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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 2nd March 2018 > THE ORANGE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

THE ORANGE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Can DONALD TRUMP save the Republican Party? Or will his controversial presidency lead to a massive GOP DEFEAT in 2018?
ACE OF SHADE Some conservatives are convinced that only a singular figure like Trump can rescue them in 2018. But many are mortified by what his presidency means for them in the midterms.

“THE NEW DEAL HAS BEEN HALTED The New York Times decreed on November 10, 1938, two days after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suffered a disastrous defeat in a midterm congressional election. “TAXPAYERS REVOLT,” the accompanying headline said.

Roosevelt had campaigned vigorously for candidates who supported his progressive policies, which vastly expanded federal powers to lower unemployment. His message to voters: Obstructionists and “outspoken reactionaries” in Congress— in particular those from his own party— had to be expunged for the good of the Republic.

Voters’ message to Roosevelt was no more ambiguous than his to them. “This is a democracy and it is healthy to have a strong opposition,” a small-town minister from Indiana lectured the president in a letter. “No man is always right. You need criticism for your own good.” Democrats lost 72 seats in the House of Representatives and seven in the Senate, and though they kept control of both chambers, anti–New Deal legislators were ascendant, invigorated by victory. Roosevelt would remain president for seven more years, but most of that period would be occupied by World War II. As the Times predicted, the era of freewheeling liberalism was over.

Presidents dread midterm elections, which come two years into their term. A sitting president can expect to lose, on average, 32 seats in the House and two in the Senate. Some have lost much more: Frustrated with the corrupt administration of Ulysses S. Grant, a Republican, voters in 1874 handed 96 House seats to Democrats. Twenty years later, voters displeased with Grover Cleveland’s handling of the Panic of 1893 rewarded Republicans with 116 House seats. The scope of that differential has not been surpassed since.

Barack Obama’s first midterm, in 2010, was also a dark night for the Democratic soul. Although they managed to keep the Senate, Republicans, powered by the Tea Party movement, won 63 seats in the House of Representatives, in what Obama acknowledged was a “shellacking.”

Some believe that an Obama- or even Grantsized loss awaits President Donald Trump when he faces his own midterm test in November. His average approval rating for the first year in office, 38.4 percent, is the lowest in American history. Whether maligning the FBI for investigating his presidential campaign or threatening North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on Twitter, defending a senior aide accused of hitting his wives or berating immigration from “shithole” countries, Trump has shattered every expectation of how a president should behave. Some people are thrilled, convinced that only a singular figure like Trump could rescue the moribund institutions of the federal government, in large part by breaking them. But judging by his popularity, or lack thereof, many more are mortified.

THE LEFT Presidents Roosevelt
STOCK MONTAGE/GETTY;
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THE (ORANGE) ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM Some believe that an Obama- or even Grant-sized loss awaits President Donald Trump when he faces his own midterm test in November. His average approval rating for the first year in office, 38.4 percent, is the lowest in American history. Can Donald Trump save the Republican Party? Or will his controversial presidency lead to a massive GOP defeat in 2018?