What’s your favorite political cliché? Mine is the quip of former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill: “All politics is local.” Might be true for congressmen, whose longevity in office depends on the attention they pay to their districts. But it fails to capture the reality of 21st century politics, in which presidential authority, the courts, and national media overwhelm all else. And the idea of all politics being local has been especially wrong for the last three years. Since June 16, 2015, all politics has been neither local nor national. Today, all politics is Trump.
Read the recent survey from the Pew Research Center. It finds high enthusiasm among voters for the midterm election. Overall, 51 percent of registered voters say they are more enthusiastic than usual about their votes. Democrats are running hot—55 percent of them say they are more amped than before. But Republicans are not far behind: Fifty percent say the same. And both Democrats and Republicans are following the news closely. The question of who controls Congress next year is driving votes.
Why? “Trump,” says Pew, “is a bigger factor in midterm voting preferences—positive or negative—than any president in more than three decades.” Sixty-one percent of Democrats see their vote as a vote against President Trump. A majority of Republicans see theirs as votes for him. Taxes, immigration, trade, and foreign policy have been subsumed into a larger phenomenon: the Trump phenomenon. One’s vote is conditioned not by any particular macroeconomic or geopolitical issue. What matters is one’s attitude toward Trump.
No president in memory has so dominated politics, culture, and the world. Even language is not immune to his influence. Think of the phrases he has embedded into political speech: Make America Great Again, Build the Wall, Fake News, Space Force. The celebrity Obama, who sought to rebuild America on a new, government-centered foundation, grows ever more distant. He fades into the background as Trump demolishes his work and builds over it with the good marble.
Trump looms larger than Obama in the media landscape despite coverage that is overwhelmingly hostile to him. His mastery of publicity,…