Democrats are shrugging off a series of favorable polls and news cycles for Republicans, arguing it has done little if anything to change the trajectory of a midterm election year they believe will end with losses for the GOP.
They say the electorate is exhausted with President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE, and in the end they predict that Republicans in Congress will feel the pain.
At least in public, Democrats are also relatively dismissive of polls showing their party’s advantage on the generic House ballot narrowing and public approval of the tax-cut bill and Trump rising.
“There’s no question and no surprise that Republican numbers are improving. They’ve surged from miserable to mediocre,” said former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. Israel'Design-build' contracts key to infrastructure success 5 reasons why this week's political war is different from all others Anthrax was the COVID-19 of 2001 MORE (N.Y.), who headed up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2014. “But Democrats have massive energy on their side, and this president has a skill for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”
There’s little doubt that the numbers have improved for Republicans in recent weeks.
On the generic ballot, Democrats hold a 5-point edge over Republicans, 49 percent to 44 percent, according to a CNN poll released last month. That’s a significant improvement for Republicans, who trailed Democrats by 18 points in December.
Similarly, a Monmouth University poll released late last month showed Trump’s approval rating rising to 42 percent, a 10-point jump from the same poll a month earlier.
It’s possible the tax bill is helping Republicans.
Since its passage, a number of businesses have issued statements announcing raises or bonuses for employees that they have linked to the bill.
A Survey Monkey poll conducted in January for The New York Times found 46 percent strongly or somewhat approving of the tax bill, up from 37 percent in December just before its passage.
Democrats acknowledge privately that they lost ground in recent weeks. A government shutdown in January played poorly, and Democrats believe they got the worst of that political fight.
But they say they don’t believe much has changed in the big picture, particularly with memories shorter than ever and Trump producing new controversies by the week.
“Polling will move up and down but the fundamentals haven’t changed — an unpopular president with an unpopular agenda and growing enthusiasm to take control of Washington away from him,” said Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, who served as a spokesman on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump defends indicted GOP congressman GOP lawmaker says he expects to be indicted over FBI investigation Why it's time for conservatives to accept the 2020 election results and move on MORE’s 2016 presidential campaign.
They argue the better gauge on public opinion came at the polls in some states in November, when the party picked up governor’s mansions in New Jersey and Virginia, and in December when Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreRoy Moore loses lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen Shelby backs ex-aide over Trump-favored candidate in Alabama Senate race Of inmates and asylums: Today's House Republicans make the John Birchers look quaint MORE in a special Senate election in deep-red Alabama.
In Virginia, Democrats also came within an eyelash of taking control of the state House and made gains across the state.
The Alabama win was also big for Democrats, though Moore was a troubled candidate accused of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls and Republicans say their opponents are reading too much into that result.
“It’s way too early to be concerned,” said Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyBiden struggles to rein in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns Trump company in late-stage talks to sell DC hotel: report Trump Hotel lost more than M during presidency, say documents MORE (D-Va.). “You have to look at trend lines, not the vicissitudes of today’s headline affecting 48-hour approval ratings or polling. And I think those trend lines tell you that the enthusiasm is on the Democratic side. That has not abated.”
Ferguson added that Democrats “have the candidates, the districts and the environment to have a successful midterm.”
But he said he worried Republicans will try to “blunt that with an avalanche of cash” from conservative mega-donors.
Last month, one conservative network helmed by billionarie brothers Charles and David Koch announced it would be spending $400 million on Republican candidates and causes to keep the GOP in control of Congress.
The White House and Republicans are indicating they want the 2018 midterms to be all about the economy.
The U.S. added 200,000 jobs in the employment report released Friday, which also showed employee wages are beginning to increase. Trump has crowed at the numbers, and he and Republicans in Congress are tying the economic news to the tax bill and efforts to cut regulations. Trump’s message has only been slightly blunted by a turbulent stock market that lost all it had gained this year over the course of a few days before bumping up again on Tuesday.
A strong economy, Republicans believe, can be the difference between keeping and losing the House, where Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to win back the majority. The president’s party typically loses House seats in the midterm elections.
Democratic strategist Christy Setzer predicted that Democrats are in a good position to win, pointing to fundraising by individual candidates that speaks to grass-roots enthusiasm.
“We do know this, though: More than 30 GOP incumbents were outraised by their opponents this last fundraising quarter and Democrats only need 24 to take back the House,” she said.
Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), who heads the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, expressed a certain degree of admiration for Trump’s ability to sell a product — in this case, the argument that the Republicans’ agenda has been a boon to the economy. But he also rejected the notion that the Republicans’ improved approval ratings will carry to November.
“He’s really good at hype, but the bottom line is that, as the truth shakes out, people are going to see that the president makes a lot of promises [but] keeps very few of them,” Cárdenas said. “Come November, people are going to realize that he hasn’t really been working very hard for the average American family.”