Historically, the party that occupies the White House loses seats in the midterm elections although there have been several notable exceptions to this rule. And if 2018 proves to be one of those exceptions and the Republicans gain seats in the midterms, Charlie Savage of the New York Times already has an excuse at hand: Russian meddling.
Savage provided this excuse to the potential sore losers a full eight months before the midterms in his March 3 article, What if Republicans Win the Midterms?
A sizable portion of the American population has been convulsing with outrage at President Trump for more than a year. Millions of people who previously took only mild interest in politics have participated in protests, fumed as they stayed riveted to news out of Washington and filled social media accounts once devoted to family updates and funny videos with furious political commentary.
Yet public life on the whole has remained surprisingly calm. A significant factor in keeping the peace has surely been anticipatory catharsis: The widespread expectations of a big Democratic wave in the coming midterm elections are containing and channeling that indignation, helping to maintain order.
So the Democrats would have gone completely berserk but for the fact that they think Democrat victories this November will spell the beginning of the end for the Trumpocalypse.
What will happen if no such wave materializes and that pressure-relief valve jams shut?
They freak out:
...But the relative calm may be like an unexploded bomb, its volatility not so much defused as contained by the thought that Trump Republicans will be punished in the Nov. 6 midterm elections. These expectations are widespread.
Those expectations were also in place in 1998, when Bill Clinton was caught cheating with a college-age intern and lying in sworn testimony. A Republican wave did not occur.
But a significant Democratic wave may not materialize. Good economic news, for example, tends to blunt anti-incumbent sentiments. The country is still mostly using House districts that were redrawn after the 2010 census, just as Republicans’ big 2010 midterm wave victory gave them an unusual degree of control over state legislatures. Beyond deliberate partisan gerrymandering, the impact of a Democratic turnout surge would be partly diluted by their voters’ disproportionate concentration in cities, piling up extra votes in districts Republicans would have lost anyway.
Uh-oh! Time now for Mr. Savage to give us the ultimate fallback excuse:
But inevitably, many eyes would turn to Russia. It appears to still be covertly spreading disinformation and amplifying tensions on American social media with the intention of having “an impact on the next election cycle,” Mike Pompeo, the Central Intelligence Agency director, told Congress last month.
Another poll-defying election night surprise, like 2016’s, would further fuel suspicions of unseen manipulation. After all, the public only later found out — apparently thanks to the National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner, whom the Justice Department is prosecuting for leaking — that shortly before the 2016 election, Russian hackers infiltrated the servers of an elections systems software supplier and tried to trick 122 state elections officials into downloading malware. While there is no evidence that Russian hackers tampered with Election Day results last time, the government has disclosed that it thinks they probed elections systems in 21 states and penetrated several.
And according to Savage's reality check, the key phrase in that excuse-making paragraph is "no evidence."
Against that backdrop, disappointed Trump opponents will be primed to believe the worst: that Russia rigged two elections in a row for Republicans. And if their anticipatory catharsis and faith in the democratic process evaporates, the anger could seek a different outlet — in turn risking a backlash from Trump supporters and a downward spiral.