History is both for and against Trump in 2018

History is both for and against Trump in 2018
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As President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address on Jan. 20, 2018, he will likely bring up his tax cut bill that he signed into law at the end of last year. He'll also have in mind the midterm elections of 2018. As he gives this historic address, history is both on his side and against him in 2018. Here’s how.

The headwind of electoral history is against President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report MORE in the 2018 midterm elections

Midterm elections traditionally favor the party that doesn’t hold the presidency. In 2018, that is the Democrats. American election politics is a seesaw. One party wins the presidency; two years later the opposite political party picks up seats in the House of Representatives and sometimes in the Senate. 

There have only been three of the 21 midterm elections since 1934 where the president’s party has gained seats in the House. The first took place in 1934, when in the throes of the major crisis of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt saw his party pick up nine seats in the House. 

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During another major crisis, President George W. Bush saw his party pick up eight seats in the House in 2002. Bush had the highest approval rating of any post World War II president going into a midterm election because of his leadership after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which was fresh on midterm voters’ minds a year later.

 

With a high approval rating of 65 percent, President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson Clinton10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable A Republican Watergate veteran's perspective on a Trump impeachment Beware the 34th month of Trump's presidency MORE saw a gain of five House seats by the Democrats in the 1998 midterms. Four years earlier in the 1994 midterms, when his approval was 20 points lower at 45 percent, Clinton watched the Republicans gain 52 House seats, which also gave his opposition party control of the House for the first time in 40 years.

Hence, history is not on President Trump’s side going into the 2018 midterms in November. Barring a major crisis and with his approval rating at 45 percent and his disapproval at 53 percent (Fox News Poll, Jan. 21-23) the historical trends suggest that the Republicans will lose seats in the House, unless there’s an outlier.

The tailwind of economic history favors President Trump in the long term

History is on President Trump’s side in one major way: The economy.

Many experts believe that an economy isn’t blooming until it reaches a 3 or 4 percent growth rate. In 2011 after his presidency, George W. Bush’s Bush Institute organized an economic conference that set “a long-term, sustainable, real GDP growth of 4 percent or more. While 4 percent annualized GDP growth might seem a stretch, it can be achieved. The United States grew at that rate during much of the 19th century, and the rate during the second half of the 20th century was only slightly lower.”

Tax cut history backs that up. After President Lyndon Johnson (D) passed deceased President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 tax cuts in early 1964, the economy boomed with economic growth rates growing from an annual 4.4 GDP in 1963 to 6.6 GDP in 1966.

Republican President Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts were passed in August 1981 and phased in over three years, resulting in growth from a negative annual -1.9 GDP in 1982 to a high of an annual 7.3 GDP in 1984, the largest annual GDP in modern history.

Signing a 1.5 trillion tax cut package on Dec. 20, 2017, President Trump shares the same political philosophy that tax cuts can boost economic growth. His tax cut package drops the corporate rate from 35 to 21 percent, which makes American corporations more globally competitive. The tax bill also drops the rates for individuals.

If President Trump accomplishes nothing else in terms of domestic policy, his economic policy very well may put him in the history books as a successful economic president.

The economy could be Trump’s midterm trump card

Unlike Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts that rolled in over time, Trump’s tax cuts take place immediately, which could benefit him politically in the midterms. Since the Trump Tax Cut bill was passed, numerous companies have announced bonuses for their employees, as The Hill has frequently reported.

In addition recent polls are showing that voters like what they see. In a Fox News Poll (Jan. 21-23), voters rated the economy more positively than they have in nearly two decades. “The poll finds 49 percent now give it (the economy) positive ratings (excellent or good).  The last time this many voters felt as positively was 17 years ago (59 percent, January 2001).”

“And they give the White House credit for that: nearly twice as many say the Trump administration has made the economy better than made it worse: 40 percent vs. 22 percent.  One-third says the administration has not made a difference (34 percent),” Fox News also reported.

Other presidents have viewed the economy as the most important issue for voters. President Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign told Americans that “It’s the economy, stupid.”

President Ronald Reagan famously asked “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” when he ran for president in 1980 against President Jimmy Carter. Inflation was high and the economy had nosedived. Reagan was right and he won.

If the economy continues to grow this year and voters are optimistic about their personal pocketbooks, President Trump’s economic policies could trump the historical trend in midterm elections going against a president.

Jane Hampton Cook is a former White House webmaster for President George W. Bush and the author of “America’s Star-Spangled Story” and “The Burning of the White House: James and Dolley Madison and the War of 1812.”