Washington (CNN)With 182 days left before the 2018 election, all signs are pointing to a Democratic wave. The main question at this point seems to be not whether a wave is happening but rather how big the wave will be -- and if it will knock Republicans out of not just their House majority but their Senate one, too.
Here's the absolute best-case scenario for Republicans in 2018
And, to be clear, a wave -- of indeterminate size -- remains the most likely outcome.
But new national polling from CNN does provide a glimmer of hope for panicky Republicans. Or, more accurately, it shows a possible path by which disaster might be avoided at the ballot box this fall.
First of all, Trump's job approval numbers are steady but low. Forty one percent of people approve of the job he's doing while 53% disapprove in the new CNN-SSRS survey. Those numbers are statistically similar to where Trump was in March when he had a 42% approve/54% disapprove score.
At the same time that Trump continues to get broadly poor reviews for his performance in office, the mood of the country is lifting dramatically. Almost 6 in 10 people said that things are going "very" (12%) or fairly" (45%) well while 40% said they are going badly. That's a considerable bump upwards from last October, when 46% said things were going well and 51% said they were not going well.
Those two sets of numbers seem entirely contradictory. Almost always in political history, the more optimistic people feel about the direction of the country, the better a president's marks are. The reverse is also true; a president's ratings are usually poor when people don't feel great about the country.
So, what gives?
Here's a theory: People, broadly, speaking, don't connect Trump all that closely to the party with which he ostensibly belongs. Under this line of thinking, Trump is like an island, floating in the political sea. He is unmoored from the two traditional landmasses of the Democratic and Republican party. He is simply Trump.
What that means is that Trump is unable to transfer his political appeal to other candidates -- like, say, Rick Saccone in the Pennsylvania special election or Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race.
But the other side of that coin is that Trump's drag on downballot Republicans this fall may be less worse -- it ain't going to be good! -- than it might be with a different president who was more closely aligned with a party.
The blueprint for congressional GOPers suggested by the CNN poll goes like this: I don't support Trump's bullying, his tweeting and his popping off. But, I sure as heck support the results for the country -- a growing economy and an unemployment rate under 4% for the first time in almost two decades.
If you like what Republicans are doing on the economy, vote for them. Trump is Trump and always will be. But the Republican Party is not Trump.
As I noted above, I don't think this is the most likely outcome this fall. If history is any guide, midterm elections are a referendum on the president. And when that president is under 50% approval -- as Trump is now -- the seat losses are massive (Try 36 seats -- on average.)
But, but, but -- Donald Trump has been the exception to every political rule. He did almost everything wrong -- by traditional measures -- and still won. Leave open the possibility then that as the election draws closer, the discussion is more about the state of the country than Trump.