Summer temperatures are cooling a bit as we approach the end of August. But an eastern heat wave is flowing out of Washington, D.C., warming political debates as far away as Utah. We keep our air conditioners on high as we explore the ramifications.
For months, political pundits have dissected whether the much-heralded "blue wave" will sweep across the nation. Now, courtroom revelations about President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and personal attorney have Washington in a tizzy. Debates are swirling on the impact of these revelations on congressional elections and the future of the president. So, will there be a blue wave in Utah?
Pignanelli: "Many of us were burned in the 2016 elections by prediction models, so I will not predict in 2018 who wins a kite-flying contest in the midst of a hurricane." — Matthew Dowd, ABC News
A tsunami is generated by a massive event, an earthquake or meteorite impact. The same holds true in politics. (Political hacks like me love to over-dramatize boring matters with outlandish descriptions.)
Whether the recent developments, adding to the emotional reactions Trump fostered for 18 months, generate a “wave” of change remains unanswered because traditional electioneering is upended. But history can provide limited guidance to candidates and parties. A strong economy and overreaching opposition distill the effect of presidential scandals voters find abhorrent but irrelevant (1998). Yet economics cannot overcome congressional scandals easily understood combined with a questionable presidential military strategy (2006). Enthused, determined voters expressing disgust with the party in power can drive change (2010).
Most voters made up their mind about Trump. So how the parties craft responses to the controversies and take credit for — or question — a booming economy will determine whether this is a bump or a colossal avalanche (I cannot help myself).
Webb: Midterm elections are, to some degree, a referendum on the incumbent president and the party in power. Voters in Utah’s 4th Congressional District who want to punish Trump may vote for Democrat Ben McAdams over incumbent Congresswoman Mia Love.
But balanced against the Trump factor is the Pelosi factor. A lot of Republicans and independents don’t particularly like Trump, but they really, really don’t want to give the House of Representatives to Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. They understand that a vote for McAdams is a vote for a Democratic takeover.
Meanwhile, Washington reporters, pundits and Democrats are beating their breasts and exclaiming: “We got Trump! Indict! Impeach!” But the average voter is wondering what’s new. They’re weighing what they already know about Trump against what he has accomplished in 18 months.
They already know Trump is a philanderer, that he paid off mistresses, that he stretches the truth, that he has a big mouth, that he is erratic and egotistical, and so forth.
But they’re comparing all that against a terrific economy, low unemployment, tax cuts, reduced regulation, energy independence, more muscular foreign policy, great judicial appointments, military buildup, tougher stance on terrorism — and possible downsides of trade, immigration and the national debt.
If predicting the demise of Trump was a fatal disease for Washington pundits and politicos, only Trump would still be alive.
A while ago, hundreds of newspapers across the country coordinated editorial attacks against Trump in response to his “fake news” and “enemy of the people” charges against the news media. Will this impact Utah politics?
Pignanelli: Trump is obsessed with daily disparagements of the media, which are consumed by covering his insults and perceived slights against the First Amendment. This battle is now ubiquitous background noise and ignored by Americans.
The more relevant dynamic is Utahns are increasingly getting their news not from television or newspapers, but from native digital sources. So any controversies about newspapers and television do not resonate. Further, successful campaigns continue to move from traditional forms of publicity to sophisticated social media venues. The rock fight between the president and the press has a limited audience.
Webb: Not many normal people pay attention to newspaper editorials (or to columnists like us!). The news media and the political class operate in an echo chamber, talking (and sometimes yelling) at each other while average voters go about their lives. The prevailing opinion among Trump supporters is that the mainstream media hate him anyway, so widespread editorial collusion has no further impact.
What should Utahns expect as Labor Day, the unofficial start of the campaign season, draws closer?
Pignanelli: Larger campaigns are conducting focus groups and polling to ensure advertisement bombardments resonate with voters. Smaller efforts are readying door knockers and mailers in anticipation of September blitzes. Digital ads will soon appear. Also, all such activities will be replicated by supporters of the statewide initiatives. Hopefully, the upcoming three-day holiday will offer some reprieve.
Webb: Preseason training camp is nearly over and it’s time to get serious about the 2018 elections. Candidates and ballot initiatives are rolling out TV spots to define themselves. With early voting beginning in less than two months, there’s no time to lose.