The Democrats need a pickup of only 24 seats, net, to take control of the House of Representatives. That isn’t very many, by historical standards, and the Dems have been supremely confident that as of January 2019, Nancy Pelosi will once again be Speaker of the House. The Democrats see a wave election coming–or they did, anyway, until the generic preference polls began to tighten following passage of the GOP tax reform bill. The commonly-heard analogy is 2010, when the Republicans picked up a whopping 63 seats in the first off-year election of Barack Obama’s presidency.
The Democrats think they can make Donald Trump the issue in November. If the Republicans could pick up 63 seats with the less-unpopular Obama at the helm, how might voters react against the universally-reviled Donald Trump?
The election is a long time away, and the Democrats might very well take the House. Twenty-four seats is not a huge mountain to climb. But there are a number of reasons why the Democrats’ hopes may be dashed.
Some are familiar: Trump is not, actually, universally reviled, and there are fewer swing districts in play than there were eight years ago. The country’s sorting process has continued, with Democrats increasingly concentrated in urban enclaves and Republicans dominating the countryside.
But there is another point which, although it is blindingly obvious, doesn’t seem to have been made enough. In 2010, Democratic Congressmen had cast two votes that were highly unpopular in most of America. They rammed both Obamacare and the now largely-forgotten nearly-trillion-dollar stimulus through Congress with zero Republican support. That was the origin of the Tea Party. Democrats running in 2010 weren’t defending Barack Obama, they were defending unpopular votes that they had taken.
Nothing like that is true this year. Republican Congressmen haven’t done anything that is especially unpopular. The Democrats tried to portray the tax cut that way, but that was silly. Tax cuts aren’t unpopular. Republicans have a solid record of accomplishment to run on, and they haven’t done anything that is particularly controversial. If either party has done something in Congress that voters may react against it is the Democrats, with the Schumer Shutdown.
So, in my view, there is very little analogy between 2010 and 2018.