So the Democrats are largely down in the dumps after yesterday’s Electoral College results. Not only did Trump get certified as the next POTUS, but Hillary Clinton actually lost ground in the total EC vote spread. But on the bright side, the worst is over, right? The bandage has been ripped off and the healing can begin. I mean… it can’t actually get any worse than this, can it?
Perhaps our liberal friends shouldn’t pick this week to quit sniffing glue because it’s just possible that it might. The battle for the midterms will be gearing up in earnest as soon as we sober up from the New Years parties and the writing on the wall looks pretty ugly. It may seem unthinkable, but there is a possible path in front of us which could see the Dems winding up with so few seats in the Senate that they couldn’t even muster a filibuster. (Assuming we don’t nuke it next month.) Stuart Rothenberg at the Washington Post describes just such a doomsday scenario for the regional party currently lurking in a handful of coastal cities.
The GOP’s strong 2016 election showing raises a crucial question: Do Republicans have any chance of netting eight Senate seats – and a filibuster-proof majority – in 2018?
The upcoming Senate class is unusually unbalanced. Only eight Republican Senate seats are up for election in 2018, compared to 25 Democratic seats (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats). Ten of those Democratic seats are in states carried by Donald Trump.
By any measure, Democrats are on the defensive in the next fight for Senate control. A three-seat Democratic midterm gain, which would give the party a majority, looks virtually impossible given the seats up this cycle.
What Stuart is talking about here is the same theory which Ed Morrissey explored back at the beginning of the month. It’s far from a certainty, but unless there’s a major change in liberal electoral fortunes, the Democrats will be slugging it out in some decidedly unfriendly territory in as many as a dozen races.
Bear in mind that Democrats usually do better in presidential cycles than midterms, thanks to the dynamics of turnout, and one starts to sense the disaster Sabato sees looming. There is little chance of Democrats losing the deep-blue coastal states or Minnesota, especially with Amy Klobuchar defending her seat. After that, though, Democrats have a large number of seats that look at serious risk, including Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin again, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and probably Florida. All of these states have Republican legislatures and went for Trump in this election. Picking up those eight bring Republicans up to 60, and that’s without considering what might happen in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maine — where Trump did stronger than expected and which is represented by an independent (Angus King) who caucuses with Democrats.
Here’s the map we’re dealing with:
Even some of the seats Ed marks off as “safe” for the Democrats aren’t quite as safe as they once were. For one thing, the Dems’ map relies on Wisconsin and Michigan staying in their columns. Yes, Donald Trump’s margins of victory in those states was small, but a win is a win and it was a statewide race. Plus, Democratic turnout in the midterms is, as Ed noted, always lower to begin with. So could this actually happen?
As Rothenberg reminds us, it’s rare when the party of the sitting president picks up eight or more seats in a midterm, but it has happened. (Granted, not since 1934, but it’s been done.) And while 2016 was something of a unicorn in terms of electoral history, with Trump still in office, will whatever magic drove him through that blue wall still be brewing away? Plus, of the last three times that the Senate swung eight or more seats in a midterm – 1986, 1994 and 2014 – two of the three went in the GOP’s favor. That likely ties in more with the fact that Republicans do better in the midterms than the influence of which party held the White House.
In the end I think it all comes down to Trump. If he can deliver on any decent number of his promises and work with the GOP leadership to get some conservative reforms in place, his voters may just turn up again, even in the blue wall states. Of course, that also depends on how strongly he chooses to get out there and campaign for the Republican challengers and push them from the bully pulpit. Will he be willing to do that? He wasn’t exactly treated kindly by a lot of the power players in the party these past two years and he made his disdain for the establishment quite clear. But President Trump may prove to be a very different beast than candidate Trump (something we’re already seeing in his cabinet picks) so you never know. I certainly wouldn’t write off the possibility of 60 or even 62 seats given how that map looks.
Oh, and before I forget… Merry Christmas, Democrats! May your holiday be filled with love, joy and acceptance. And a lot of booze. And don’t throw out that tube of airplane glue just yet…