News & Politics

GOP Hold on the Senate Said to Be Slipping (Snort)

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

It’s Saturday, so this must be the “Republicans Will Lose the Senate” day in the media.

The Hill: “Republicans Fear Trump May Cost Them the Senate”

NBCNews: “Democrats move within striking range of taking the Senate, forecasts say”

New York Post: “How the Democrats could easily seize the Senate in 2020”

Alternet: “‘Awful news for Republican Senate candidates’: Odds of GOP holding Senate collapsing over support for Trump”

And what would a “Republicans are doomed” day be without Politico weighing in?

As a general proposition, when the nation is in a state of crisis, things do not go well for the President’s party. When a war becomes a quagmire (Korea in ’52, Vietnam in ’68), when the economy craters (1980, 2008), voters look for a different leader. Far from a “retreat to safety” or a “rally round the flag” sentiment, there is an instinct to show the people in charge the way to the exit. (George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 may be a counterexample, but it took place in the broad wake of anxiety overthe attacks of September 11—three years before the election—and before thebaleful consequences of the Iraq War were fullyclear.)

When all else fails, appeal to history as an authority. Except this is 2020. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about politics these last 3 or 4 years it’s that history don’t mean squat. We’ve entered a brand new era where there are no signs, no guideposts to show us what to expect except the unexpected.

This trend also has clear consequences for the Senate. When things are going reasonably well, and voters re-elect a President, senators from the other party often feel no impact at all. In 1972, Richard Nixon was returned to office in a historic landslide, winning 49 states and 60 per cent of the popular vote. But there wasn’t a corresponding Republican sweep of Congress; in fact, Democrats picked up two Senate seats. In 1988, in a country buoyed by the flush economy of the Reagan years,George H.W. Bush won with an electoral landslide of 442 votes—but again, Democrats gained a Senate seat. In 1996, Bill Clinton glided to an easy re-election, but it was Republicans who picked up two Senate seats.

Appealing to history is even more fraught with peril when it comes to trying to predict 33 individual state races. As recent years have shown, the Senate is relatively immune to national trends, as the midterms in 2018 showed. While Democrats swept to control of the House, individual Republican senators fought off several stiff challenges to not only help the party maintain their majority but pick up a seat in the process.

Not much of a “trend” there.

But even Politico acknowledges the Trump factor in the election.

This election, of course, is taking place with even fewer “known knowns” than usual. Before the pandemic, before the killing of George Floyd, we’d gone from “Biden is toast” to “can Sanders be stopped?” to “contested convention!” to “Biden’s the nominee” in roughly 10 days. Since Trump has broken pretty much every rule about Presidential politicsso far, he may well be able to defy history and turn the current crises to his advantage. (It’s also possible that if Trump drops further in the polls, GOP incumbents may conclude that their chances for survival are better if they leave the burning ship of state—and discover some safety in numbers.)

But if you are playing the percentages, the odds say that if the President cannot persuade a rattled, fretful electorate to say with him, he will take the Republican Senate down with him.

In a landslide for Biden, the GOP can probably kiss the Senate goodbye. But there hasn’t been a true landslide since Ronald Reagan’s massive win in 1984 and one is not likely in November. It will be close. And in a close presidential election, individual Senate races are decided by a variety of factors having nothing to do with party or president.

Who knows what the mythical map will look like in 30 days much less in five months?