Make no mistake about it, last week wasn’t just a bad week for Donald Trump, but a bad week for the Republican Party as a whole.
And while there are many conservatives who would wash their hands of the GOP after its embrace of Trumpism, it remains the only major party really capable of advancing conservatism. So we have to look at what the GOP can do to recover its image ahead of the 2018 elections.
That cycle is going to be a critically important one. It will determine if any party agenda items are going to make it to the finish line. There is a real danger here that they won’t. Off-year elections are usually rough on the party in power, and the current head of the party in power is not helping the situation at all.
Every member of the House of Representatives is up for re-election, and there are plenty of those seats that could flip. The worry is that enough of those seats could flip, giving control to the Democrats. The Senate, however, could remain safe – there are many red-state Democrats up for re-election who will probably require the most resources to keep their seats.
That means the bottom-line question is what can the Republicans (particularly, House Republicans) do to mitigate the damage, knowing as we do that there will be damage.
The obvious answer seems to be to run against Trump in 2018. He has been an embarrassment as president, despite some bright spots, and there is no sign the tweet is over. I mean decline. It isn’t just bad media coverage from a media that clearly hates him. It’s also bad judgment on his part and a stubborn refusal to change literally anything.
However, that “obvious” answer to run against Trump does have a big potential for backfire. It helped offset damage in 1990 when Republicans ran against George H.W. Bush, but it comes with earning the President’s scorn, and Trump is no H.W. He will do everything in his power to try and destroy anyone who undermines him within his own party. He seems to delight in tearing down Republicans way more than Democrats. (A familiar quality among his faithful defenders, I might add.)
The GOP can also run hard against Democrats, attempting to paint them as hysterical obstructionists either suffering from or fostering derangement syndrome, which coat of paint they’re already applying themselves to a large extent. A daily montage of Democrats calling for impeachment and declaring that this is the absolute Worst Day in American History Ever wears exceedingly thin, and it’s hard to think anything is “worse” when everything is treated as the maximum amount of worst.
In any case, the one thing the GOP can’t do is run on ideas.
They have no moral ground. They were given the chance to repeal and replace Obamacare, and they didn’t do it. They said they would defund Planned Parenthood, and it isn’t happening. They have been promising since they took the House in 2010 that they would right all the wrongs their constituents constantly and correctly complained about, and they haven’t done it yet. More importantly, there’s really no sign they’ve started to do it, nor any indication that they will in the future.
The situation the GOP finds itself in is a dire one… but it’s one of entirely their making. They may have already lost the trust of voters who just months ago elected a man who epitomized to them what they wanted: A straight-talking, no-nonsense president. Just months ago voted in huge GOP numbers.
And the last week, like a microcosm of the first 100 days, has seriously endangered the whole thing. It’s not hopeless of course, but if something doesn’t change soon, it will be.