Dave Helling

Why Donald Trump will loom large in Kansas and Missouri midterm elections

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley spoke before President Donald Trump addressed the VFW convention in Kansas City on July 24.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley spoke before President Donald Trump addressed the VFW convention in Kansas City on July 24. The Star

Is Donald Trump on the November ballot?

Literally, no. The presidential election isn’t until 2020. And since the United States doesn’t use a parliamentary system, his political fate isn’t tied directly to the outcome of the midterm elections, like a prime minister’s would be.

But make no mistake: Voters, candidates, reporters and political pros know their November fortunes are tied directly to Trump. The missing name at the top of the ballot is all that matters in 2018.

That could be a problem for Democrats. The economy is quietly humming along, at full employment, even if wage increases haven’t trickled down to the folks in the trenches. For all his stumbling and silliness, the president hasn’t started a war. There’s that.

There’s been no major political battle, like the one over Obamacare in 2010. Sure, tearing children from their parents is a disaster, and the trade war is squeezing farmers. But the damage seems limited to specific groups and regions, sparing much of the country.

Scandal? There’s so much of it, the mind numbs, which makes it less potent as a political weapon.

Democrats hoping for a favorable policy environment in November are likely to be disappointed.

Trump isn’t about policy, never has been. The president couldn’t spell “deficit” if you spotted him the vowels. He’s about fear, anger, resentment, frustration — and this is crucial — thumbing his nose at elites in politics, education, government and the media.

Trump attacks elites at every opportunity. “I meet these people, they call it the elite,” Trump said recently. “We got more money, we got more brains, we got better houses and apartments, we got nicer boats, we’re smarter than they are and they say they’re the elite.”

That message endears him to his rock-solid base of supporters, who feel they’ve been on the receiving end of the insult their entire lives. But he, and they, don’t seem to have considered that millions of Americans are deeply offended by the president’s incessant crudity and his destruction of political norms.

These Americans don’t own boats. They’re teachers and office workers and warehouse employees and waiters. Some are students. Others are young parents. They notice every time the president lies with impunity, or tweets something that would get them fired, or mocks other Americans.

They’re not angry at Trump. They’re exhausted. And they’ve got one way to send him a message in November — in the voting booth.

That possibility has prompted some interesting reactions around here. Josh Hawley — who angered the Trump crowd by beating up on former Gov. Eric Greitens — has gone all in on Trump, embracing the president’s goofiest ideas with enthusiasm. He’s concluded Missourians like a faux-populist message.

Rep. Kevin Yoder, on the Kansas side of the state line, has tried to carve out a more nuanced position. He’s for Trump, then against him, then he’s “working for all” (although a closer look at how often Yoder’s votes align with the president’s positions suggest the Kansas congressman is a much bigger Trump fan than you might think).

On Aug. 7 2010, Barack Obama’s average approval rating was 45.4 percent. Republicans picked up 63 House seats that November, and six seats in the Senate.

Last week, Trump’s average approval rating was 41.7 percent. The House is in play, and the Senate may not be far behind.