Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tip O’Neill famously said that all politics is local. It’s no longer true. Local politics aren’t even local in the age of Trump

...Partly this is the result of the federal government’s arrogation of state power; there just aren’t as many local issues to argue about anymore. But even more it’s the decline in the power of incumbency and the rise of the primary wars. Republican Eric Cantor, the powerful House majority leader, wasn’t upset by a Democratic opponent in 2014; he lost the GOP primary to an unknown Virginian economist, David Brat. The latter’s support came initially from national media with knives sharpened for Cantor as a GOP establishment favorite. Incumbents are under assault from both left and right and so the question of whether they “stand with the president” or are willing to “stand up to the president” is the only one.

Rather than talking to the voters themselves and figuring out the three or four things that concern them most immediately, candidates listen mainly to their consultants and decide whether their campaigns will venerate the president or denounce him. For the press, arguing about the presidency and the future of the country is more interesting than arguing about the continued funding of a military base or the local effects of a federal environmental regulation. And so every election becomes a referendum on the the man in the White House and his policies—which today means that everything becomes more about Trump than it already was.

One’s attitude toward the president is important, but it’s hardly the only relevant thing to know about a candidate for high office. There’s no reason a principled congressional candidate can’t say Trump’s right sometimes and wrong sometimes—say, disagree with him on trade policy but praise him for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal—and, with that out of the way, move on to discussions of greater local and regional concern. Yet we’re hard-pressed to think of any candidate doing so in 2018.

The 2018 midterms are about Trump and only Trump....