It's Election Day 2018 and the first test of how going Full Trump is going to work for the Republican Party. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Republicans have gone all-in on bigotry, smearing Latino immigrants as grinning cop-killers, howling that a Democratic candidate wants to ship jobs to North Korea simply because he speaks Korean and that another is a secret terrorist infiltrator, whipping up cross-eyed hysteria about a handful of bedraggled refugees, and on and on.
It's an open question whether this is a desperate electoral ploy or simply where the party is at ideologically. But one thing is for sure: The GOP should be doing dramatically better than it is. That they're having to fight at all is strong evidence of how broadly unpopular the party and its politics are in 2018.
Political scientists generally agree that the state of the economy is by far the most important factor in how ruling parties are judged by the electorate — most importantly, the rate of economic improvement in the months and weeks just before the election. And judged by recent standards at least, the economy is doing very well. The fraction of the prime working-age population with a job is squarely in healthy territory, job growth continues to churn along, wages are finally growing perceptibly, and growth is on track for its best year since before the 2008 crash.
Now, Republicans deserve little credit for this situation. They inherited an economy that was still weak mostly because they themselves successfully pushed through tons of austerity in the pits of an economic depression, directly making it worse. And when they took full control of government, they just did what they always do: cut taxes on the rich. It's largely an accident that such an (incredibly wasteful) fiscal stimulus happened to land on an economy desperately in need of it.
Elsewhere, things are doing decent-to-pretty well — at least for voting citizens who aren't being stuck in Boer War-style camps or deported to be killed by drug gangs. Trump hasn't started any new wars, and the ones he inherited have mostly been forgotten. The one disaster response Trump did severely botch happened in a part of America that has no congressional representation.
And yet, Trump's approval rating has been hovering in the mid-to-low 40s, with a solid majority disapproving of him and reliably about 40 percent strongly disapproving. Democrats have a solid 6- to 10-point lead in the generic congressional ballot, and Republicans are plainly playing defense across the entire congressional field.
Usually the president's party loses some seats in their first midterm election. But in previous times where the ruling party was sitting on this kind of status quo, the GOP would be looking to perhaps trim its House majority and lose a governorship or two — not trying desperately to avoid a wipeout.
The reasons why are pretty obvious. First, Trump is a grotesque racist who is nakedly corrupt and patently incapable of performing even the most basic tasks of the presidency. He's not a man whom a clear-headed person would entrust with the family dog, let alone the nuclear codes. He therefore inspires dislike or furious loathing among a majority of the population.
Second, the Republican policy record is abysmal. They have passed one major law, a gigantic tax cut for the rich that — even though it really has jump-started the economy to some degree — is so egregiously unfair, and thus polling so poorly, that Republicans are barely mentioning it at all on the campaign trail. It couldn't be more obvious that what the Republican Party does with political power is dump great dragline excavator-loads of cash into the pockets of their ultra-wealthy donor class.
The other major law they tried to pass was a repeal of ObamaCare that would have devastated the American people, throwing 23 million people off their health insurance, badly damaging protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and increasing premiums for certain older demographics by nearly 950 percent. They are still trying to kill ObamaCare through a judicial activism lawsuit, but it's so unpopular that the party is baldly lying through their teeth about what they are doing — even by people like Missouri Attorney General (and GOP Senate candidate) Josh Hawley, who is an active participant in the lawsuit in question.
In sum, the GOP is a lying, bigoted, corrupt party that is full to bursting with lying, bigoted, corrupt politicians, and that is not a generally popular stance in the United States of 2018. In a fair democratic system, the Republican Party would be getting wiped out today. The only reason there is even a small chance they will hold on is that they've rigged the electoral process to give themselves a 5- to 6-point handicap in the House. They are going all-in on bigotry not because most Americans are enthusiastic KKK members, but because they hope that whipping up race hatred will distract from their policy record and generate enough voting enthusiasm among base voters to keep their gerrymandered seats safe.
Don't forget that — even if they manage to cling to power today.