For months, pundits — myself included — have been talking about the coming “Blue Wave,” an anticipated flood of Democratic voters in the 2018 midterm elections, shocked by Donald Trump’s election and enraged by his policies.
But the first important contests of 2018 have raised new questions about whether the “Blue Wave” is going to be as strong, or as solid, as was once thought.
In Texas, the first state to hold its 2018 primary, Democrats did, indeed, flock to the polls, roughly doubling their turnout from the last midterm elections in 2014.
But Republican candidates did very well: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), for example, “received more votes in the 2018 Republican primary election than the entire turnout of voters in the Democratic primary.”
In the special election in Pennsylvania last week, Democrat Conor Lamb narrowly defeated State Representative Rick Saccone (R- Allegheny/Washington) in a district that Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016.
But Lamb ran far to the right of his party, openly opposing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and supporting many of President Trump’s policies.
And in the Illinois primary this week, Democrats turned out in droves, but most of their “progressive” candidates failed. The loss that hurt the “Resistance” most was in the third congressional district, where pro-life Democrat Dan Lipinski hung on to defeat challenger Marie Newman by over 2,000 votes.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the conservative base showed signs of life as State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) beat all the polls — including her own — and fell just short of knocking out incumbent Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, losing by just 2.8%.
In sum: Democrats are very enthusiastic to vote, but their left-wing candidates are not doing very well, while Republicans are still engaged.
That could mean trouble for Democrats in some places, such as Orange County, California, where Democrats are hoping to pick up U.S. House seats in Republican districts, but where the primaries might yield far-left challengers that cannot win in a general election.
Republicans faced a similar challenge in 2010, when they could have taken the Senate, but nominated a mixed bag of anti-establishment candidates, some of whom were not quite ready for prime time. The GOP re-lived that debacle on a smaller scale in U.S. Senate races in Missouri and Indiana in 2012, and in Alabama’s special election in 2017.
But there is also something else happening this year. Democrats are favored to win the House, with Nancy Pelosi — bizarrely, and incredibly — poised to reclaim the Speaker’s gavel, despite all the talk of internal revolt. Her party has led in “generic ballot” polls, except in the weeks after their botched effort to shut down the government.
Yet the GOP will probably expand its majority in the Senate, as Republicans now lead in five states where Democrats are up for re-election and where Trump won in 2016. President Trump’s approval ratings are also rising as the tax cuts kick in, and as extraordinary talks with North Korea come together.
What all of this means is that the “Blue Wave” of 2018 in the House could be accompanied by a “Red Wave” cross-current in the Senate. Both parties could score big on November 6, on different sides of Capitol Hill. And that, in turn, reflects underlying demographic and political changes.
Democrats are gaining traction in suburban areas, where moderate Republicans once held sway. Trump’s tax cuts, ironically, have helped that process along, because the new cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction is hitting Republicans in high-tax blue states.
Meanwhile, Republicans are gaining in the Rust Belt, thanks almost entirely to Trump’s economic policies, which are focused on the blue-collar workers Democrats once took for granted. Trump has shrewdly focused his governance on those crucial regions, thinking not only of 2018, but also of repeating his 2016 triumph in the Upper Midwest in 2020.
And Americans continue to vote with their feet, with homeowners and small business owners — who tend to vote Republican — leaving blue states for warmer, more affordable red ones.
The country continues to polarize. But there is also a political realignment going on, where moderate Republicans and Democrats are essentially switching sides.
No one can tell how long that realignment will last. Blue-collar workers switched back to the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania’s special election. And Democrats, too, are fleeing high-tax blue states for low-tax red ones, turning them purple.
But in the short term, Americans may elect a Congress that is sharply split — even more so than it was under Barack Obama.
That outcome is not guaranteed. There is still a long way to go until November. And President Trump would certainly prefer not to lose the House.
Still, if there is any arrangement that would play directly to his skill set and reputation as a deal-maker, it would be one in which polar opposites have to sit down together to govern the country.
Ironically, a president whose election further divided America would then be well-placed to stitch it back together.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.