Even more shrinkage: Dems' generic-ballot lead down to three points, a new low

Blowing the 2016 election against Trump and then the 2018 midterms when POTUS can’t get out of the mid-40s in job approval would be the greatest competitive choke since the 2004 ALCS. I continue to believe Democrats will take back the House partly for that reason. It’s not just the laws of political gravity dictating that the out-party wins big in a midterm, particularly when the president’s not very popular. It’s that teams just don’t choke this bigly, as the president likes to say.

But it does happen very occasionally.

Why not now?

In case the graphic’s too small for you to see, Democrats have dipped to 43.8 percent on the generic ballot, their smallest share of Trump’s presidency and the first time they’ve been below 44 percent. Republicans, meanwhile, are at 40.8 percent, their highest mark of the Trump era and the first time they’ve topped 40.5. Why? In this case the silver bullet is Rasmussen, whose new generic-ballot poll has the Dems up by a single point. A week ago Rasmussen had them ahead by six. As their new data has cycled into RCP’s average of the five most recent national polls, the average itself has risen accordingly, producing today’s three-point gap.

Could be a fluke — but maybe not. Ed noticed yesterday that Reuters’s tracking poll has also picked up a big shift towards the GOP recently, with Republicans now actually *ahead* on their generic-ballot metric. Reuters’s new data hasn’t been incorporated into the RCP average yet. When it is, you’re probably going to see this three-point lead dwindle further. Lefties have been chill thus far about the GOP picking up ground in the RCP generic ballot, reasoning that the fact that their party has overperformed so much in special elections the past 15 months is proof enough that they’re headed for a big night in November. (Which is a defensible argument.) But if Republicans actually catch the Dems in the generic-ballot average, we’ll start to see some panic.

The likeliest scenario right now based on the polling, I’d guess, is Dems retaking the House but with a majority so narrow as to make the chamber all but ungovernable. Nathan Gonzales of Roll Call gamed out that scenario this morning and thought the unthinkable: What if Democrats grab a majority so slender that Pelosi can’t find 218 votes for Speaker, forcing her to leave the caucus leadership ignominiously?

After the 2016 elections, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan garnered 63 votes in his challenge to Pelosi for minority leader. (She received 134 votes.) And earlier this month, The Washington Post identified 10 Democratic contenders who would oppose her and 10 more who “conspicuously declined to express support for her.” Part of Pelosi’s power is the role she played in members getting elected and re-elected, but there is a potentially new crop of freshmen who won’t have that loyalty and can’t break a campaign promise with the first vote they take in Congress. It would be electoral suicide in the types of districts they’d be representing.

If at least 35 Democrats who opposed her in the last leadership race vote to oppose her again, and there are at least 15 new members who can’t support her because of their campaign rhetoric and districts, Democrats would have to gain at least 60 seats because Pelosi would need 218 votes to become speaker, and not just a majority of her party.

There’s your silver lining just in case Dems do take back the lower chamber. The odds of Pelosi being humiliated anyway are high.

Here’s POTUS last night with a solid laugh line about the importance of 2018 vis-a-vis his own glorious victory two years ago.