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The Midterms Are 98 Days Away. Could Democrats Be Thwarted — Again?

In this Wednesday, May 9, 2018, photo, Pamela Hampton votes in Sandy Springs, Ga. As the midterm congressional primaries heat up amid warnings of Russian hacking, about 1 in 5 Americans will be casting their ballots on machines that do not produce a paper record of their votes. That worries voting and cybersecurity experts, who say the lack of a hard copy makes it difficult to double-check the results for signs of manipulation.(John Bazemore/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
In this Wednesday, May 9, 2018, photo, Pamela Hampton votes in Sandy Springs, Ga. As the midterm congressional primaries heat up amid warnings of Russian hacking, about 1 in 5 Americans will be casting their ballots on machines that do not produce a paper record of their votes. That worries voting and cybersecurity experts, who say the lack of a hard copy makes it difficult to double-check the results for signs of manipulation.(John Bazemore/AP)

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As Donald Trump careens through America and the world, upending convention, destroying alliances and committing offense after offense, there has been one saving prospect on the horizon: the midterm elections.

Just over three months from now, runs the thinking, the jig will be up. The Democrats will take the House; they may even take the Senate. Trump’s hold on power will be broken. The Republicans who have covered for him will be cover no more. Investigations will proceed apace and the new majority will be able to stymie the Trumpian dismantling of everything from environmental protection to consumer protection. If the president wants to accomplish anything in his next two years in office, he’ll have to bend to the wishes of the Democrats. As Gerald Ford once said of Richard Nixon, “our long national nightmare” may soon be over.

Or perhaps not. Democrats are confident victory will be theirs. Pollsters too. But there are good reasons to think they’re all wrong. Not only the Senate but also the House may very well remain safely Republican.

Granted, I’m in a distinct minority here. The Economist’s midterm forecasting model projects the Democrats have a 71 percent chance of taking the House — by flipping at least 24 Republican seats — in November. Political analyst Larry Sabato reckons the House goes Democratic. The president remains deeply unpopular: FiveThirtyEight’s poll of polls shows that only 42 percent approve of Trump; 53 percent disapprove. The champagne corks are already being popped.

So maybe, at least when it comes to anything Trump, we should treat polls skeptically.

Uh oh. Haven’t we seen this show before? In the days before the 2016 presidential election, nearly all pollsters predicted Hilary Clinton would win. FiveThirtyEight, for example, gave her a 71 percent chance of becoming the next president. Natalie Jackson and Adam Hooper, in the Huffington Post, gave Clinton a 98 percent chance of winning.

So maybe, at least when it comes to anything Trump, we should treat polls skeptically.

Two other factors provoke the most worry, however. First, Trump is actually delivering on what he promised.  And second, the Democrats are alienating precisely the folks they need to attract if they are to win.

The conventional wisdom is that politicians promise one thing but actually do something else. Not Trump. He promised to keep out illegal immigrants and cut taxes. He promised to get the US out of the Paris climate change treaty and pick truly conservative judges. He promised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and get rid of Obamacare. On all fronts, he has delivered — or a least tried to deliver. No backpedaling for him. And if you’re a voter who cast your vote for Trump because of those promises, it’s hard to imagine why you would be having second thoughts. Yes, he’s crude and impolitic (which to many is part of the allure). But more importantly, he’s keeping his word.

And while he’s been keeping his word, the economy has been humming. Unemployment is low, wages are increasing, the GDP is expanding, and stocks are through the roof. A May survey by CBS found two-thirds of Americans rating the economy as “very good” or “somewhat good,” with 68 percent giving Trump the credit. And since then things have only gotten better: GDP in the second quarter grew by a sizzling annual rate of 4.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party seems to be running away from the voters it needs to win.

Voters don’t get rid of the folks who they think are doing a good job.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party seems to be running away from the voters it needs to win. Elections aren’t won at the extremes. Twenty-seven percent of voters identify as Republicans; it’s probably safe to assume they are in Trump’s camp. Twenty-nine percent identify as Democrats; they doubtless will vote Democratic. But the vast plurality — 43 percent — call themselves independent. Politically agnostic, mostly moderate and willing to vote for either party, they are ones each party needs to woo.

Yet instead of reaching towards the center, Democrats are veering ever more left. Almost with glee, they are dumping those — such as New York’s Joe Crowley — of a more moderate stripe. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may have energized those on the left, but Mitch McConnell is right to be overjoyed at her win: Democratic socialism doesn’t appeal to independents and calls for the abolition of ICE only drive them into Republican hands.

Younger, energized voters may well flock to the polls in November, making for Democratic wins across the country. If not though — and historically, turnout among the young has been low — regular older voters, happy with the results of Trump’s presidency (although admittedly, often unhappy with the man himself) and turned off by the Democrat’s leftward tilt, could easily vote GOP.

Two more years of an unrestrained Donald Trump? Unimaginable? Impossible? Sadly, yes, very possible indeed.

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Tom Keane Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Tom Keane is a Boston-based writer.

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