August 12th, 2020


If The Presidential Race Has You Baffled, Consider What's Happening To Congress

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published May 3, 2016

Under the guise of recent actions I regret, here are two:

Signing up for Hillary Clinton campaign emails (theyíre far too frequent, way too vapid and at times a little too creepy " especially the ones with message lines like "I need youĒ).

Second, emails from Emilyís List " sad reminders of the current toxic atmosphere (the group should be in the business of electing women writ large; instead, itís just a front for Democrats).

Many of those emails pertain to the 2016 election landscape and what should be a continuation that is the yo-yo dieting of congressional campaign cycles.

Figure it this way:

In the 2006 and 2008 elections, Democrats made net gains of 52 seats in the House and 13 seats in the Senate. In the 2010 and 2014 elections, Republicans made net gains of 74 seats in the House and 15 seats in the Senate.

And in 2016?

The Senate is problematic for Republicans (and thatís putting it generously): 24 GOP seats to defend vs. only 10 for the Democrats.

The House: better news here for Republicans. Per The Cook Political Report, the 435-seat chamber breaks down as follows: 202 "solidĒ GOP seats, 175 "solidĒ Democratic seats; 26 seats likely/lean Republicans, 9 that are likely/lean Democratic; 19 GOP seats that are "toss up or worseĒ versus only 4 for the Democrats.

In order for Nancy Pelosi to get to 218 seats and majority control, she has to win those 23 most imperiled contests, protect that 9 that lean her partyís way, then chip away at those 26 seats leaning the GOPís away.

Thatís a tall order given that the Democrats were able to pick up, at most, 31 seats in 2006 " in 2016, thatís enough to flip the House " under the most ideal of circumstances (none of which exist in this current cycle): unpopular Republican incumbent president, unpopular war, economy in a slowdown.

Then again, there is a potential game changer: Donald Trump.

A Trump nomination is a case study in glass half-full, glass half-empty.

On the half-full side: letís suppose Trump makes good on his boast to make the general election more competitive in areas where Republicans usually arenít viable. In the Upper Midwest, he turns out disgruntled blue-collar Americans.

Suddenly, the House is a whole lot safer for Republicans. And the Senate? Maybe a stronger-than-expected showing by Trump saves the likes of Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and Rob Portman in Ohio " two incumbent GOP senators fighting for their political lives.

Now, the half-empty side: itís Trump not just losing, but also giving up additional turf in the Electoral College. Three states worth watching are Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina. Subtract that trio from Mitt Romneyís 2012 column and 2016 wins up being a 374-164 wipeout in favor of the Democrats (worse even than 2008, when Barack Obama was a 365-173 winner).

Someone who doesnít care for this scenario is John McCain. Heís seeking his sixth term in the Senate, already planning on skipping the national convention and quite possibly in a difficult primary struggle that wonít be resolved until late August.

Adding McCain to the mix, itís possible for Democrats to gain up to 8 seats in November, which would flip the chamber to a 54-56 balance working against the GOP.

And then we forward to 2018, when Democrats will have to defend 25 Senate seats to only 8 held by Republicans (yes, the math is that bad).

The same chamber that flipped to the Democrats in 2006, flipped back to Republicans in 2014 and could yet again in 2016 in favor of Democrats, could do one more somersault in the GOPís direction.

Itís one the subtler ironies of the times. Obamaís final year in office marks only the second time in U.S. history that the nationís witnessed three consecutive two-term presidencies (previously, it was Jefferson-Madison-Monroe, in the first quarter of the 19th Century).

Meanwhile, while in theory the country should be basking in presidential stability, thereís unaccustomed congressional volatility.

The House didnít change hands during the four decades leading up to 1995; the Senate did twice " in 1980 and 1986. Should there be an anti-Trump tsunami this fall, the House could flip for the third time in the last decade.

The Senate, supposedly the more somber of the two congressional bodies, is worse: by 2018, there could be three flips in three consecutive elections.

Just one more aspect of whatís already a dizzying political landscape.

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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.