The most frequently asked question at CPAC 2018 couldn’t be answered in the ballrooms

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BizPac Review.

Unless you have been living in a cave you have heard the word CPAC dominate the news the last several days. The largest annual gathering of conservatives at National Harbor just outside of Washington D.C., sponsored by the American Conservative Union, has generated an inordinate amount of media coverage and controversy in addition to controversial speeches.

President Trump spoke to CPAC on Friday after Vice President Pence addressed the crowd on Thursday.

Meanwhile, outside the ballroom, there was one question repeatedly on the minds of conservative media people who lined “Broadcast Row.” Surprisingly, the question discussed both openly and privately had nothing to do with gun control or the NRA.

What was this question you ask? Drum roll: “Will Republicans keep control of the House in the midterm elections?”

While roaming the row of media booths, both hearing and participating in conversations throughout the halls and bars of the CPAC hotel, I heard two distinct answers to that question. First, among true-blue Trump believers the answer was “yes,” the Republicans will keep the House due to the good economy. Their optimism centered on Trump tax reform leading to increased take-home pay among the majority of voters. The common refrain sounded something like, “Why would Americans vote against thicker wallets?”

Certainly, I understand the strength of that argument, and, as a long-time Republican, I remember 1992’s famous refrain, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Conversely, the more common answer to the most frequently asked question was: “It’s going to be a historic blue wave and we are screwed” or “the GOP is going to be decimated” or “the Democrats are going to win big and immediately start impeachment proceedings.”

Sadly, these visions of doom dominated too many CPAC conversations. Estimates of just how many House seats this “blue wave” will wash away range from 35 to 60.

It is instructive to remember that in the 2010 midterm elections  — the first after President Obama was elected in 2008  —  Republicans gained 63 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. That was the largest number of seats gained since 1948 and the largest seat gain for any midterm election since 1938.  Could Democrats experience similar record seat gains after Trump’s first midterm?

Perhaps Trump heard the question was being raised. In his Friday speech, in what was uncharacteristically negative talk for Trump, the president warned that after his 2016 victory he knows Republicans could be “clobbered” in the midterms due to complacency among GOP voters. “That’s why you have to get out and you have to fight for 2018. You have to do it,” he said.

Trump also explained his theory of historic midterm election losses for a new president:

“I’ve finally figured it out. What happens is you fight so hard to win the presidency, you fight, fight, fight, and now you’ve got to go and fight again, but you just won.”

Of course, Democrats see it differently. They are energized to “send a message to Trump.” But, whatever that “message” is, varies greatly depending on the age, sex, and ethnicity of whom you talk to.

All I know is that the signals I received from many conservative media folks at CPAC reflect fear. The most frequently asked question is not answered with “if” the GOP will lose the House, but rather the size of the Democrat’s “blue wave.” Then, recalling 2010, “could it be a historic reverse tsunami?”

But we don’t have to wait until November for a clue to that question.  A bellwether for the potential size of the “blue wave” being watched by every Republican strategist, occurs on March 13 —  a special Congressional election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District that Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

If the Republican candidate loses, (or even wins by a small margin) it’s likely that President Trump will need to ramp up his rationale for potentially a historic loss of House seats much more succinctly than Friday at CPAC when he told the crowd:

“So the great enthusiasm, you know, you’re sitting back, you’re watching television, maybe I don’t have to vote today, we just won the presidency, and then we get clobbered and we can’t let that happen. We get clobbered in ’18, and we can’t let that happen. Only because we are so happy, we pass so many things.”

One can expect that the White House will have many interesting answers and explanations to CPAC’s most frequently asked question as 2018 progresses.  My hope is that the “thicker wallet” argument will act like a seawall and stop what is sure to be crashing waves.

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, organizer of CPAC with writer Myra Adams on February 22, 2018.




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