Chad Minnick is the President of Minnick Group, a non-partisan campaign consulting firm with right-of-center clients. He will write an occasional column for the Wire, called “From the Right,” throughout the year.
No word has more power in politics than “Trump.” We had a Republican client last year who spoke with a voter on their doorstep:
“I like you, I’ve always voted for you,” she said. “But not this time. Because Trump.”
It’s true. The President’s brand has proven toxic to some Republican candidates. Even for Washington State Republicans, who behave nothing like The Donald, it doesn’t matter. It’s purely tribal. Infrequent and less-engaged voters blame down-ballot candidates for the sins of a president they don’t like if they share the same party affiliation.
It’s like how Seattle football fans suddenly hate Richard Sherman, whom we loved as recently as last season. But he’s a 49er now. Screw that guy. It’s tribal.
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This is nothing new. In 2010, House Republicans took six seats from Democrats here in Washington state. Thanks, Obama. The 2006 election was a bloodbath for local Republican candidates. Thanks, Bush. And in Clinton’s 1994 midterm election, House Republicans gained thirty-something seats. Thanks, Hillary.
But no president has been as unpopular with upper middle-class suburban voters as Trump. Democrats know this and are giddy over the opportunities that Trump gives them to make great gains.
As one Democratic candidate last year told an audience, “If people come out to protest vote against Trump, then I can win.”
They did. And he did.
If Trump is so unpopular with suburban voters, then why did Washington Democrats do so poorly in 2016 and 2018 compared to expectations?
In 2016, with Trump on the ballot, House Democrats fought Republicans to a draw, failing to gain a single seat. Let that sink in. Trump was on the ballot and House Democrats couldn’t manage to pick up a single seat.
And in 2018, unlike past midterms with highly unpopular Presidents, they once again underperformed, winning back only seven Republican House seats and three in the Senate. House Democrats were shocked. They expected to gain twice that number.
The Democrats’ expectations were not unrealistic. They should have made double-digit gains in the House.
In our state, the top vote-getter in the Primary election wins the General 93.5 percent of the time. After last year’s Primary election, sixteen Republican House seats and three in the Senate were in jeopardy of being one of those statistics. History was indicating massive gains for Democrats in the House, and that’s exactly what Democrats expected to happen.
House Democratic Campaign Committee Chair, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, called the Primary results “an embarrassment of riches.” And, privately, Democrats were telling big donors they expected to pick up more than a dozen seats.
But when the dust settled last November, and with each having only a 6.5 percent historical chance to win, ten out of sixteen House Republican candidates, and one of three in the Senate, had beaten the odds.
How did that even happen? Simply put, because the Democrats can’t seem to keep the crazy out of their ranks.
Democrats want to believe they are the defenders of marginalized groups and the environment, and that they are standing up to the racist and sexist scourge that is the Republican Party. They like to think they are the holy warriors who are saving America.
But voters aren’t buying the “we’re-the-defenders-of-morality” brand anymore. After all, it is Democratic politicians who continually offend Jewish voters with anti-Semitic Tweets. It is a Democratic Governor in Virginia who refuses to resign over photos of him in blackface.
Locally, two Democrat legislators have recently been forced out of the Washington state legislature after #metoo allegations. And it was King County Democrats who dumped 130,000 gallons of raw sewage into Puget Sound, while they condescendingly tell the rest of the state they can’t use plastic grocery bags.
But even more disturbing for Democrats, voters really don’t like their policies. The average voter outside the Seattle bubble rolls their eyes at Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. The average voter is terrified that the Democrats’ “Green New Deal” will cost the average household $65,000 per year. The average suburban voter shakes their head as Olympia Democrats pass laws that accuse farmers of slavery. (It’s a real thing, look it up.) The average voter is legitimately concerned that Democrats have abandoned the middle class and rank-and-file union workers for a country-club socialism advocated by academics who never had a real job in their lives.
In suburban Washington districts, the Seattle City Council now has less than HALF of Trump’s favorability. You read that right, “Seattle” is now more toxic than “Trump” in suburban districts.
Democrats, read this carefully: Trump > Seattle Democrats. Like…by double. Let that sink in. The guy who said he grabs women you-know-where is twice as popular as the Seattle City Council in suburban crescent legislative districts.
That is the disconnect between Democrats and the average voter that allows Republicans to successfully win 10 out of 16 races where Democrats had a 93 percent chance to win all of them.
Will they learn their lesson and moderate their extremist urges? Hardly.
If you talk to Republicans, they are salivating over the 2020 cycle, because they do not think Democrats can help themselves. After seeing the feeding frenzy of crazy bills in Olympia under one-party rule this year, one Republican campaign operative said to me, “The opposition research is writing itself.”