Was Alabama an Aberration? Or Is It a Sign of a Blue Wave?

Now that we’ve celebrated Jones defeating Moore, was the Alabama election an isolated incident of insanity, or can we read something more nationally? Let me point to two recent polls that show a growing national backlash against Trump, plus a recent poll showing the tax plan is historically unpopular.

1. Two polls (Pew and Monmouth) show Trump down to 32% approval. That number is historically low — very low — and the trajectory is toxic. The Pew poll shows a staggering 63% disapproval rating, and Polling in Nixon’s era was not as reliable, but these numbers are far worse than Nixon’s, who was in the low 40s relatively late in the Watergate investigation. But Trump is not Nixon. He won’t resign. The question now is GOP self-preservation. I’d guess that the red-line panic number is in the high 20s. We’re not there yet, but if there are more indictments and guilty pleas…

2. The Pew poll shows danger for Trump on the Russia investigation. “A majority (59%) thinks [improper Russia] contacts definitely or probably occurred; 30% think they definitely or probably did not happen. In views of Mueller’s investigation, 56% are very or somewhat confident he will conduct the probe fairly. Only about a quarter of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (26%) say Trump officials definitely or probably had improper contacts with Russia during the campaign… About two-thirds of Democrats (68%) and 44% Republicans say they are at least somewhat confident Mueller’s investigation will be conducted fairly.”
I actually think those two numbers on Republicans are big trouble for Trump. His political survival depends upon his base rallying to his defense. If 44% of Republicans somewhat trust Mueller, firing him will be disastrous, and a solid number of Republicans seem open to believing Mueller’s findings. And if 26% of Republicans are already willing to acknowledge improper contacts, that is a sign of significant erosion in Trump’s base, which I imagine could get a lot worse.
3. In today’s Monmouth poll, Dems have a massive 15% advantage on generic ballot, 51 to 36. Other polls, along with the actual numbers from Alabama, Virginia, and special elections, confirm a growing Dem wave in 2018. The average swing in these elections is +16 to the Democrats, and even if you drop Alabama, that swing is about +10, plenty big enough to overcome gerrymanders to win the House by a significant margin. All the Democrats need is to flip 25 seats, and a recent poll of those 25 districts also shows a significant swing of +9 towards Democrats.
My guess is that the Jones upset is forcing Republicans to look more nervously at these polls as they think about the tax bill. This Quinnipiac poll shows disastrously low support for the tax bill (55% disapprove, and only 26% approve, which is toxic). No bill has ever passed with anything close to these rock-bottom numbers. I’m guessing that California House Republicans get cold feet, and I’m guessing a couple of Senate Republicans might slow down this bill, too. The compromises worked out today include a repeal of the ACA individual mandate, and do not seem to include the guarantees Sen. Collins required. McConnell has announced he won’t seat Jones until January, but I can imagine one more Senator slowing down the bill enough in light of Jones’s win or other concerns, and that would make incoming Senator Jones’s vote decisive in January. (In 2009, McCain was vocal about seating Scott Brown before any votes on the ACA, and the Democrats accommodated McCain then).
4. Speaking of the Senate, the Jones upset is particularly important for winning back the Senate in 2018. This 51-seat goal was achievable by a) holding all the red-state incumbents (WV, MT, ND, MO, and IN), b) flipping both purple states (NV and AZ), and then c), according to a Democratic stratetist “An act of God.” Well, that act of God happened, and it wasn’t the divine intervention that Roy Moore was relying on. Even before Moore’s sexual predator scandals blew up, I had identified Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas as realistic shots, and people mocked me openly. Well, they were right to dismiss me then (because it now seems like Moore would have won by a few points without these scandals). But now, the Democrats have won Alabama, and their chances are surprisingly good in Tennessee, where former governor Phil Bredesen stands a solid chance to win an open seat due to Corker’s retirement, and in Texas, where Ted Cruz is about as popular as Roy Moore was in Alabama, as Matt Yglesias notes. Texas is much closer than Alabama.
I’m going to go on record and predict Congressman Beto O’Rourke knocks out Cruz, and Bredesen wins Tennessee. Not only does Senate control knock out Trump’s legislative agenda. It also think it prevents Trump from swinging the Supreme Court any further to the right. If Kennedy retires this June, I think the Jones win was enormous. Now two relatively moderate Republicans (Collins and Murkowski?) can use their influence to demand a moderate nominee. But I’m praying Kennedy does not step down.

5. These polls also show remarkable numbers on Jerusalem move: The public does not like it. “Just 23% say it is a good idea compared to 39% who say it is a bad idea, with 38% registering no opinion. A majority (51%) think the move will destabilize the Middle East region.” Wow. I initially thought it was a crass but effective political move that would help Roy Moore win, but now it looks like Trump has the anti-Midas touch. He is making moves that otherwise would be popular, and he is tainting them with his malevolent incompetence.

Author: Jed Shugerman

Legal historian at Fordham Law School, teaching Torts, Administrative Law, and Constitutional History. JD/PhD in History, Yale. Red Sox and Celtics fan, youth soccer coach. Author of "The People's Courts: Pursuing Judicial Independence in America" (2012) on the rise of judicial elections in America. I filed an amicus brief in the Emoluments litigation against Trump along with a great team of historians. I'm working on "The Rise of the Prosecutor Politicians," a history of prosecutors and American politics, and another project on the origins of independent agencies in America.

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