August 15th, 2020


Would A Trump Nomination Cost The GOP The House?

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published April 5, 2016

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (seen here with Speaker Paul Ryan) would dearly love to regain control of the Speakerís gavel. However, the numbers suggest thatís a stretch

There are three possible scenarios, should Donald Trump face off against Hillary Clinton this fall.

Scenario one: Trump attracts crossover voters, as he says will happen in manufacturing states with struggling economies, thus broadening the map in November and besting Clinton.

Donít laugh, itís possible . . . if he runs the table in these seven states.

A second scenario: while Trump makes gains among white, blue-collar voters, he loses ground among women, youth and minorities — the contest ending up much along the lines of 2012

Scenario three — and itís the one that keep the elephant pajama crowd awake at night: Trump melts down and itís Clinton and the Democrats broadening the November map.

In which case, Republicans are all but certain to lose control of the U.S. and maybe the House of Representatives to boot as Hillaryís electoral tally approaches 400 and beyond (hereís what that blue tsunami would look like).

(If youíre looking for a historic parallel, try 1948. The White House remained Democratic in a three-way vote; Republicans gave up 75 seats and its one-term control of the chamber).

About the Democratsí odds of wining back the House this fall: in possession of but 188 seats going into November, Team Pelosi would need another 30 in order to gain majority control in the 435-seat chamber.

The good news for Team Pelosi: 30 is a doable number — that is, if a Trump-led wipeout is of Goldwater proportions. Republicans lost 36 seats that year, reducing the caucus to only 140 members.

Now, the bad news: a quick review of presidential smack-downs, since 1964, shows that such landslides rarely occur.

Jimmy Carter surrendered 34 seats in 1980 while in the process of dropping 44 states to Ronald Reagan. Moving in descending order, John McCain gave away 21 seats (on top of the 30 GOP House seats lost in 2006, it swelled the Democratic majority to 257 seats, setting up an epic 63-seat loss in 2010).

In 1984, Walter Mondale lost 16 House seats amidst a 49-state drubbing. George McGovern, another 49-state disaster, dropped 13 House seats in 1972. Oddly enough, Michael Dukakis lost 40 states in 1988, but his party managed to gain two House seats.

How do the Democrats get to 218 in this environment?

If you work along the numbers provided by The Cook Political Report, which handicaps all 435 contests, it goes something like this:

Republicans lose all 18 "endangered" seats (these are GOP-held seats rated as toss-ups or worse). Add that to 174 "solid" Democrat seats and, at 192, Pelosi is 26 seats shy of the Speakership.

Republicans then would have to drop all of the 23 seats either "leaning" in their direction or more-likely-than-not to go red this fall. If that happens, then 192+23=215. Democrats would still be three seats shy of majority control.

And that takes us back to that third Trump scenario. If, in theory, a Trump meltdown opens the doors to Clinton wins in states Republicans ordinarily might win (Georgia, North Carolina, maybe even Arizona), then so too might the House fall. But thatís if a toxic Trump candidacy drifts into the 205 seats that Cook rates as "solid" Republican.

In other words, try as it might to give away the House, the numbers may work in a way that saves the GOP from itself.

Thereís one other problem with any projection that takes House Democrats to 218 and beyond: it assumes that the GOP fails to pick up any of the four Democratic seats that Cook lists as "toss-ups". Those are districts south of Phoenix, in southeastern Florida, plus New Yorkís Long Island. It also includes a Democratic-held seat in Floridaís Panhandle thatís presumed to flip from blue to red.

In Trumpian terms, these would be the states most vital to the House GOP future, where the party can least afford the nominee to collapse.

California: three districts with GOP incumbents — all in the Golden Stateís Central Valley — lean Republican. If Trump canít stir the GOP, plus Latinos turn out in large numbers, all three could be in trouble.

Florida: one seat, to the north or Orlando, leans GOP. Another Republican seat, in South Florida, features a GOP incumbent whoís hinted that he might vote for Clinton.

New York: three Republican "toss up" seats — one with an incumbent (itís been listed as a top Democratic priority); the other two, open seats in the central part of the state.

Something to keep an eye on, as Republicans sort out their presidential nominee: the number of incumbent congressmen who call it quits in the weeks ahead.

In 2008, the last time Democrats scored big in House races, 27 GOP congressmen retired. Thirteen of those seats ending up going to Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, in the 2008 cycle, only six Democrats retired — Republicans claiming none of those seats.

Going back to Cookís ratings, at present there are 26 open GOP seats (this includes the seat left empty by former House Speaker John Boehnerís resignation). However, 18 of those openings are in "solid" Republican districts.

All of which suggests that, were a Trump nomination to cost Republicans the House, it hasnít dawned on the Republican membership.

Not yet, anyway.

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.