Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sees Republicans having an unpopular president and no legislative accomplishments, and he is getting worried about Democrats winning back the Senate in 2018.
Buried in a Politico story about Republican 2018 anxiety was this bit about the Senate, “Not every Republican is confident about the Senate, either. McConnell has privately expressed concern about Trump’s approval ratings and lack of legislative wins, according to two people familiar with this thinking. A student of political history, the Senate leader, has warned that the 2018 map shouldn’t give Republicans solace, reminding people that the party in power during a president’s first term often suffers electorally.”
It is true that the first midterm election has traditionally been a rough one for the incumbent president, and the closeness of the special House elections in dark red districts in Kansas and Georgia is evidence that the map is only helpful to a degree. If a party is burdened by an unpopular president and lacking enthusiasm among their supporters, elections, especially Senate races, are capable of tipping towards the party that is out of power.
House races can be localized, but Senate races always have a large federal element to them. While Trump will be a dark cloud over House Republicans, he has the potential to be an anchor around the necks of Senate Republicans. It is a much easier argument for Democrats to communicate to their supporters that they can check Trump by winning three Senate seats.
The Senate map is very difficult for Democrats, as only 8 Republicans are up for reelection, and only one looks like a potential Democratic pickup (Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada).
McConnell is right to be scared. An unpopular president, and a sputtering do nothing Congressional majority will make it easier for Democrats to defend their 25 contested seats.
Republicans are getting scared because they see the outlines of Democratic wave building against them in 2018.