There really is no one I can think of who knows more about the political make-up of the U.S. House of Representatives than former Republican Rep. Tom Davis.
Davis represented Virginia’s 11th District for 12 years. During that time, he also served as the chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. This was a perfect fit.
To say that Davis is a walking encyclopedia on American politics, past and present, is no exaggeration.
And, to put it mildly, Davis is worried about GOP fortunes in November. Very worried. This worry is backed up by the hard, cold facts of the current political situation.
More than any other factor influencing the midterm elections and the GOP losing its majority in the House is the present occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Davis candidly says the following: “I thought I had politics all figured out and then comes Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE.”
The significance of that statement can’t be overstated.
Davis wants Donald Trump to stop doing “sideshows and tweets.” He wants him to “control the message” and have some “discipline.” Yet, Trump is incapable of ceasing tweeting and is totally inept at imposing discipline on himself.
When it comes to making predictions, Davis is very specific: “A good night for Republicans is losing 12 seats. … A bad night is 40 seats.”
The magic number for Democrats is 24. That would put them in the majority.
One thing going for Democrats is that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation MORE in 2016 carried 23 House districts that are held by GOP incumbents. That is naturally a good place to start for Democrats.
Add to that 41 incumbent Republicans choosing not to run again. Nine GOP committee chairmen are in that category, one of the more recent being Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenBottom line Republican lobbying firms riding high despite uncertainty of 2020 race Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm MORE (R-N.J.).
Frelinghuysen has served for 24 years. He has never received less than 58 percent of the vote. But this “moderate” feels so endangered, he decided not to run again.
His northern New Jersey suburban district is no longer “safe” for the GOP. The suburbs which used to be solidly Republican are today definitely not trending Democratic, but becoming reliably Democratic.
Davis says the suburbs have changed in many ways. Former “city residents now live in the suburbs.” He goes even further by stating that the “inner suburbs have turned into cities.”
Most important, the demographics have dramatically changed. They are composed of voters who are “high-tech and well-educated immigrants.”
These voters, he says emphatically, are “in tune with Republican social policy,” but you get the distinct impression that Davis feels that is not enough.
His criticism of his own party goes much deeper than a critique of “suburban voting patterns.” To him, the “Achilles heel” for Republicans is what he calls “ethnic voters.” By ethnic voters he means “Asian, Hispanic and Muslims” — or, to put it more broadly, “second-generation, non-white Christian voters.”
The most stunning critique of his party, and which I believe will have the greatest lasting impact, is that the GOP is perceived “as not a welcoming party.” That perception is the most damning.
And, to quote former RNC Chairman and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, “politics is a game of addition.”
A preview of the November midterms is coming on March 18. A special election will be held in suburban Pittsburgh to fill a seat vacated by Republican Rep. Tim MurphyTim MurphyOur approach to schizophrenia is failing Conor Lamb defeats Trump-backed challenger for reelection in Pennsylvania Biden receives endorsements from three swing-district Democrats MORE. This southwestern Pennsylvania district went big for Trump in 2016.
Davis says that if the Democrat wins there, it’s going “to be a bad night” in November. More than anything else, Davis is very concerned about special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE issuing “a damning report” before the November elections.
Couple that with an economy in which the “bubble bursts.”
The 2006 midterms seem to be a parallel for 2018. Back then, George W. Bush became, in Davis’ words, “completely radioactive.”
Davis started our entire interview by saying that, in American politics right now, “The middle is gone.” The Democratic Party is “moving to the left … the Republican Party to the right.”
In this scenario, the left, it seems to me, is gaining.
Davis doesn’t come out and just say it, but he definitely gives the impression that election night in November will be long and bad for the GOP.
He won’t say it, but I will: Right now, I think a 40-seat loss for the GOP may be on the low side.
Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics. He previously was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington’s NPR affiliate, and for WTOP-FM, Washington’s all-news radio station. He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.