Everything so far suggests a losing cycle. If Ed Gillespie winning in Virginia would have been a good omen for the midterms, what does Gillespie losing badly say about the midterms?
Let's remember, in American politics, what is supposed to happen tends to happen. And in Virginia, gubernatorial races tend to favor the candidate whose party is not in the White House. In fact, since 1977, the incumbent president's party has lost every Virginia gubernatorial election with just one exception in 2013.
Also, remember that in modern history, midterms spell trouble for the president's party in Congress. If President Donald Trump's approval rating were anywhere near 50 percent, perhaps the outlook in the House would not be so bleak. When presidents are above 50 percent, their party loses an average of 14 seats in the House in the midterms compared with an average loss of 36 seats when presidents are below 50 percent. But Trump's approval rating is at 38.2 percent and there is no sign of it approaching 50 percent anytime soon.
So, from a historical perspective alone, Republicans are in trouble. But in Trump's case, losing the majority will be particularly problematic. Democratic activists and the president's opponents in Congress and in the media want blood. They want payback. They want more than just stalled nominations and roadblocks to legislation. They despise Trump so much that they want him persecuted, prosecuted and removed from office. They want his personal fortune revealed and diminished, his family tormented and their brand crushed.
With all the spite directed his way, one would think Trump might focus his attention on making real changes. If he were capable and more self-aware, he would be in a panic to pass tax reform - not just to check a box as a legislative accomplishment, but to add fuel to the economy. If anything can save the GOP, it is a real spike in economic growth.
Along with that, just to state the obvious, Trump should work to improve his personal popularity. Many voters who are normally part of the GOP coalition have given up on him and concluded that he is not only a drag on Republican policies and Republican candidate recruitment, but also at the ballot box itself. Trump has every reason to want to make this situation better. But will he?
According to my old boss, Edward J. Rollins of the pro-Trump Great America Alliance super PAC, "The White House isn't paying attention to the suburbs, and there has never really been a political operation there. They have to develop a strategy where it's not just Trump alone winning, where the whole party is able to win." Well said. I would add that a lot of what appeals to suburban Republicans would be a change in the tone and daily dose of diatribes coming directly from our president.
Impossible, you say? I'm not looking for the long-lost Trump pivot, but as the saying goes, "when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Again, he needs to hurry.
Anyway, while the results in Virginia were predictable, they should still serve as an alarm - an alarm that confirms we, Republicans, are headed for a cliff. And given this president's vulnerabilities, he should be particularly eager to alter course and avoid the calamity that is coming into view.
Simply put, between historical tides, modest accomplishments and an unpopular president, Republicans will lose in 2018 unless they fundamentally change their trajectory.