With the 2018 midterm elections just 8 weeks away, the GOP is projected to lose its majority in the House, and possibly the Senate. Bruce Bartlett — a former advisor to President Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official under President George H.W. Bush — thinks Republicans’ expected loss is long overdue.
“I think the GOP needs to die,” Bartlett told Grit Post in a Twitter direct message. “It’s[sic] has been a zombie party for at least 10 years–brain dead but somehow still alive.”
The Republican Party’s stranglehold on Congress began in 2014, though the GOP strengthened their majorities following the 2016 election. However, President Trump’s approval rating has dropped six points in a new CNN poll compared to last month, with just 36 percent of respondents saying they approve of the job Trump is doing as president. Only 32 percent of those polled said they were proud to have Trump as president.
These numbers are particularly significant when looking at historical context. Typically, presidential approval ratings have a strong correlation to how the president’s party fares in midterm elections. In August of 2010, Gallup reported that the party in power usually loses approximately 36 house seats if the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent. Obama had a 45 percent approval rating just prior to the 2010 midterms, and the GOP gained 63 house seats.
Trump’s declining popularity may very well carry over to Republicans running to keep their seats in November. While Republicans endorsed by Trump usually win their primaries (with the exception of Luther Strange in Alabama’s senate primary), three Republicans running on Trump’s endorsement — Roy Moore in Alabama, Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania, and Ed Gillespie in Virginia — eventually lost to Democrats. An NPR/Marist poll released Wednesday showed that voters in the Midwest, where Trump won handily in 2016, have swung toward Democrats by 13 points since July.
However, Bruce Bartlett was quick to note that, in his opinion, the decline of the Republican Party began long before Trump was elected to the presidency.
“I think the rot started under [former President George H.W. Bush] when Republicans opposed a small tax increase knowing it would hurt him politically. [Former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich and his allies believed that getting him out of the way would allow them to get control of the GOP,” Bartlett said. “It worked.”
Democrats only need to flip 24 house seats in order to win back control of the chamber. 26 Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), have announced their retirement from Congress this year. But Bartlett, for his part, is not optimistic that Democrats will effectively implement their policy agenda in the face of GOP obstruction.
“Republicans won’t compromise and Democrats will lack the power to do anything,” Bartlett told Grit Post.
He may be right — if Democrats take control of the house but remain the minority party in the senate, they will likely be unable to pass bills enacting popular policies like Medicare for All and tuition-free public college. However, a Democratic house majority will have subpoena power, meaning that they can conduct investigations on everything from President Trump’s tax returns and potential conflicts of interest to cabinet members’ indiscretions, like the allegations that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross stole $120 million from his business partners.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 6.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.