As primary election results are tallied, the mood of the American people will come into greater focus

August is primary month for many states holding elections (like Washington's this week), and it's a pivotal election month for all Americans. It will likely also be a test for Republican candidates and the presidency of Donald Trump — voters can finally gauge the president's popularity after nearly two years in office. It will also test whether Republican officeholders have sufficiently upset voters to justify being replaced.

Charlie Cook, the venerable, reliable political prognosticator, has Democrats leading in generic ballot polls (not a good sign for Republicans), but the economy seems strong, so Charlie's predictions may not hold.

Challengers have emerged for Republican leadership positions, further signaling a Democratic sweep. Not too many Republicans want the Freedom Caucus to be in charge of the House, since it would lead to further American polarization. Democrats face a similar dilemma of extremism — their left wing seems to have taken control of their party, not a position where most Democrats live. In fact, their left flank now outnumbers their moderate ranks.

Democratic House leaders are older (Nancy Pelosi is nearly 80, Steny Hoyer is 77), so a new crop of Democratic leaders is due to further energize Democratic voters. Republican House leaders are younger, but the Republican right wing threatens the party's broad base.

The greatest challenge for America will present itself if Democrats succeed in taking over the House — impeachment charges will likely emerge against President Trump, because so many Democrats are repelled by his policies and his frequent disruptive tweets, ranging from disparaging our commitment to NATO to criticizing LeBron James. Many Americans are disgusted by his frequent comments, though they generally like his policies — and, again, the economy is good. History tells us that when the American economy is strong, incumbents are re-elected.

But that principle could prove flawed, especially if special prosecutor Robert Mueller reveals damning findings against Trump. Or if a jury convicts Paul Manafort and President Trump pardons him. While a pardon may be acceptable to Trump supporters, they represent only about 40 percent of the electorate. The other 60 percent or so would possibly vote for another candidate than those in Trump's orbit.

Either way, Trump's diatribes against Robert Mueller seem to be a case of too frequently protesting his innocence. Trump's 2020 re-election bid will be determined by what credible Democrat or Republican (or possibly an independent) emerges to challenge him. He'll have to defend his record, including his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for a border wall — a promise he's essentially abandoned in favor of American taxpayers funding a wall, a position Trump insists upon with Congress even now.

This August, primary season will pit Trump's candidates against others. The resulting votes may be viewed as a referendum on the Trump presidency, although he seems content to have about 40 percent of the electorate on his side. If Trump's endorsed candidates win (in Florida, for example), he will claim credit, since he personalizes most of what occurs in the world. If moderate candidates lose, it will be evident that America has turned right and that political polarization will probably remain throughout the Trump presidency. It will also illustrate the influence of Donald Trump. Perhaps that's why so many Republicans who are offended by his style walk a fine line between opposition and endorsement.

Even so, the majority of the American electorate is generally unhappy with Trump's style. Still, he's changed the political atmosphere so that everyone and everything is suspicious — the mainstream press is suspect, some officeholders are "establishment-oriented" (and therefore suspect) and anyone who opposes or questions Trump should be replaced.

It all makes for plenty of political drama, but zero stability. The imposition of tariffs, a potential trade war and rising interest rates could impact the Trump presidency. If the economy goes south, that would also affect Trump's electoral chances, as American jobs impact elections, both presidential and congressional. Though some Trump supporters will remain loyal forever, the majority of voters are skeptical, believing that Trump is egomaniacal, self-centered and opportunistic — traits that don't resonate well with traditional voters who want stability. Trump's style leads to instability in the world, as he praises America's traditional enemies (Russia) and criticizes America's traditional friends (Canada).

Though August is historically a vacation month for most Americans, this year it's packed with political consequences that could have longterm effects on the United States. ♦

Norman Rockwell's America @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 12
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About The Author

George Nethercutt

From 1995-2005, George Nethercutt was the Republican Congressman from Spokane. He contributes to the commentary section of the Inlander.