In a matter of months, Donald Trump went 0 for 2 in trying to elect Alabama’s next U.S. senator. He endorsed, tweeted for, and stumped for appointed-incumbent Luther Strange only to see Alabama voters ignore his pleas as Strange lost the GOP runoff by 10 points. And, of course, prior to Tuesday’s general election, Trump strongly backed GOP nominee Roy Moore, attacked Democratic candidate Doug Jones, dispatched late spending from the RNC, and campaigned for Moore in the Florida Panhandle only miles from the Alabama border. Despite Trump expending real political capital, he was not able to substantially juice GOP turnout or pull Moore across the finish line. Trump’s failure to salvage a deeply flawed Republican candidate produced among the most shocking political upsets in a generation.
Simply put, Trump does more to activate Democratic voters than bring out Republicans. Nationally, Democratic turnout has been energized while Republican voters look more depressed—and that same dynamic showed up in Alabama this week. Moore actually exceeded his expected share of the vote in many of his largely white, rural base counties—but turnout in some of Moore’s best counties lagged turnout in Jones’ strongest outposts. Reporter Dave Wasserman was one of the first on election night to flag specific examples. He pointed out that turnout in a Covington County (a Moore stronghold) was coming in at only 57% of 2016 turnout, compared to Bullock County (which came in very strong for Jones) at 72% of 2016 turnout. A significant part of the Jones winning formula was driving turnout in Democratic areas, while enthusiasm in GOP base communities was more depressed.
This similar dynamic has emerged in numerous 2017 elections, largely driven by the sense among Democrats that their values are under attack by Trump and Washington Republicans. Simply put, Trump serves as an accelerant to turn out Democratic voters, while he’s not shown a similar ability to help bring lower-turnout Republican voters to the polls.
Additionally, Trump is becoming more unpopular by the day. His job approvals have trended down throughout almost the entirety of his first year. Given this trajectory, Trump could be sporting a 60% disapproval rating by early 2018. In fact, the exit polling indicated Donald Trump’s favorable rating in Alabama (48%) was identical to his unfavorable rating. If Trump is truly at parity in Alabama, then one has to imagine he will be in the red in virtually every other state in the country.
If as many Alabamians give Trump a thumbs down as a thumbs up and Trump is more likely to drive Alabama Democrats to the poll than Alabama Republicans, then the question has to be asked: Even in Alabama, is Donald Trump a net-liability for his fellow Republicans? And if that question is even being asked in Alabama, then Donald Trump will not be a popular figure on the hustings for Republicans in 2018.
Zac McCrary is a partner at ALG Research. Follow him on Twitter @ZacMcCrary.