OPINION: The Lesson of 2018? Embracing Trump Is Key To Electoral Victory
It is well-documented that both political parties in Congress have figured out how to use the levers of power — to stay in power. Congressional leaders, especially those in the majority, use their positions to raise millions of dollars in campaign contributions. Given that money usually equates to campaign success for the majority, one must work pretty hard to lose control of the House of Representatives. But it can be done, as Democrats demonstrated in 1994, Republicans in 2006, Democrats in 2010, and Republicans again in 2018.
As a political scientist and former congressman, I understand that it’s difficult to know exactly why voters reject any candidate. However, flipping the House is pretty simple to explain. In fact, both Speakers Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered the same answer: hyper-localize your race — that is, ignore national issues and focus like a laser on local issues. Unfortunately for Republicans, the advice only works Democrats.
Don’t agree with me? Ask Senators-elect Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). President Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) successfully nationalized multiple Senate races, with the help provided by radical leftist opposition to Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Senate (and a few House) candidates who joined in the nationalization effort were rewarded and won.
Back to the House. The speaker and his affiliated PACs spent months running away from national issues. As a result, the one big achievement of the Ryan speakership — historic tax reform — was ignored by most voters, and the ancillary strong economy didn’t translate into strong support for House Republicans. Instead, the man who most successfully seized credit for a booming economy was the same man that establishment Republicans and consultants counseled candidates to avoid: President Donald Trump. (Note: this was the very same strategy implemented by House Republicans back in 2016, and despite their very best efforts to shun Trump, voters rewarded them anyway with his massive coattails. Trust me: I was in on these very discussions.)
With this Republican unwillingness to team up with Trump and his economy, voters struggled to recall anything positive delivered by the House majority. All they could remember were failed promises. For instance, after eight years of campaign pledges, congressional Republicans kept ObamaCare — despite all of its many failures. And instead of balancing the budget, Republicans passed the biggest budget in history. With no national vision by Republican leaders, combined with the dramatic failures to deliver and no Democrats to blame, no amount of hyper-localizing their races by talking about opioids, open spaces, or over-regulation could save dozens of Republican candidates.
However, for Democrats, hyper-localizing is political heaven. If you look back at the two recent times Democrats were kicked out of the House majority, it was after they openly admitted their grandiose visions for big government — first with Clinton and then with Obama. In both 1994 and 2010, voters rose up and said enough is enough. In other years, Democrats slowly and methodically plodded along their progressive path without riling up the too much opposition, and they were rewarded with seemingly permanent majorities. But when you nationalize healthcare or pass a trillion-dollar stimulus, that simply reveals too much of the Democrat agenda for a lot of voters.
So, nationalizing is good for Republicans, but it’s bad for Democrats. Hyper-localizing is good for Democrats, but it’s horrible for Republicans. Where does this leave House Republicans for the next two years?
First, 2018 isn’t over yet. There are ample lame-duck opportunities for Republicans to begin reestablishing trust with their voters by making a down payment on Trump’s wall, supporting Trump’s executive rollback of Obamacare, cutting government spending, and approving dozens of Trump appointees. They even have a chance to tackle entitlement spending before Paul Ryan retires, by including food stamp work requirements in the Farm Bill.
Second, whether lame-duck Republicans keep their word or not, the incoming House minority has one path back to the majority: Defend President Trump, the conservative agenda, and the strong economy from the socialist wing of the Democratic Party. There will be Democratic investigation after investigation, congressional letters infinitum, and subpoenas galore. But by standing with the president, his appointees, and his voter base, House Republicans will help nationalize the election and likely be rewarded with a majority in 2021. A House Democrat majority and a loud socialist Senate minority can play havoc with Republicans for two years, but President Trump has his own pen and phone.
Last, a note of warning to Washington, D.C. Republicans and the center-right movement: Beware of Google and the social media giants of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. They have the means, motive, and opportunity to ensure this nationalization strategy fails. As the most powerful sector of the economy, these corporate giants have the means to influence elections — certainly more than a few Russian bots! Leaked videos reveal massive anti-Trump, pro-socialism groupthink, proving they have the motive. And with their nearly complete monopoly of the most impactful medium in the modern world, no one can argue that they don’t have the opportunity.
The next two years could help shape the future of the country — and, indeed, the world — for years to come. Republicans can’t afford to ignore the lessons of 2018.
Hon. Tim Huelskamp, Ph.D. (@CongHuelskamp) is the president and CEO of The Heartland Institute. He represented Kansas in the United States House from 2011-17.