Are rising GOP expectations for the midterms justified? Maybe

During a chat that the gang at 538 had this week, the question was breached… what happened to the Democratic wave? That may sound a bit premature, but it’s an issue which is now being raised more and more. We’ve been assured repeatedly that the party out of power in a midterm cycle always picks up seats and generally flips at least one of the two chambers of Congress. Is the GOP slowly moving into position to break that pattern?

I don’t see anyone betting the entire ranch on it at this point, but there’s been some hopeful movement lately. At The Hill, Alexander Bolton isn’t exactly brimming with GOP enthusiasm but does allow that fears of an all-out disaster are easing.

Republicans are feeling better about their prospects in the midterm elections, buoyed by recent polls that show their numbers improving.

An ebullient President Trump touted the shift in public sentiment reflected in recent polls during a joint Senate-House Republican retreat in West Virginia this week.

“I just looked at some numbers, you’ve even done better than you thought,” Trump told lawmakers, citing poll numbers he discussed Thursday with National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio).

“The numbers are pretty good and that’s one example of how things are getting better,” Stivers told reporters after discussing polling numbers with Trump.

Even though he’s not on the ballot, it’s tough to argue that impressions of President Trump will be in play. But the notoriously low approval ratings which have dogged the Trump presidency thus far also seem to be showing some growth, however anemic. You can get a fairly good look at the current polling snapshot at Real Clear Politics and their rolling average. As of Super Bowl Sunday, they’ve got the President at an average of 41.9 approval with 54.2 disapproving. But that average runs back to the middle of January. The last couple of surveys they logged have all been going in the same direction… up.

The last one in the stack is a Rasmussen poll ending February 1st showing Trump dead even at 49/49, but let’s face it. Rasmussen is always a massive outlier these days. Of more interest are both that “shocking” Monmouth poll followed by the slightly less shocking one from the Economist which rang up the same numbers, with both showing Trump at 44% approval. That’s still not the kind of support that will stop some Republicans from distancing themselves from the White House while running in marginal states, but hey… you take what you can get, right?

The problem for the Democrats seems to be that they haven’t managed to snag any good headlines lately. The shutdown turned out to be a disaster for them despite the media’s valiant efforts to blame it on the GOP. The State of the Union speech was actually quite well received and the Dem leaders came off looking like petulant children when they sat on their hands. And the public impression of the tax cuts continues to be positive overall. (Since I’m nearly the only one who seems terribly concerned with what’s happening to the debt.)

So does that mean the Republicans can start breathing easy? I suppose I’d allow “easier” if you insist, but keep this in mind. It was only six weeks ago when that same RCP average had Donald Trump totally underwater at 37/58. It’s still more than eight months to the elections, which is enough time for a new species to rise and fall in political terms. What was gained in six weeks can be lost just as quickly with one turn of the news cycle. Some are still seeing the turnout projections for the Democrats looking pretty good, yet that’s still tempered by the fact that they’re also just about dead broke. But if a bit of discipline can be maintained and if a few more legislative wins can be notched, who knows? Being down on the generic ballot by five or six points is nothing to write home about, but it’s a lot better than being down by 14. If the GOP can get that back to a dead-even split and somehow hoist Trump up to somewhere around 47 or 48, they might just defy expectations and hang onto their majorities.