The 2018 election is 281 days away; seemingly an eternity in the life of political campaigns. A great deal of activity will happen between now and then – most of which cannot be predicted. Here, however, are five things we can expect between now and the 2018 election.
- Bipartisanship in Congress: It’s not a traditionally active time for Republicans and Democrats to come together, but incumbents of both parties need wins they can sell on the campaign trail. With congressional approval ratings hovering in the low teens (currently 13%) and the House and Senate facing significant political challenges for incumbents, there is bipartisan hope for legislative victories (albeit on different issues). At the same time, legislation cannot move in the Senate (and therefore be signed into law) without bipartisan support. So, we should expect some deal-making that will produce victories for both parties.
- A Familiar White House Message: The president’s policy message will remain consistent as we near the election – America’s economy is strong, we need fair trade deals that protect American interests, we need a well-funded and strong military, and America’s future has never been brighter. His “America First” theme will continue to dominate his messaging and, in some cases, Republicans will begin to parrot that theme in tough primary campaigns.
- A Campaign Trail Dominated by Tax Reform: Both Republicans and Democrats will leverage the new tax reform law as a key differentiator between the parties’ priorities. Republicans will tout the law as an example of fulfilling a 2016 campaign promise and for moving legislative priorities that are narrowly focused on growing the economy and providing broad middle-class tax relief. Democrats will use the law to highlight their belief that Republican priorities are aligned with corporate America, not with those who actually need relief.
- Intra-Party Disagreements Within Congress: As the elections near, factions within the two parties will become more aggressive and seemingly difficult for leadership to control. It goes without saying, the time leading up to an election provides a platform for anyone to try and drive a message and agenda. Everyone – conservatives, moderates, progressives, etc. – have their own vision for how to win the election and what will best position their party for 2018 success; those competing visions will become louder as the election nears, which could create some anxiety, frustration, and a lack of coordination within the two parties.
- Lots of Positioning Among Policymakers: Not surprisingly, many policymakers are quietly thinking about their own possibilities in 2019 – leadership, chairmanships, policy agendas, etc. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see some policymakers work to elevate themselves over the next nine months and work to better position themselves for 2019. While they won’t outline their full intentions, 2018 will serve as somewhat of a proving ground for any leadership and committee changes in 2019.
The next nine months may have a number of moments that are seemingly disconnected from the election – and I am sure those will be overwhelmingly welcomed by everyone – but nothing will be done without some calculation around the impact to campaigns. After all, the months ahead are – in part – used to frame the message for the campaign season and, in some cases, to prepare for the outcome of the 2018 election. Those seeking to influence the process this year – whether policymakers or stakeholders – will be leveraging these five realities.