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Anticipating the 2018 Midterm Elections (October 2018): The Trump Effect

By Will Miller

The Trump Effect

Since he chose to run for president of the United States in 2016, Donald J. Trump has dramatically impacted how scholars—and Americans in general—view the presidency, campaigns, public policy, and the media. The midterm elections in 2018 will prove to be a litmus test for Trump approval in the country today. While polling suggests quite polarized attitudes toward the president, the degree to which polls failed to accurately capture Trump’s chances to win office initially raises questions about how many Trump supporters are not responding to traditional media-based polls. Whether looking at primary elections and how mainstream and moderate Republicans respond to the Trump agenda or how Democrats opt to place themselves relative to Trump, the midterms will determine how much ability the president will have during the second half of his first term to enact policies of his choosing. While the president’s party has historically always lost seats during the first midterm election, it could be a question of degree. And given the stakes, understanding the impact Trump has had will be essential to making sense of the midterm elections and their ultimate impact.

Whether from insiders or outsiders, the world was focused on Trump’s race for the White House. From continual media coverage to general curiosity among the public, everyone was interested in how a non-politician would attempt to win the most important political office in the United States and perhaps the world. While much of the world watched the Trump campaign from afar, Katy Tur of MSNBC followed the candidate around the country for 500 days. In Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, she explains how she went from a Trump favorite to being referred to as disgraceful, third-rate, and not nice during a press conference. As she visited forty states, cast nearly 4,000 live television reports, and attempted to fact check Trump on the campaign trail, she continually wondered what impact a Trump victory would have on the media. This is a firsthand account of how Trump used rhetoric to win over American voters—at the expense of decency and tradition. Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie had the best seats to the Trump campaign as manager and deputy campaign manager. In Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency, they offer views not previously available to the public of how Trump behaved on the campaign trail. Beyond his success in business, Lewandowski and Bossie show how Trump has found success through loyal relationships and bonds with those he surrounds himself with.

But it isn’t enough to know how the campaign unfolded. It’s equally important to know why it resonated as much as it did with voters. Rather than attempting to determine why voters chose to support Donald Trump, Caitríona Perry traveled the country to ask supporters to explain their thinking in their own words. In In America: Tales from Trump Country, Perry gathers insights on why voters were initially interested in Trump and why many continue to support him despite the controversy and scandal that has surrounded his administration for two years. Ultimately, she finds that issues like abortion and gun control and a perception that government doesn’t care about the average American have created a culture of division. Through his rhetoric and platform, Trump was able to speak to a facet of the electorate that has felt otherwise neglected by Democrats and Republicans alike in recent elections. For a book with similar themes, one may engage with Jon Sopel’s If Only They Didn’t Speak English, in which the BBC American editor attempts to explain American political culture to British citizens, complete with rationalizing why so many Americans support Trump.

Now that he’s been in office for two years, it’s equally important to examine how his White House has functioned. Perhaps no book related to the Trump presidency has been more debated than Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury. The book became a national sensation even before it was released, given its gossipy approach of sharing the inner workings of Trump’s White House as observed by embedded journalist Wolff. With Trump trying to prevent its publication and Wolff claiming Trump never wanted to win the presidency—only enhance his commercial brand—it’s no surprise that the volume continues to be debated. Showing how life in the White House can be, Wolff highlights backstabbing, feuds, and leaks that continue to haunt the Trump administration and public perceptions of its effectiveness. While Wolff’s book may be the most controversial to date related to Trump’s presidency, no volume was more anticipated than former FBI director James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. After a publicly tumultuous split from the administration, Comey’s volume centers on why he believes Trump is not morally fit to be leader of the United States. Given his decision to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation less than two weeks before the 2016 election, he is equally questioned by both the Left and the Right in American politics.

It’s also imperative to examine how Trump and his team have done in meeting goals halfway through the completion of his first term. A measured, scholarly analysis of Trump’s first year in office, Michael Nelson’s Trump’s First Year attempts to provide an entirely non-partisan examination of a strange year in presidential politics. While Trump spent his time on the campaign trail telling American voters that his business acumen would translate to efficiency and effectiveness in the White House, Nelson’s analysis instead found failure, cronyism, and incompetence emerging instead. In a year mired by claims of “fake news” and partisan reporting, Nelson’s work is an attempt to provide an objective assessment of Trump’s first year in the White House. Steven Schier and Todd Eberly focus their work in The Trump presidency: Outsider in the Oval Office on the launch of the Trump administration, focusing on the transition from Barack Obama, media strategies, and relationships with Congress. Ultimately, they attempt to determine what a presidency can look like when the president is separated from his party, his colleagues in Congress, and much of the American public. Donald Kettl’s The Trump presidency: Implications for Policy and Politics examines the current state of the administration and lays out potential strategies for overcoming present hurdles. Most importantly, it suggests how Trump’s first two years in office may impact midterm elections and the race for 2020.

While Trump and his administration have routinely denied any claims of collusion with Russia, Luke Harding’s Collusion presents a compelling case for how the foreign nation impacted the American presidential election in 2016. By looking at the Mueller investigation and suggesting that the key is to follow the money, Harding shows financial linkages between Trump and Russian cash going back more than two decades. The potential concerns are even more significant when one considers the unwillingness of Trump to publicly release tax records. Drawing on conversations with the now renowned ex-MI6 spy Christopher Steele, Harding’s access is unparalleled.

Likewise, the Trump administration has attempted to not draw too many linkages to the alt-right, but comparisons persist. In Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising, Joshua Green examines the well-documented partnership between Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, focusing on how the alt-right has linked to the Trump presidency. As Bannon transitioned from heading Trump’s campaign to serving as chief strategist to being entirely removed from office and influence in only two short years, the relationship between Trump and many voters that supported his election became rocky. Based on journalistic interviews with Bannon and others from the far Right, the work of Green helps readers truly capture how Trump came to power. Using the election of Trump as a case study, Neil Faulkner’s Creeping Fascism: Brexit, Trump and the Rise of the Far Right seeks to examine the potential rise of fascistic tendencies among democratically elected rulers across the globe. What surprises Faulkner the most is that these tendencies are not being hidden by rulers and are largely living in plain sight. As citizens ignore threats of fascism, Faulkner sees bullies grabbing power deliberately, with little concern for potential impacts across society.

There’s no question that Trump is not universally supported—or even respected—by members of the Republican Party. In Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, argues that Trump is opposed to most of the central tenets of conservative thinking in America. Rather than being rooted in free trade and small government, Frum sees Trump as an opportunist who is a Republican only because the Party provided an opportunity to win. Rather than a representative democracy, Trump has introduced an era of repressive plutocracy, which threatens America’s democratic ideals and the future of conservative thought in the Republican Party.

In terms of understanding Trump and his views, there are numerous biographical works available. Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher’s Trump Revealed: The Definitive Biography of the 45th President and Conrad Black’s Donald J. Trump: A President like No Other both examine Trump’s ascension to the presidency, including his up-bringing, early business career, and difficulties he has worked through while building his real estate empire. David Cay Johnston sets out to do the same in The Making of Donald Trump but takes a more critical view of the way the Trump family originally gained its fortune in the Yukon and Trump’s own tumultuous real estate and gambling dealings. In The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution, Roger Stone examines how Trump successfully campaigned to win the election. Emily Jane Fox’s Born Trump: Inside America’s First Family presents detailed histories of Trump’s five children (and son-in-law Jared Kushner). Covering their lives from childhood to adulthood, the book aims to show how they contribute to his administration and how their relationship with their father helps Americans understand his behavior.

Beyond traditional biographies, Newt Gingrich has written two books aimed at explaining Trump and his motivations. Gingrich’s Understanding Trump shows what the former presidential candidate learned about America’s current leader as an advisor to his campaign and presidential transition. Beyond explaining how his past experiences shape his style of governing, Gingrich also discloses how he believes Trump thinks and makes decisions. In a follow-up book, Trump’s America: The Truth about Our Nation’s Great Comeback, Gingrich goes further and describes the value of Trump’s presidency thus far and the flawed arguments of those opposed to his efforts to make American great again. Perhaps most importantly, he presents a plan for Trump supporters to follow to help advance his agenda.

Works Cited