Most Americans still disagree with Trump, but what is remarkable is the extent to which even those who hate him are forced to conduct the debate on the terms he has set. In redefining American politics to suit his own explosive style, Trump has got inside our heads much more deeply than he was during the 2016 campaign, when we still had the luxury of tuning him out at times and believing he would not be around much longer.
Which is why I believe that the psychological shock of 2016 will not have fully worn off until and unless the results of 2018 produce results that adhere to what used to be the laws of American politics. Are the polls going to be right this time? Are there any political norms that matter anymore? Or has Trump definitively rewritten the code of what is acceptable to American voters? I spent much of my twenties reporting on congressional elections for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, and, while we were not always dead-on election forecasters, the general picture that emerged in the run-up to elections was usually right. We knew that Republicans were headed for a huge win to take over the House in 1994, for the first time in four decades. We knew it again in 2010, when Republicans delivered a sixty-three-seat “shellacking” to President Obama, in what remains the high-water mark for modern midterm election gains. All the data suggest that this, too, should be such a year. Pick any indicator, and it argues for a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives: history, fund-raising, polls. But there are no guarantees, and, after 2016, this nagging uncertainty has come to define the Trump era.