The striking split screen as this week wound down — former president Barack Obama made his campaign-trail debut mourning the departure of decency and lawfulness from the White House just as President Trump called on the Justice Department to hunt down a nameless personal enemy — neatly framed the midterm dynamic.
For Democrats and Republicans, and especially for the 45th president himself, it is all about Trump.
Midterm campaign cycles traditionally have centered on the party in power. Opposition to former president George W. Bush’s Iraq War powered the 2006 Democratic wave, while a backlash to Obama’s health-care law fueled the 2010 Republican takeover.
But this year is shaping up differently. The Nov. 6 election that will determine control of Congress is likely to hinge on the president — the man and his rash actions, more so than his policies — to a remarkable degree.
The spike in Democratic enthusiasm that has Republicans fearful of losing their House majority is driven largely by opposition to Trump personally — his attacks on civic institutions, his impetuousness and the chaos that tornadoes around him — strategists on both sides say.
“Ever since he came down the escalator to announce his presidential campaign, he’s been the only thing that matters in politics,” said Josh Holmes, a GOP consultant and former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “His presidency is everywhere and your ability to nuance and message what doesn’t directly involve him is drowned out entirely by a complete avalanche of news and punditry and analysis of what the president is doing.”
Labor Day unofficially kicks off the fall campaign season, and this past week brought into sharp relief just how much Trump colors the autumn landscape, like so many changing leaves.
The funeral for John McCain was as much a commemoration of the Vietnam War hero and senator-statesman as it was a rumination by official Washington on the existential threat of Trump.
All week, doubt hovered over the president about his intellectual capacity and fitness for office. New reporting in Bob Woodward’s book “Fear,” coupled by an anonymous editorial in the New York Times penned by a senior official in the administration, revealed that some of Trump’s top advisers are so alarmed by his whims and wishes that they thwarted or ignored some of his directives.