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Ed Rogers: Factors that will shape the midterms

Ed Rogers

Ed Rogers

There are still a few primaries left, but the campaign season is about to enter what I call the summer grind, which consists mostly of fundraisers, Fourth of July parades, etc. Retail politics is not a good summer sport; candidates will try to fight against the tide of serious disinterest in all things political. Regardless, with the primaries about to end, Republicans and Democrats are coming to terms with the factors that will shape the general election in November.

Democrats appear to be exiting the primaries strong financially, but their candidates are not always in the best shape. There are many liberal newcomers and some incumbents were challenged from the left, forcing them to alter long-held positions and commit to the “progressive” line. Witness poor Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who has felt compelled to join the unflattering conga line to the left and erase decades of centrist positions. What began as the wacky Occupy movement has become mainstream in the Democratic Party. As Politico’s Charlie Mahtesian wrote earlier this year, “The progressive wing has already beaten the establishment in 2018.”

Dealing with Trump

With that said, Republicans are still unsure how to make sense of what is emanating from the Trump presidency. President Donald Trump is establishing a record that Republicans will own, while his personal behavior and style remain off-putting even to many Republicans who want him to succeed. So where might this dynamic leave us in November?

On the one hand, as Joe Scarborough — who is no fan of Trump — wrote in The Washington Post on Tuesday, Republicans can and will point to Trump’s “massive tax cuts, a bigger military budget, regulatory reform and the gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency . . . the planned withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, scrapping of the Iran nuclear deal, undermining Obamacare, moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, attacking federal employee unions and promoting extreme immigration policies” as evidence of accomplishments in office thus far.

On the other hand, in talking with Republicans from across the country, I still think Trump’s biggest problem is how he comes across at the human level. Whether he’s fighting with a Gold Star family or sending his latest demoralizing Memorial Day tweet, Trump alienates a lot of voters. While some Republicans are ignoring Trump and some have left the party altogether, others are settling on the argument of the “bull in the china shop” analogy. Trump may be breaking china, but at least he is our bull.

Hmm. And while we’re at it, some Republicans have chosen to believe that Trump’s outbursts, off-key rants and narcissistic exclamations infuriate only the people who a lot of GOP voters think deserve to be infuriated. But Republicans shouldn’t kid themselves: Trump’s behavior is having a negative and potentially lasting impact on politics today that extends beyond the coastal elites and commentariat class.

So will the Democrats, saddled with a bunch of left-wingers, stay silent and try to let Trump sink the Republican Party from within, or will they speak up and risk sinking themselves when voters begin to fear that the economic momentum forming now will be lost without Trump and those backing him in Congress? Democrats are running without an economic message, hoping talk of so-called progressive ideals will somehow be preferable to a good economy produced by Republicans. CBS reports, “Nearly 2 in 3 Americans think the nation’s economy is in good shape, and most of them believe President’s Trump’s policies are at least somewhat responsible for that.”

Still, Republicans don’t fully know how to build off Trump’s accomplishments while distancing themselves from some of his bad behavior. The big question for Republicans is how silent, sheepish or apologetic will some candidates have to be in their embrace of Trump without hurting turnout among Trump voters?

Ed Rogers is a contributor to The Washington Post’s PostPartisan blog, a lobbyist, political consultant and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses and several national campaigns.