Here’s some pretty under-the-radar and really good news for Democrats from that Wisconsin Supreme Court election that Rebecca Dallet won so convincingly Tuesday. If you compare maps showing the county results of the 2012 presidential contest, the 2016 presidential race, and Dallet’s win over Michael Screnock, you’ll see that she won back the famous lost Obama-to-Trump voters—all of them and then some, in certain cases.
A few examples. In Grant County, a rural county over near Minnesota, Barack Obama got 56 percent, Donald Trump 51 percent, and Dallet 55 percent. In north-central Lincoln County, Obama nipped Romney 49-48, Trump clobbered Hillary Clinton 57-37, and Dallet actually outperformed ’12 Obama a little, winning 51-49. In Door County—that scraggly arm that juts up into Lake Michigan above Green Bay, famous for its cherries—Obama won 53-46, Trump won 49-46, and Dallet clubbed Screnock 62-38. And in Winnebago County, home to Oshkosh, Obama won 51-47, Trump won 50-42, and Dallet romped 57-43.
Trust me, I’m not plucking out the four out of 72 counties that make my case. This was the pattern across the state. There were of course deep red counties were Dallet didn’t perform well and navy blue counties where she romped, but in the counties that have swung back and forth, she mostly equaled or bettered Obama’s 2012 numbers and far outperformed Clinton.
Republicans really ought to look at that and worry. She won in exactly the kinds of places Democrats need to win this fall to bring out the brooms: suburban and exurban counties with working-class white voters. The fact that she outperformed Obama in a number of these counties sure looks like a sign of something big to come in those kinds of counties in Wisconsin and in other states outside the South where Democrats can gain ground.
When I last wrote about the midterms five weeks ago, it was on the heels of two special elections won by Democrats in New England districts that were basically Republican. If anything, Dallet’s win is even stronger evidence of a building wave. This isn’t New England—this is Wisconsin, where Democratic luck lately has been uniformly bad. And she won as a liberal by 12 points.
So the indicators are looking way up—except for the indicators that aren’t. The main one of those is the famous generic ballot. Take a look. This goes all over the place. The Democrats are always ahead, which is to be expected when a Republican president has a low approval rating, but it jumps from about six to 14 points. And in general, the Democratic lead has gone down in the last month by about four points.
At the same time, Trump’s approval rating spikes and dives, too. This one is even harder to track. If you follow the POTUS Twitter feed, you’ve read that thanks to Rasmussen, Trump is at 50 percent. Right. And Laura Ingraham is more popular than David Hogg. In the real world, though, Trump is much closer to 40. Mind you even 40 is completely mystifying. I can see 30 percent of the country loving Trump, maybe a third.
The remaining 7 to 10 percent truly vex me. My best guess: They’re basically apolitical people who don’t find Trump appealing but also don’t find him especially repulsive, and are with him as long as the economy is strong and they’re doing fine. I want to shake these people, even more than the MAGAheads. What is the matter with you? Can’t you see that this man is gross and dishonest and corrupt and would sooner take a piss on the Constitution than try to read it? Is your own economic situation really the only thing that matters to you?
These people probably won’t vote in the midterms in large numbers—if all politics means to them is how it affects them personally, their ideological commitments are very shallow. But they matter anyway, because they’re keeping Trump within striking distance of somehow treading water on approval rating, and presidential approval rating is historically the most important indicator of how the midterm election will play out.
It’s possible, between now and November, that Trump’s numbers could improve, if the economy holds out. Jobs numbers are due out this morning. The smart people are expecting a number around 200,000 again, or more. Seven more months of that combined with no World War III and a little luck on the Mueller front could well have Trump at 46-46, or more realistically 44-48.
That is Trump’s best-case scenario. Then there are the worse scenarios. Those might not include recession or war, but they likely include more corruption (EPA chief Scott Pruitt is just one of several Trump agency heads who would be gone in any other administration), more unstable, non-genius-y behavior by the chief executive, and more revelations from Mueller. Who for example is George Nader? If you don’t yet know that name, you may want to familiarize yourself.
No—the odds are very slim that Trump is going to get any more popular between now and November. But the odds are also slim that he’ll drop down to 30, unless Mueller delivers some bombshell. So he’ll probably still be around 40.
In other words—not in a strong position, but not so far out of the game that it’s hopeless. And he will turn the midterms into a total culture war, worse even than the 2016 election. It’s the only thing he’s ever done with any success. It’s how he won, or “won,” and it’s the only mode he knows.
Democrats are going to have to be ready for this. But the track record so far is pretty hopeful. Roy Moore wanted a culture war. So did Screnock in his way, endorsing an ad by an independent group that tried to peg Dallet as soft on child molesters and that the victim’s family asked to be pulled off the air. That’s how it’s going to be all fall, all across the country. But it’s starting to look like Trump can only sell snake oil once, and America, or enough of it, is coming to its senses.