This is why I’m not a big believer in the “Yeah, but the Republican brand is tarnished” meme that’s been floating around out there. I think that could help the Democrats some, but the country tends to take a slightly jaundiced view of both parties to begin with. Neither party could ever credibly claim to have clean hands. As Madison wrote in Federalist 51: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
If it’s a choice between the status quo and an opposition party that has disappointed in the past, sometimes circumstances demand the opposition. Historically speaking, that’s simply a true statement. There have been multiple periods in our country’s history when the people have swung back and forth between the parties, casting about for somebody – anybody – who could manage public affairs competently. The most violent swings came in the 1880s-1890s as the country struggled through the latter phases of the industrial revolution, but we saw a more recent one in 1974-1982. In both periods, neither side had given the people much reason for confidence, but that did not stop them from using both as “protest vehicles.”
Ultimately, this is what dooms a majority party. Sooner or later, it’s going to find itself having to deal with voter anger when times turn tough.