Politico/Morning Consult: Republicans take first lead on generic ballot

At times like these, it’s best to remember the words of philosopher Han Solo, or whatever his name turns out to be next: Nice shooting, kid. Don’t get cocky. Cocky is precisely how Democrats find themselves trailing for the first time in a national poll on the 2018 midterms:

Republicans have erased the Democratic advantage on the generic congressional ballot in a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that, for the first time since April, also shows President Donald Trump’s approval rating equaling the percentage of voters who disapprove of his job performance.

Fully 39 percent of registered voters say they would support the GOP candidate for Congress in their district, while 38 percent would back the Democratic candidate. Nearly a quarter of voters, 23 percent, are undecided.

Voters are split almost evenly along party lines. Democratic voters break for their party, 85 percent to 5 percent, while Republicans similarly favor the GOP, 84 percent to 8 percent. Among independent voters, 26 percent would vote for the Democrat, 25 percent for the Republican and nearly half, 49 percent, are undecided.

That’s quite a shift in just a two-month period — but Democrats only have themselves to blame. Republicans had stepped on their own feet plenty of times in 2017, but they finally managed to pass a major part of their agenda in December with the tax reform package. Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats shrieked that it would literally kill people, prompting protesters in the Senate and House galleries to chant “Kill the bill, don’t kill us.”

After it passed and people didn’t LITERALLY DIE, Democrats tried changing the subject by sneering at wage increases and bonuses as “crumbs.” They insisted that workers didn’t get any real benefit, while the workers themselves saw immediate boosts in pay. Multinational corporations announced major reinvestment initiatives in the American economy based on favorable tax conditions for repatriation of overseas capital, precisely as Republicans had predicted.

In other words, Democrats argued that people were too stupid to understand that keeping more of their own money was bad … for Democrats. Their collapse in credibility and standing was so predictable that only Democratic leadership could have missed it.

Nor is that the only surprising result. Despite a festering West Wing scandal involving an aide accused of domestic abuse and apparent dishonesty in how it was handled, Donald Trump got his first non-negative net approval rating since April:

As a scandal regarding abuse allegations against a top White House aide emerged, voters were evenly split on whether they approved of President Donald Trump’s job performance, marking the first time in nine months that his net approval wasn’t in negative territory.

According to a new Morning Consult/Politico poll, voters are split, 47 percent to 47 percent, when asked if they approve or disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president. Six percent said they did not know or had no opinion. The poll of 1,985 registered voters, conducted Feb. 8-12, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

As CNBC noted earlier this week, that’s a performance-based rating, not a likeability result. Voters may not personally care for Trump, but they certainly like what he’s doing on the economy, and that’s going to drive their voting decisions. Barack Obama had routinely high personal ratings, but he lost two midterm landslides because they didn’t like his policies. That’s the risk Democrats ran on making their midterm message all about Trump; as soon as he was able to show results, his personality became much less of an issue. And the tax reform bill has shown dramatic results, whether Democrats recognize it or not.

So why not get cocky? We’re still almost nine months away from the midterms, and lots of things can happen between now and November. There will be gaffes and setbacks, and the economy could still get a shock or two. The midterms are hardly in the bag for either party, or even seriously underway. However, Democrats have squandered both a head start and the credibility normally given to the opposition party in a first midterm, and with Pelosi in charge, it’s tough to see how they change their message or approach over the next nine months. Pelosi may well once again snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but it’s looking more like the other way around.

Update: I got the last sentence backward, didn’t I? *sigh* I’ve rewritten it. My apologies; I meant the opposite.