Liz Peek: Republican candidates in 2018 should be talking about one thing, and one thing alone

The biggest news story in 2018 is not Omarosa or Stormy Daniels – it is the booming economy, according to Director of the White House Economic Council Larry Kudlow, who made that case to pals at a recent dinner. He is right, of course. The acceleration in U.S. growth, bringing rising wages and increased job opportunities across the board, is a monumental achievement of the Trump White House. Especially since so many liberal economists, like Larry Summers, said it couldn’t be done.

The second biggest news item is that President Trump’s approval ratings have held steady as a rock, especially among Republicans. There is a ferocity among his followers that does not attach in this era to any other political figure, and for that we can credit, at least in part, the media. The worse their attacks on the president become, the more steadfast his support. Go figure.

The third biggest story, in my view, is that many GOP candidates appear oblivious to both these themes. Democrats spend more time talking about the economy and the GOP tax cuts than Republicans do; they certainly have more to say about the president. Many Republicans running for office appear embarrassed by the economic power unleashed by lower tax rates and deregulation; it’s almost as though they don’t understand what is happening. At best, they seem unable to articulate why the tax cuts are helping their voters.

These reluctant Republicans have allowed Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues to set the narrative about the GOP tax cuts and the buoyant economy. Democrats began lying about the GOP tax bill before it was even written, with Chuck Schumer et al initially saying that it would not benefit middle-class workers. When numerous analyses indicated that claim was flat-out wrong, and as Americans discovered the savings in their paychecks, their tune changed, slightly. Now they stress that the gains are mostly flowing to the wealthy, and to big, fat corporations. They are hoping the politics of envy will override relief that jobs are suddenly plentiful and that consumer optimism is off the charts, for the first time in a decade.

Here’s a heads-up: midterm elections are always about turnout. Always. Trump, and Trump alone in many districts, will drive GOP turnout. He is the energy in the party, his is the story – and he can tell it better than anyone. Do they really think John Kasich boosted Troy Balderson’s vote?

A recent story in the New York Times is typical. It says the lower taxes on businesses are “unlocking tens of millions of dollars in campaign donations from the wealthy conservatives and corporate interests that benefitted handsomely from it.” The piece names various people and corporations who have donated to the Congressional Leadership Fund, and hints that Sheldon Adelson, for instance, gave $30 million to the Paul Ryan-linked Super Pac with monies received from the tax reform bill.

The Times fails to mention that Adelson has in previous elections topped that figure, and has consistently supported Republicans and Donald Trump. They also neglect to list the billionaires who have given millions to House Majority, the corresponding Democrat Super Pac, like Paloma Partners founder Donald Sussman or Euclidean Capital, the family office of hedge fund wizard James Simon. Were their donations a direct result of the GOP tax cuts, too?

The Times piece quotes Corry Bliss, the head of the Super PAC working to hold onto the GOP majority in Congress, saying he had “all but begged every campaign to run on the middle-class tax cut,” to no avail. He says, “In this environment, if you don’t make clear the contrasts between the two teams, then you are not going to get the benefit of the doubt.”

He notes that two incumbent Republicans running in contested districts carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 – Carlos Curbelo in Florida and Will Hurd in Texas – are running better than expected by doing just that.

For the past year, Democrats have hoped that anti-Trump sentiment would translate to a Blue Wave, giving them the 24 seats needed to flip control of the House of Representatives and maybe even gaining an advantage in the Senate. They have clung to a couple of special election outcomes, mainly Conor Lamb’s win in Pennsylvania’s 18th District and more recently the tight race in Ohio’s 12th, to bolster their hopes. They can also cite history; almost always the party in the White House leaks power in the midterms.

But Trump continues to turn convention on its head. The recent Ohio race was close, but – let’s be honest – the president’s last-minute rally for Republican Troy Balderson appears to have pushed him over the edge. (The official tally drags on.) Before voting day, internal GOP polling showed Balderson trailing rival Danny O’Connor. Party officials had written off the seat.

Republican candidates and strategists anguish over President Trump’s popularity and dither over whether to back him. Here’s a heads-up: midterm elections are always about turnout. Always. Trump, and Trump alone in many districts, will drive GOP turnout. He is the energy in the party, his is the story – and he can tell it better than anyone. Do they really think John Kasich boosted Troy Balderson’s vote?

Democrats are counting on anti-Trump fever to drive their voters to the polls. Since the party has yet to present a platform that excites Americans, they are relying on their constituents to vote against Donald Trump. For many, that will be enough. But it is a risky strategy, especially since a number of Democrats’ core constituents appear tilting ever so slightly in Trump’s direction. African-American support for the president has increased, according to a variety of polls, as has his approval ratings among Hispanics. Both those groups, most likely, appreciate the better job opportunities they see, and their rising wages.

President Trump will doubtless campaign relentlessly between now and November, and candidates would do well to ask for his support. They would also be well advised to talk up the economy.  That is indeed the biggest story of the year, for all Americans.