowledged that showing independence from Trump will be critical. Some of the 23 GOP lawmakers who represent House districts carried by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill Judge dismisses Nunes' lawsuit against Fusion GPS The Hill's Campaign Report: What to watch for in Nevada MORE insist they can again convince local constituents to support them.

“She won by 3,800 votes. I won by 38,000 votes. I like that extra zero,” said Rep. Leonard LanceLeonard LanceGun debate to shape 2020 races GOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Bottom Line MORE (R-N.J.), whose district was narrowly carried by Clinton last year.

Lance noted initial results indicate that the GOP nominee for New Jersey governor, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, won in his district on Tuesday despite losing the state. And he pointed to his vote against the House GOP health-care bill and current opposition to the party’s tax-reform proposal as evidence of his independence and centrist voting record.

“I’m confident my views are the views of the district,” he said.

Democrats won from coast-to-coast on Tuesday, sweeping the two gubernatorial contests and gaining seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates. In Maine, voters approved a ballot measure calling for the state to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare.

The party faces a tougher task in taking back the House, where many district lines were rewritten in 2010 to bolster incumbents. But Tuesday’s results have given the party new momentum.

Republicans were already facing headwinds. Historical trends show that the party of the incumbent president typically loses seats during the first term.

Nonetheless, a number of House Republicans seen as endangered struck a confident tone on Wednesday.

“You know, I go home every weekend. I shop and I meet with people. I’ve been doing that without fail for 17 years,” said Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaDesperate in Southern California: Darrell Issa's 'back to the future' primary campaign misfires Duncan Hunter to plead guilty to campaign finance violations Why the GOP march of mad hatters poses a threat to our Democracy MORE (R-Calif.), the former House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman who won reelection narrowly in a Clinton district.

“Eight people who voted for Hillary Clinton and voted for me, I think, creates a pretty good differential.”

Several lawmakers said it is crucial for the GOP to get a win on tax reform.

“We’ve got to be RINOs — Republicans in Need of Outcomes,” Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: What to watch for in Nevada Top GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate MORE (R-N.C.) told reporters.

The party failed to repeal ObamaCare and cannot count on winning elections if it can’t deliver on campaign promises.

“The Democrats nationalized the election and the Republicans failed to nationalize the key issues of repealing ObamaCare and major tax cuts and draining the swamp,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), whose red district is being targeted by Democrats. “We have to do a better job of keeping our word and achieving policy wins if we are going to do better in ’18.”

Of course, it’s also possible some of the policies being advanced in the House tax-reform bill could come back to haunt lawmakers such as Lance.

The bill would eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes and lower the limit on the property tax deduction. Those changes are unpopular in districts represented by a number of vulnerable Republicans in New York and New Jersey.

Democrats also have a huge advantage on the generic House ballot, leading by an average of nearly 10 points. These factors have led to a huge boost in candidate recruitment for House Democrats across the country. Democrats point to these structural advantages and high enthusiasm as evidence of why they should be confident.

“This was the Democrats’ first big test of the 2018 cycle, the biggest test so far of the Trump era, and we got through the finish line with flying colors,” said Joshua Karp, who works for Democratic super PAC American Bridge.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that “the door is certainly open for us” in 2018.

She compared Trump’s low approval ratings — currently hovering around 38 percent — to those of former President George W. Bush before Democrats won the House in 2006. The reduced GOP morale and sky-high enthusiasm among Democrats, she said, plays in their favor.

“That means we get the fresh recruits and they get the retirements,” Pelosi said.

Indeed, the string of Democratic victories came after a series of senior Republicans announced their retirements from the House in the last week. On Tuesday alone, Reps. Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondo Democratic challenger on Van Drew's party switch: 'He betrayed our community' Trump announces Van Drew will become a Republican in Oval Office meeting Van Drew, set to switch parties, will vote as a Democrat on impeachment MORE (R-N.J.) and Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSheila Jackson Lee tops colleagues in House floor speaking days over past decade Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-Texas) both said they won’t run for reelection next year.

LoBiondo’s retirement led the nonpartisan Cook Political Report to adjust its rating for his southern New Jersey district, which Trump won only narrowly, all the way from “solid Republican” to a “toss-up.”

Tuesday’s string of victories for Democrats also indicates that Republicans could be facing a harsher political environment in 2018, though they stress that there’s still a year to go and more time to make strides on their agenda.

Republicans acknowledge that one of the biggest hurdles for vulnerable members next year will be how closely they align themselves with Trump — especially if his poll numbers don’t improve.

“There should be no question that [Trump’s] low approval ratings dragged down Republicans across the board [Tuesday] night,” said Brian Walsh, a former spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) said Republicans in tough races shouldn’t try to act like people they’re not.

“If they agree with the president, agree with him. If they disagree with him, say it. Do not be afraid to say you disagree with the president if you do. Do not be afraid to say you agree with the president if you do,” Taylor said.

Ben Kamisar and Scott Wong contributed.