It’s the economy, stupid – or is it?

It’s the economy, stupid – or is it?

By Hastings Wyman –

“Paycheck President” is what the Republican National Committee (RNC) dubs President Donald Trump, beneath a picture of him on its website after he’s signed the tax reform act.

In addition, a number of other business and conservative groups are already spending money on television ads promoting the tax reform legislation. Moreover, the number of companies granting raises and/or bonuses which they attribute to the tax reform law is growing. Both the RNC and the National Republican Congressional Committee also list the companies sharing the benefits of the tax reform act with their employees.

To put the icing on the cake, another RNC article is headlined, “Key states up for grabs in 2018 are reaping the benefits of Tax Reform.”

This first line of attack of the GOP was summarized in the Washington Post last week: “GOP leaders and their allies plan to talk up job growth, highlight the soaring stock market and, most of all, convince voters that the tax-cut legislation that stands as their only major accomplishment is bringing back the good times.”

There is some polling data that kinda, sorta shows this approach might be effective. Trump’s approval rating wobbled upwards in January, and now stands at 40% approve, 55.6% disapprove in the Real Clear Politics average. And the generic ballot on for whom voters are more likely to cast a ballot for congress this fall has narrowed in recent polls, but it’s still 46.7% for Democrats to 38.8% for the GOP, still daunting numbers for Republicans.

It is also noteworthy that Trump’s performance at the Davos economic forum was a plus for him, and reinforced his image as a pro-business president who produces prosperity.

To underscore this message, President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, members of the Trump cabinet, Ivanka Trump and Kellyanne Conway will be fanning out across the country to promote the tax reform legislation, especially in states or congressional districts with competitive contests in November.

Democrats are attacking the tax reform package as mostly benefitting the rich and the large corporations, but it is not their major case to the voters.

The first thing you see when you click on the Democratic National Committee website is a picture of two young non-white women, one of them wearing a Muslim-style scarf over her head. Women, minorities and young people are summed up in the photo, which also sums up, at this point, the Democratic strategy for the 2018 elections.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, writing in the wake of last week’s anti-Trump women’s marches, presented a persuasive array of numbers from various pollsters illustrating Trump and the Republican Party’s problems with women, among them:

Only 29% of women support Trump;

By 57% to 31%, Democrats lead Republicans among women, a 26-point gap that is twice as wide as the Democratic lead Hillary Clinton enjoyed in 2016; and

Women favor Democratic control of congress by 20 points; by 32 points among college-educated women

Moreover, writes Milbank, “Republicans who plan to overcome the gender gap by talking about the economy and tax cuts are wasting their breath.” Although women’s issues, such as sexual harassment, abortion rights, and equal pay may underlie women’s poor opinion of Trump and his party, the high percentage of women who consider the president unstable and mistrust him to handle nuclear weapons are major reasons for this feminine and/or feminist antipathy to Trump.

The marches were not just a matter of a lot women wearing pink hats and carrying anti-Trump signs. From coast to coast, the marches stressed political activism, encouraging women to run for office (as they are in record numbers), to register to vote, to vote, and to volunteer in political campaigns.

What is true for women is very likely to be true for African-American and Hispanic voters. The Trump presidency has not catered to either group. Whether his path-to-citizenship for “dreamers” and those similarly situated will help him among Latinos is improbable, but remains to be seen.

It’s not just women and minorities, however, who are keeping Republican strategists up at night.

Longtime chronicler of Kentucky politics Al Cross, who has recently written about rural voters as a contributor to the forthcoming “The Trump Presidency, Journalism and Democracy,” says “I think economic issues are still the biggest factor, but the biggest set of issues is the antics of Donald Trump. People are separating economic progress from Trump, but even if they do connect the economy to Trump, they don’t like Trump.

Political science professor “Chuck” Bullock says polling at the University of Georgia “shows Trump with a 36% approval rating in Georgia. If this is true elsewhere in Southern states, some Southerners may be inclined to vote Democratic this fall.”

Indeed, there is evidence – hardcore voting numbers – that many voters in the South, women in particular, are inclined to vote Democratic in the post-Trump environment. In Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial race, about one year after Trump took office, Democrat Ralph Northam led Republican Ed Gillespie by 22 points among women, significantly more than Hillary Clinton’s 17-point lead in the state over Trump. In Alabama’s 2017 US Senate election, Democrat Doug Jones led Republican Roy Moore by 16 points among women. And in Georgia’s 6th District special congressional election, ultimately won by the GOP’s Karen Handel, the Republican candidate won by a much smaller percentage than Trump won the district by in 2016.

So is it “the economy stupid,” as it has always more or less been, or are we entering a new political phase where voters, relatively accustomed to prosperity, are moved by another set of values, values perhaps closer to home?

Stay tuned.