The New York Times on Wednesday morning said Democrats had picked up 26 House seats. So, was Tuesday’s midterm election a referendum on President Trump’s first two years in office?
The exit polls say so, at least according to CBS. "Nearly two-thirds of those voters said Mr. Trump was a factor. One quarter of those casting a House ballot said they did so in part to support him. Four in 10 said they cast a vote to oppose him. Only one-third said he played no role in their voting," the liberal network reported.
If you're keeping score at home, that's 58% who said they either voted in support of Trump or that he didn't factor in, while 40% said they're vote was in opposition.
Here’s the thing: The party in the White House nearly always loses seats (sometimes a lot). President Obama’s Democratic Party lost a whopping 63 House seats in 2010, after Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. And that year, CBS also pinned the blame squarely on the man in the White House.
“Mr. Obama proved to be a major liability in the 2010 election,” CBS News reported the day after the 2010 election. “Fifty-five percent of voters disapproved of the way the president is handling his job, including 58 percent of independents. Of those who disapproved of Obama, 86 percent voted for a Republican House candidate. Even more to the point, 37 percent of voters overall, as well as 37 percent of independents, claimed a reason for their House vote was to express opposition to Mr. Obama.”
But CBS cited several other factors: “The Democratic Base Stayed Home,” “Independents Turned to the Right,” and “Disapproval of Performance from Obama and Congress.”
What’s more, the economy — for which presidents get blamed for when it’s bad and take credit when it’s good — was another huge factor. “Nowhere is this dissatisfaction more strongly felt than with Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, the issue viewed as the most important facing the country by 62 percent of the midterm electorate,” CBS said.
But that's what weird about 2018: The economy is on fire, yet the exit polls found that "in a big change from previous midterms, just 1 in 5 voters said the economy was the most important issue in the election this year." For instance, President Clinton picked up five House seats in 1998 when the Internet boom was underway, despite his ongoing sex scandal.
Presidents almost always lose seats in midterms. Franklin Roosevelt lost 72 House seats in 1938 and 45 in 1942. Harry Truman lost 82 seats in his two midterms and Dwight Eisenhower 66. Lyndon Johnson lost 47 seats, Gerald Ford 48, Ronald Reagan 31, Bill Clinton 54 in his first midterm in 1994, George W. Bush 30 in his second midterm in 2006, and Barack Obama a total of 76 in his two midterms.
The losses for Obama were even deeper. When he took office in 2009, Democrats controlled both chambers of 27 state legislatures. When he left office, Democrats controlled just 13 states. And the Democratic Party lost a net total of 13 governorships and 816 state legislative seats during his time in office, the most of any president since Eisenhower, according to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
So in the scheme of things, dropping 26 House seats is not a "blue wave." The GOP held onto the Senate, and if Democrats make Rep. Nancy Pelosi the new Speaker, Trump will be in the catbird seat come 2020.
* A version of this article appeared previously in The Washington Times.