If Republicans lose control of the House, President Donald Trump wants to be clear: It’s not his fault.
Trump said he would not bear any personal responsibility for a poor showing from Republicans in the 2018 midterms, he said in a rare interview with the Associated Press this week.
“The midterms are very tough for anybody the opposite of president, for whatever reason, nobody has been able to say,” Trump said.
It’s true that the incumbent president’s party is often disadvantaged in the midterms, for reasons that aren’t exactly clear. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop explained, it could be simply that the president’s base is more complacent about politics when their leader controls the White House, whereas the president’s critics are naturally more energized. That could make all the difference in low-turnout elections, like midterms.
But it’s worth noting that Trump poses a particular obstacle for Republicans this year. He won fewer votes than Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election overall, despite winning the Electoral College. And he remains very unpopular; his approval rating has hovered around the low 40s ever since he took office. And Trump’s approval rating has been notably lower in competitive congressional races. Many endangered Republicans are actually running in districts that Hillary Clinton won.
Republicans are starting from a huge advantage. The congressional map this year favors Republicans — particularly in the Senate, where Democrats are defending 10 seats in states Trump won. But even in the House, Republicans’ landslide wins in the 2010 midterm let the party redraw the lines for congressional districts, giving them an advantage.
The generic ballot shows Democrats with an average 7 point lead, where voters are asked whether they prefer a Democrat or a Republican, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. But Democrats will need to do at least that well to have any hope of retaking the house thanks to gerrymandering.
Despite all that, Trump is making things very difficult for Republicans, and there are many signs that this will be a wave election for Democrats. Trump doesn’t seem to recognize this reality. Instead, he is already praising himself for his electoral successes.
“I think I’m helping people,” Trump said. “Look, I’m 48 and one in the primaries, and actually it’s much higher than that because I endorsed a lot of people that were successful that people don’t even talk about. But many of those 48, as you know, were people that had no chance, in some cases.”
Trump talks about one big disadvantage: He’s not on the ballot, he said.
In a particularly telling musing from the president, he said some “people” have been telling him they could never vote in an election without Trump on the ballot.
“I’m not running,” Trump said. “I mean, there are many people that have said to me, ‘Sir, I will never ever ... I will never ever go and vote in the midterms because you’re not running and I don’t think you like Congress.’”