Democrats assumed that taking on Donald Trump would be easy. That has not turned out to be true. Once it seemed that the Democratic opposition was assured of at least taking control of the House in this year's midterm elections, but the result now seems increasingly like a tossup. There are several reasons for this, but looming large among them is the Democrats' own tendency to overreach and make unforced errors.
The Democrats' first miscalculation was on DACA. Democrats forced a shutdown over DACA in January even though President Trump offered them a sweetheart deal. In the end, Democrats rejected the deal and eventually caved, allowing the shutdown to end with nothing to show for it. It was an ignominious defeat similar to the 2013 Republican shutdown over Obamacare.
In their surrender, the Democrats lost a chance to please their base and split the GOP at the same time. Instead, Democratic leaders angered both progressives and Dreamers. In a stunning turn of events, some DACA recipients have even protested against the Democratic National Committee.
Of course, the risk in accepting the deal would have been to hand Trump a victory on immigration and the possibility of losing their grip on the Hispanic vote. The best course for Democrats would have been not to force a shutdown in the first place while continuing to press for a DACA deal.
The second Democrat error of 2018 was their overreach on gun control. When President Trump extended an offer to help Democrats with their gun control effort, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) literally jumped for joy and the party jumped at the chance.
What emerged from behind the closed doors of the Democrat caucus was a bill that included a laundry list of gun control measures that will likely mobilize gun owners to get out the vote in November. Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) bill includes an “assault weapons” ban, expanded background checks and gun violence restraining orders which would allow family members to get a court order to prevent dangerous individuals from getting a gun. A second bill, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), would ban the “sale, transfer, production, and importation” of 205 semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns that can hold more than 10 rounds.
While President Trump might have embraced a more modest gun control bill, these Democratic bills have almost no chance of becoming law. With Republicans in control of Congress, Democrats would need 11 Senate Republicans to defect in order to get cloture. That won't happen without significant arm-twisting from President Trump, which is unlikely. The third Democrat error was unveiling a new plan to raise taxes if they win control of Congress. The Democrat plan is a multi-faceted approach with an increase in the top marginal income tax rate, increasing the corporate tax rate to 25 percent (tax reform cut this rate to 21 percent from 35 percent), bringing back the alternative minimum tax (AMT) and restoring the standard deduction for the estate tax (i.e. the “death tax”) to its pre-reform level.
The Democrats' gamble here is two-fold. First, they assume that tax reform has remained as unpopular as it was before passage. In reality, as companies announce expansion plans and employee bonuses in the wake of tax reform, the new tax law is increasingly popular. The New York Times found that a majority of Americans currently approve of the Republican law.
The second gamble is that voters will favor the Democrat plan if it is cloaked in the guise of “soaking the rich.” The proposal seems specifically designed to not directly affect the average voter, but to target “other people's money.” Few voters are in the top income tax bracket or have estates worth more than $5.5 million.
A platform of tax increases and gun control may please progressives, but it is unlikely to inspire the moderate and independent voters needed to sway an election. In fact, the Democrat agenda seems more likely to send Republican voters to the polls with an attitude of “at least they're better than the Democrats” than to win new converts. Paired with the disillusionment of immigration voters in the Democrat base, the results could be disastrous for the opposition party.
A better strategy for Democrats would be to appear nonthreatening and positive, a sane and rational alternative to President Trump. Instead, the current plan seems to be to convince voters that Democrats are coming for their guns and money. That may play well with the Democrat base in deep blue districts, but it will be less effective in the purple heartland areas that Democrats need to win in order to take control of Congress.
To be fair, Republicans, led by President Trump, also seem to be actively trying to avoid becoming too popular with voters. The new tariffs and potential trade war may undermine pent-up economic growth that is already starting to result from tax reform.
With both parties making errors and advocating for unwise policies on a daily basis, a reliable forecast for the midterm elections is impossible. In the end, the outcome of the elections may depend on the news cycle when voters go to the polls.