This Is How the GOP Can Keep Control of the House | Opinion

Just because the Democrats hoped for a "big, blue wave" that appears less and less likely to wash across America during the next election, doesn't mean the GOP isn't going to have to play it smart and fight hard to keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

There are enough seats currently in play to have Republican leaders worried. The party organizations are flush with cash but, on a seat by seat basis, party leaders cannot be happy that the most recent fundraising reports show 56 Democratic candidates outraised their Republican opponents in the second quarter of 2018. That includes more than two dozen Democrats running in open seats, and 19 of those have the lead in the amount of cash they have on hand.

Money isn't everything, but the success individual candidates are having suggests the progressive activists and funders who are trying to engineer a shift in control may be bypassing party committees in order to give directly to candidates. Given the way the Democratic National Committee went in the tank for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and rigged the game against Bernie Sanders, it's no surprise that there's not a lot of trust on the side of donors regarding how their contributions will be put to use.

The Republicans are running, generally, on their record of accomplishment and, specifically, on the impact of the tax cuts on the American economy and family. On its new campaign-oriented website, Better Off Now, they've taken a page from the Reagan playbook and are asking voters to evaluate whether they're better off now than they were before Donald Trump was elected.

There are a lot of numbers on their side. The average American family of four got a tax cut of more than $2,000. The standard deductions for individuals and families have been doubled, respectively, to $12,000 and $24,000. Unemployment is down to its lowest level in decades. The economy created 3.7 million new jobs since November 2016, the black unemployment rate for June 2018 was 6.5 percent—the lowest in 10 years. That same month unemployment among Hispanics was 4.6 percent, the lowest on record.

Consumer confidence is up—there's been a 2.7 percent increase in average annual wages, real disposable income was up by 3.4 percent in the first quarter of 2018, customers at 102 utility companies are seeing lower bills in 48 states thanks to the tax cut, and 642 companies gave pay raises, bonuses, or additional benefits given to employees specifically because of the change in tax law.

That's all just for starters. The GOP has taken credit not just for a booming economy but for safer communities and a stronger military. Whether that will work with voters, though, is an open question and, should things suddenly go south, the strategy is a ticking timebomb.

Early on in the Obama Administration then-Vice President Joe Biden proclaimed June, July, and August of 2010 as "the summer of recovery." It wasn't—and the Republicans made him eat those words as the GOP picked up an almost unheard-of 63 seats in the November election. By framing the upcoming contest as a referendum on what has already happened rather than what is to come, the GOP may be making the same mistake Biden did. The better strategy is to frame the tax cut as the predicate for future success, the launching pad from which the economy began its ascent from the doldrums into the stratosphere.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and fellow House Republican leaders hold a news conference following their weekly caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 17, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

What the Republicans should be doing—but will find difficult to manage as long as Paul Ryan hangs around as a lame duck speaker—is crafting an agenda for progress that begins now and which a re-elected Republican congressional majority will continue to implement. That should include a plan of action for healthcare reform and education—two issues that are top of the voters' minds but which don't yet show up in the GOP talking points. It should also touch on national security and the need to secure the borders—Democrats who are calling for the abolition of the agency responsible for immigration and customs have created an opening big enough to float a triple trailer truck through. Finally, looking at reforms that take up the issue of corruption in government head on.

That last point is especially critical. The problems of the president and several now former members of his cabinet, whether they've been unfairly hyped by the media or not, are starting to stick to the party at large. It's an issue members of Congress can ignore, but only at their own peril.

Many Democratic operatives will admit, privately at least, they no longer expect to sweep the GOP out of power everywhere in America. Instead they're focusing on the House where, if they gain control they can stop the Republicans from cutting taxes again, securing the border, and damage Trump's upcoming bid for re-election through hearings that are at best embarrassing and at worst lead to his impeachment. The GOP needs to bring its A-Game to the campaign, but so far, it hasn't found it.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff is has written extensively about politics, culture, and the media for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International, and various other publications. He can be reached by email at . Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff