Donald Trump is a historically unpopular president, and Republicans in Congress are pushing through a remarkably unpopular agenda. Under such auspicious circumstances, it’s only natural for ardent Democrats to feel energized and empowered. Some see 2018 as their own Tea Party moment to sweep even the bluest of candidates to victory in the reddest of districts. It looks like an election Democrats can’t lose—the sort Americans haven’t seen since, well, last year.
So how can Democrats ensure that 2018 delivers the success they failed to achieve in 2016? The stakes are too high to rely entirely on one side’s enthusiasm or the other side’s disenchantment. If their overriding objective in 2018 is to save the country, not realign the Democratic Party, Democrats need to look back to the last time they won back the House in 2006. We helped coordinate that effort, and the lessons we learned then still apply today. Waves don’t happen on their own: Democrats need a strategy, an argument, and a plan for what they’ll do if they win.
In the last 60 years, control of the U.S. House of Representatives has changed hands just three times, always in midterm elections, with control shifting away from the president’s party. The 1994 and 2010 campaigns were dominated by attacks against the incumbent president and his party over health care; 2006 became a referendum over the ruling party’s incompetence and corruption. In percentage terms, the worst midterm defeat in the past century came in 1974, when a nation weary of obstruction of justice sent a quarter of the House Republican caucus packing. Some presidents are unfortunate enough to face one of these circumstances; with the midterms still more than a year away, Donald Trump already seems to have all those bases covered.