The Nov. 6, 2018, midterm elections are on track to be the most divisive, contentious, nasty, expensive and consequential elections in modern times. And that’s just among Republicans!
Throughout the 2018 primary season and even in the general election we can expect Republican civil wars to erupt between the Trump-huggers and the Trump-deniers.
Not surprising, the first shot was fired by President Trump. Reacting to Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie’s 9-point trouncing by Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the president tweeted:
“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”
Ouch! Losing hurts, and when compounded by a presidential kick in the butt, that’s brutal.
Warning: GOP candidates and incumbents reluctant to offer Trump a full “embrace” can expect similar treatment.
Conversely, during the Virginia campaign, Ralph Northam was fond of saying, “Ed Gillespie won’t stand up to Donald Trump because Ed’s standing right next to him.” (Even though Gillespie never campaigned with Trump.)
That is why I call the sticky space between Trump’s tweet and Northam’s accusation, “Ed’s Conundrum.”
In 2018, virtually every Republican candidate can expect Ed’s Conundrum to occupy much of their time and energy. There is no escape hatch since Trump is the leader of the Republican Party. Trump’s name will appear on the ballot next to every “R” candidate – invisible, but glaring. That is the Democrats’ 2018 playbook, and on Tuesday night it worked like a charm.
Of course, Republicans successfully used this same playbook against President Obama during the 2010 midterms when the GOP won control of the House with a record number of seats. Then in 2014 the playbook worked again helping Republicans win control of the Senate.
Given that President Trump will be the virtual running mate for every 2018 Republican candidate anyway, why not just embrace Trump with a full frontal? Sounds crazy, but keep reading.
Actively embracing Trump has one “yuge” benefit – the Trump economy is strong. The data is undeniable.
Since Trump took office, the stock market has reached record highs – great news for millions of Americans who have a 401(k) and IRAs. Moreover, unemployment has dipped to a record low of 4.1 percent.
Best of all, 2017 annual growth could reach or come close to 3 percent – an astonishing achievement when compared to the paltry 1.5 percent growth from President Obama’s last year in office.
Meanwhile, consumer confidence is at its highest level since 2000 – another amazing economic accomplishment of Trump’s first year.
Additionally, housing prices are strong in most of the nation. Interest rates are low too, along with inflation and energy prices.
If these impressive economic indicators positively impacting every American stay on track through November 2018, then “standing with Trump” could turn out to be an advantage. However, proper messaging, positioning and branding of this data is key.
The GOP should unlock some successful messaging found within two now-famous slogans birthed during the 1980 and 1992 presidential elections that can be easily revived for 2018.
First is a landmark moment from the 1980 presidential debate between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. In Reagan’s closing remarks, he looked at the camera and asked the American people: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
Asking that question won Reagan the debate and helped him win a landslide victory.
In the 2018 midterms, Republicans should repeatedly ask an updated version:
“Are you better off than you were two years ago?”
In most cases, the answer is “yes” (Whether voters admit it or not).
The second slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid” originated during the 1992 presidential campaign between Bill Clinton and President George H.W. Bush. With the economy in recession, the Clinton campaign used the slogan internally to help keep themselves focused on economic issues. In 2018, “It’s the economy, stupid” could be used from a positive perspective.
Finally, GOP candidates in 2018 will have no escape from Trump, especially if his job approval remains at or below 40 percent. With Democrats turning the president into every candidate’s virtual running mate, Republicans can pull a jujitsu by embracing Trump’s growing economy as their closest ally.
In spite of Trump’s unpopularity, hammering home the question, “Are you better off than you were two years ago?” while focusing on, “It’s a good economy, stupid,” should be the GOP’s mantra. A strong economy could also be the party’s lifesaver and a solution to “Ed’s Conundrum.”