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How Trump could impact the GOP's 2022 prospects

The Hill logo The Hill 5/30/2021 Douglas E Schoen, opinion contributor
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: How Trump could impact the GOP's 2022 prospects © Getty Images How Trump could impact the GOP's 2022 prospects

The Republican Party is still Donald Trump's party. The GOP has shown steadfast loyalty to Trump since he left office, and has largely rejected members of their own party who break from the former president.

Trump remains incredibly popular with the Republican base; yet is largely unpopular with voters overall. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released in mid-May found that 82 percent of Republican voters held a favorable view of Trump, while 58 percent of voters overall view him unfavorably.

Despite Trump's unpopularity with the general electorate, the Republican Party's fealty to Trump likely will not substantially undermine the GOP's electoral prospects in the 2022 midterm elections.

While a lot can change between now and November 2022, the odds are stacked against Democrats, even with Trump's shadow lingering over the Republican Party. The outcome of the midterms will be based in larger part on President Joe Biden's job approval rating at the time and voters' perceived success of his agenda, and less so on Trump's enduring influence over the GOP.

That said, within GOP, members' expressed loyalty to Trump has become more important than ideology or policy - as evidenced by Rep. Liz Cheney's (Wyo.) ousting as the third ranking Republican in the House. Cheney's removal was due to her rejection of Trump and his claim that the election was stolen; and to take her place, Republicans tapped Trump loyalist Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York.

Ironically, Cheney voted with Trump close to 93 percent of the time in Congress - a near-perfect pro-Trump voting record - while Stefanik voted with Trump less than 78 percent of the time, and even opposed his signature 2017 tax reform bill. But, since the 2020 election, Stefanik has made clear that she fully supports Trump and accepts his claims about election fraud, while Cheney has frequently spoken out against Trump.

Furthermore, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced that he opposed an independent and bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6th U.S. Capitol riot, which Trump provoked by spreading false claims that the election was stolen from him.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took a similar position, and urged GOP Senators to block the bill creating a commission to investigate the Jan. 6th riot.


Video: How Trump loyalists are moving to take over state elections in 2022 (MSNBC)

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However unpopular Trump may be, his dominance of the GOP will likely not upset the Republican Party's chances of winning back the House - and maybe even the Senate - in the 2022 midterms. History shows that Democrats face an uphill battle in maintaining their narrow congressional majorities.

Midterm elections are largely a referendum on the party in power - in this case, the Democratic Party. According to a 2018 Gallup analysis of midterm seat gains/losses from 2018, in midterm elections since 1946, the average loss for the president's party is 25 U.S. House seats, and presidents with an approval below 50 percent see their party lose an average of 37 House seats.

In fact, since 1946, only twice has the president's party gained seats in the midterm elections - once in 1998 during the Clinton administration and then in 2002 during the Bush administration.

Both Clinton and Bush had remarkably high approval ratings before those midterm elections - 66 percent and 63 percent, respectively. Even so, both saw meager House seat gains in the midterms. In 2002, Bush and the Republicans picked up six seats, and in 1998, Clinton and Democrats picked up five seats.

Comparatively, Biden's approval currently stands at 56 percent, with 40 percent disapproving, according to a May 2021 Politico/Morning Consult poll. Further, Democrats currently hold a razor-thin single-digit majority in the House, and narrowly control a 50-50 Senate in which Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote.

In 1958, Dwight Eisenhower's Republican party lost 48 House seats - notably, as the U.S. was emerging from an economic recession.

Ultimately, the relationship between presidential job approval and midterm U.S. House seat loss is strong, as the Gallup analysis reveals. Furthermore, as the Census Bureau announced in May, Democrats may also face an uphill battle due to apportionment. Large Republican leaning states - Texas (+2) and Florida (+1) - will gain seats, while the Democratic stronghold states of New York and California will each lose one seat.

"If the 2020 election had been held under these new counts, Biden would have won with 303 [electoral votes] (instead of 306)," tweeted the Cook Political Report's House editor David Wasserman. So, this is in no way a massive shift in favor of Republicans, but it is also not an insignificant one, taken together with other factors.

Simply put, Trump's influence over the Republican Party is pervasive, undeniable - and remarkable, given Trump's general unpopularity with the broader electorate.

But to be sure, the outcome of the 2022 midterms will be based in much larger part on Biden's job approval ratings and the perceived success of his agenda, and less so on Trump's lingering influence on the GOP.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is "The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat."

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