People like me spend lots of time worrying about Trump losing in 2024 and then badgering a Republican-controlled Congress to overturn the results on his behalf. January 6, take two, and this time the dice is loaded in his favor.
But the underrated scenario is that Trump just … wins. Fair and square, on Election Day. January 6, 2025 is a boring rubber-stamp session in which Congress certifies his legitimate victory. Why, if inflation gets bad enough, he might even win the popular vote.
There’s a first time for everything.
Trump as president with a Democratic Congress (or at least a Democratic House or Senate) is one thing. Trump with a Republican-controlled Congress is another. Trump with a Republican-controlled Congress and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate is something different still. Republicans have never held 60 seats in the Senate, I believe.
But again, there’s a first time for everything.
Axios has a post today flagging warnings among lefty election analysts that the map Democrats are facing for the next *two* cycles looks increasingly daunting. This year’s Senate races weren’t supposed to be a bloodbath for them but inflation and the looming border crisis have taken their toll. Republicans claiming 53-54 seats next year is no longer hard to imagine. And the 2024 Senate races have always looked grim for Dems, meanwhile, with red-staters like Joe Manchin and Jon Tester on the ballot. That gives the GOP a shot at building from 53-54 seats to 60 in 2025.
In a post this morning, Ed mentioned David Shor’s recent digest of the odds of a GOP takeover but it’s worth seeing the numbers themselves to grasp what Dems are up against. Not only could Republicans pull off a filibuster-proof majority in 2025, they could do it despite Trump losing the popular vote (again):
Because the Senate structurally favors the party with a higher share of rural voters, and because a party’s performance downballot correlates to some degree with its presidential nominee’s performance, Republicans could conceivably end up with 60 seats in the Senate even if Biden were to win 51 percent of the popular vote in 2024. Simon Bazelon looked at the 2024 map last week and despaired:
Since the Reagan Era, Democrats have averaged roughly 51% of the two-party vote in Presidential elections. If Biden gets this percentage of the vote, and the correlation between the Senate and presidential vote stays at close to .95 (as it was in 2020), then basically every Democratic senator in a state Biden won by less than 2% who is up in 2024 is likely to lose.
Jon Tester in Montana (Biden -16.3)
Joe Manchin in West Virginia (Biden -29.9)
Sherrod Brown in Ohio (Biden -8)
Bob Casey in Pennsylvania (Biden +1.2)
Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin (Biden +0.7)
Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona (Biden +0.3)
In addition, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan (Biden +2.8) and Jackie Rosen in Nevada (Biden +2.4) would likely be in toss-up races.
Not only would Republicans have a dominant advantage in the upper chamber by 2025, Bazelon notes, but some of the more centrist and mavericky GOPers like Pat Toomey and potentially Lisa Murkowski will be gone. It won’t just be a big GOP majority. It’ll be a big *Trumpist* majority.
And on matters like confirming nominees, where there’s a 50-vote threshold, a big majority will render the remaining Trump-skeptics in the caucus meaningless by making their votes superfluous. Collins, Romney, and Murkowski won’t matter if there are 50 (let alone 55-57) other Republicans willing to vote for any candidate Trump puts forward.
2024 is what it is for Dems because the map happens to involve so many competitive Democrat-held seats. 2022 was supposed to be the cycle in which they gained a few seats, providing a bit of a cushion that would limit the extent of the GOP’s new majority in 2025. Instead 2022 has gone sideways. And now they’re staring at disaster.
If a Trump-led takeover is destined to happen, pray that it happens with Trump winning a majority of the popular vote. Democrats will squeal but it wouldn’t be the first time a party has swept an election due to dissatisfaction with the current guy. It’s perfectly legitimate, democracy at work. If the Trump-led takeover were to happen *without* winning the popular vote, though, that’s where we enter “national crack-up” territory for reasons Ross Douthat recently explained:
The Electoral College’s legitimacy can stand up if an occasional 49-47 percent popular vote result goes the other way; likewise the Senate’s legitimacy if it tilts a bit toward one party but changes hands consistently.
But a scenario where one party has sustained governing power while lacking majoritarian support is a recipe for delegitimization and reasonable disillusionment, which no clever conservative column about the constitutional significance of state sovereignty would adequately address.
The key word there is “sustained.” Trump, a figure despised by his opponents, has lost the popular vote twice yet won the election in 2016 and came close to winning it in 2020. If he were to return to the White House in 2024 after losing the popular vote a third time — with a gigantic Senate majority to boot — blue states will begin to question why they should remain part of a “democracy” where they’re consistently denied power despite winning more votes. You can shout “we’re a constitutional republic, not a democracy” until you’re blue in the face; it won’t solve the legitimacy crisis of the more popular party being relegated to a rump minority in the capital.
Which is not to say that a filibuster-proof majority would be all ice cream and candy canes for the GOP. Having 60 seats or something close to it would leave the party with no excuses for failing to legislate the way the base wants. If Roe is overturned this summer and blue states turn into abortion factories for red states, a Republican Congress would come under intense pressure to ban the practice nationally — which would be highly unpopular among the overall electorate, I suspect. What would Republicans do? If a Collins or a Murkowski refused to provide the 60th vote for a ban, McConnell would then face pressure to end the legislative filibuster and pass it with a simple majority. Would he do it? If he didn’t, would social conservatives turn out for the next election? If he did do it, would the majority of Americans who oppose a total ban wreck Republicans in the next election?
Likewise, Trump being Trump, he’d inevitably nominate plenty of unqualified or underqualified people for cabinet positions in his next term. He’s alienated most of the respectable people who were willing to work for him the first time around, so it’ll be nothing but sycophants next time. Would a Republican caucus with ~60 votes dare deny him the 50 votes he needs to confirm all of his choices, however dubious? What possible excuse would they have for failing to confirm anyone with a majority that size?
Oh, and there’s also the small matter that the GOP … doesn’t really have a legislative agenda anymore. It exists primarily to keep Democrats out of power, not to enact policies of its own. Some of the culture-war stuff being done at the state level might not even be constitutionally feasible at the federal level. So what would Republicans do with their 60 votes? Build the wall, presumably. What else? Another tax cut?
There’s a “be careful what you wish for” element to two big Republican landslides, but figuring out what to do with a giant majority is a nice problem to have. Democrats had better figure out how they’re going to cope.