Political News

Donald Trump isn't on the 2018 ballot. Except, he sort of is.

Posted June 7, 2018 5:30 p.m. EDT

— There's a theory kicking around Republican campaign circles that goes something like this:

Voters are very happy about the state of the economy and that will accrue to the party's benefit at the ballot box in November. Voters, or at least a majority of them, disapprove of Donald Trump. But they don't associate Trump very closely with the Republican Party, thinking of him as sort of an island unto himself.

It's that theory -- coupled with improvements on the congressional generic ballot -- that has led to a surge of optimism among Republicans about their chances of retaining their House and Senate majorities this fall.

But a new national poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal will likely dump a bucket of cold water on that GOP excitement. There are two interconnected findings in the survey that suggest the Republican vision of what voters think about Trump and the GOP may be somewhat misguided.

The first is the aforementioned generic ballot; Democrats carry a 50%-to-40% edge over Republicans in the new NBC/WSJ poll. That's up from the 7-point lead Democrats held in the same poll in April.

But what's more troubling for Republicans is when the people who said they prefer a Democratic Congress are asked why. A majority -- 54% -- say it is more because they "oppose the policies of Donald Trump and Republican candidates" while 41% say it's because they support the policies of the Democratic Party and its candidates.

What that means in practical terms is that voters see the 2018 election as a referendum on Trump -- and the candidates in his party. Historically speaking, this isn't terribly surprising. After all, since World War I, there have been only three midterm elections in which the president's party didn't lose House seats: 1934, 1998 and 2002. (In each case the election fell during or shortly after a cataclysmic cultural event.)

The Point: Donald Trump has made a lot of political history irrelevant with his 2016 campaign and his 16 months in the White House. But if the NBC-WSJ poll is right, he won't be able to outrace the history of midterm elections for presidents. And that's bad news for his party's majority in the House -- and maybe in the Senate, too.

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