Why an unpopular Trump and his party can still win
Posted June 27
George Jackson is a conservative Republican. He isn't very satisfied with President Donald Trump.
His disappointment in the President he voted for, and lingering pessimism about the future of the United States barely six months after inauguration, ought to send a shudder through the White House.
That's because Jackson, 90, isn't a prototypical Trump critic. Rather, he's the epitome of a focus-group ready Trump Republican.
He's a senior citizen; he's white; he's a Southerner, he's a Christian; he's a World War II veteran; and he's a business owner. He spends most days overseeing a barbecue joint he has owned in Tucker, about 20 miles northeast of Atlanta, for more than 40 years.
"I don't like his manner. He bumps his gums too much," Jackson told me, when I visited his restaurant, Old Hickory House, while on assignment for the Washington Examiner to cover the recent special election in the Georgia's 6th Congressional District.
"I just wish he would really, mature a little bit and be a little cooler with his approach. He offends a lot of people that are on his side because they don't know -- his tweeting I understood to a point but ... he's his own worst enemy."
To put a finer point on it, Jackson doesn't think Trump is making America great again, although he doesn't necessarily blame the President. "Our nation itself is sick, especially the left," he said. "I don't think our country will last."
And yet as we chatted on a morning in early June, after I polished off a breakfast of eggs and barbecue pork and biscuits and gravy, it became apparent that Trump had nothing to worry about from Jackson.
Like many Republican voters I spoke to in the run-up to what turned out to be the fourth consecutive special election victory for the GOP since Trump assumed office, Jackson was making a sophisticated choice about the leadership he wants in Washington based on the options in front of him.
It's left versus right; a conservative versus liberal Supreme Court; the repeal of Obamacare (partial repeal, at least) versus leaving it in place; tax cuts versus tax increases; secure versus porous borders; a stronger versus a weaker fight against radical jihadism.
That's why, despite Jackson's exasperation with Trump, he doesn't regret his vote.
Nor does he have second thoughts about preferring Republican Karen Handel, who was sworn in Monday as the 6th District congresswoman after defeating Democrat Jon Ossoff, whose ascension would have sent a loud message of disapproval to the White House and represented a check on the President's power.
"I voted for Trump. I couldn't stand the thought of Hillary and another extension of Obama," Jackson said, referring to former President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. "As far as the other choices, I'm not sorry he's there. ... I think his ideas and what he's trying to do is wonderful."
Special election defeats often aren't predictive of the midterm to come.
Senior Republican strategists have been cautioning party stalwarts not to feel too good about the four holds. Republicans won three of those by a closer margin than should make them comfortable, given that Trump won them going away in November. The fourth, suburban Atlanta's 6th District, he captured by only 1.5 percentage points.
With Democrats leading the generic ballot preference for which party should run Congress by 6.8 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics.com average -- they've led in every such poll going back to April -- and Trump's job approval rating hovering around 40%, a condition perpetuated by self-inflicted wounds, Republicans have reason to be alarmed.
History is not on the Republicans' side if numbers such as these persist. Yet polarization and the tribal culture of political affiliation that has developed in the United States this century could protect the GOP from the drubbing that history suggests awaits. So, too, could the battlefield.
Yes, the Democrats' path back to power in the House runs through traditionally Republican suburban districts chockfull of voters who don't like Trump. There are 23 seats Republicans hold that Clinton won in November, just one short of the 24 Democrats need to win next year to take over the House.
But Trump might prove more politically resilient than the numbers suggest and than his combative, social media antics, in which he's constantly re-litigating 2016, should allow.
Some Republican strategists immersed in preparations for 2018 are insistent that if the party in Washington delivers on promises to repeal Obamacare and lower taxes, while providing a sense of security in a world rocked by terrorism, their voters might stick with them and turn out in force, making the choice that the status quo, albeit under a president they find problematic, is preferable to handing the speaker's gavel back to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
Even some of Pelosi's fellow Democrats are beginning to view her as a liability.
"Nancy Pelosi is just as potent a weapon as President Trump is in a suburban campaign context, and that's not a function of her personality as much as it is a function of the voters' fear of putting Democrats in charge of anything," Republican consultant Brad Todd said.
Based on the results in the Atlanta area and my conversations with Republican voters there who were faced with just that decision, the GOP might have reason to hope it can buck historical midterm trends.