GOP Russia report reflects Republican midterm fears

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The GOP’s House Intelligence Committee report acknowledging Russian meddling in our elections but no collusion by the Trump campaign is like any bad crime fiction. We know how it’ll end before finishing the first chapter. No stunners here, no twists of plot. This is a political document written in a midterm election, for a midterm election, by Republican members of Congress who fear losing a midterm election.

There’s a well established corollary in any midterm election: The lower a president’s job approval, the more seats his party will lose in the House and the Senate. Those two factors are joined at the hip. Sometimes the right hip, sometimes the left, but basically tethered.

{mosads}When Democrats won their majority in the 2006 midterm, President Bush’s job approval was at 38 percent. When they lost it in the 2010 midterm, President Obama’s job approval was at 45 percent. President Trump’s is consistently under 40 percent in Gallup’s weekly tracking. What happens down ballot? Energy.

Energy in midterm elections determines seats won and lost. An unpopular president provides a jolt of enthusiasm for voters in the opposite party and saps energy in his own. In the wipeout of Democrats in 2010, the party’s energy was like water being sucked down the sink drain. The left was dispirited because it thought Democrats hadn’t accomplished more. The right was ignited by the thought of ObamaCare death panels and shariah law at the local town hall.

People in between those two poles just wanted it all to go away. Of course, energy is fluid. In base districts, it’s not as impactful as in the competitive districts that decide whether a party will hold a majority or minority in Congress. There, energy can, well, blow up in a candidate’s face. Moderate members have to regulate between their own party base and crossover voters. They can’t win with just one.

That’s the crux of the problem for House Republicans in this midterm. It explains why the partisan report from Republicans who control the House Intelligence Committee was written even before the first word was formulated. Republicans may privately grit their teeth at President Trump’s incessant tweets, careening foreign policy, daily distractedness, and perhaps even evidence of some kind of collusion between his campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.

Publicly, however, they have no choice other than to prop him up. They can’t aim at him without it backfiring on them. Shaving points off his job approval dampens voter enthusiasm in the base they need and persuades swing voters to swing in the wrong direction, or, at least stay home on Election Day. This cycle stretches the problem over a current total of 62 competitive districts.

And, so, the cognitive disconnect. When our survival is threatened, we tend to disregard certain facts (maybe even calling them false) and buttress certain beliefs as facts. Our conclusions are prejudiced, pursued to be validated, rather than vigorously challenged. That’s a human condition exploited by novelists, screenwriters, and anyone who’s watched the Netflix adaptation of “Lost In Space.”

The problem is that the security of our democracy shouldn’t be questionable fiction marketed to a specific audience for political gain. We deserve better, which is why, for my money, I’ll wait for the sequel, written by an independent investigator named Robert Mueller.

Steve Israel, who represented New York in Congress for 16 years, is a novelist. His most recent book, “Big Guns,” was published this month by Simon & Schuster. You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.

Tags Congress Democrats Donald Trump Election Government Investigation Republicans Robert Mueller Russia Special counsel Steve Israel United States

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