Internet Party
By Stuart Rothenberg

Former Trump campaign chief executive and White House strategist Steve Bannon recently told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that the midterm elections will be “an up or down vote” on the president. He also asserted that it’s imperative that Donald Trump nationalize the midterm elections.

“Trump’s second presidential race will be on Nov. 6 of this year. He’s on the ballot, and we’re going to have an up or down vote. Do you back Trump’s program, OK, with all that’s good and all that’s bad? Do you back Trump’s program, or do you back removing him?” Bannon told Zakaria.

Bannon surely is correct that the November elections will largely be about Trump. The incumbent president and his administration’s performance have almost always been the single most important factor in midterm balloting.

But in a number of ways, Bannon is dead wrong about the midterms.

No choice at all

First, he suggests that the election essentially will be a “choice” between Trump and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, or between Trump and impeachment.

Those scenarios are unlikely.

While Republicans would prefer to make the upcoming midterms into a choice, most midterm elections are referendums on the occupant of the White House.

I’m not suggesting that it’s impossible to make the midterms “about” something other than the sitting president, but the burden of proof is on the GOP to do that.

Presidential elections inevitably involve choices, but midterms usually don’t, since the out-party rarely has a de facto leader who is salient enough to be an alternative to the president.

Indeed, this year, some observers have criticized the Democrats for not having a leader or even a coherent, unified message.

Republicans tried to make the special election in Pennsylvania 18th District about Pelosi, and the results suggest they had little success. Trump carried that district by nearly 20 points in 2016, but Democrat Conor Lamb, a self-styled pragmatist, won the March contest even though Republicans repeatedly portrayed him as a tool of liberal Pelosi.

Bannon certainly is right that making the midterms into a referendum on impeachment would be desirable for Trump and the GOP. And some Democrats, particularly those in the most liberal and Democratic areas, are unwisely talking about impeachment.

But Pelosi has made it clear that she opposes such talk, and Democrats in competitive states and districts surely will go out of their way to defuse impeachment as a possibility.

Clearly, the most partisan and ideological Republicans believe that impeachment is a real issue, but those voters are already Trump’s strongest supporters and likely to turn out in the fall. Again, the burden is on the GOP to make 2018 “about” impeachment in those states and districts that matter most.

All politics is local
Second, Bannon is also wrong when he says it is imperative that Trump and the GOP nationalize the midterm elections.

It would be much...

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