washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

September 6: Knowingly or Not, Trump Punishes GOP With Spending/Debt Limit Deal

The deal Donald Trump cut with congressional Democratic leaders to bundle disaster relief with a short-term spending extension and debt limit increase has stunned Republicans. That he sprang the deal in a public meeting attended by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell gave new meaning to the term “adding insult to injury.” And the congressional Republicans weren’t the only ones blind-sided, as the New York Times reported:

“A chastened Mr. Mnuchin left the room, in what one witness described as a state of shell shock. Mick Mulvaney, the president’s fiscally conservative budget director, told Republican lawmakers later that he would do his best to cope with the new reality that his boss was dealing with the opposition.

“And Mr. McConnell, who is barely on speaking terms with the president, quietly seethed, according to two people familiar with the situation. He breezed past other lawmakers and staff members in purse-lipped silence when he returned to the Capitol.”

In terms of the substance of the deal, Trump blew up GOP hopes of postponing future debt limit votes until after the 2018 midterms, instead keeping must-pass debt limit and appropriations votes on the table for mid-December, when GOP congressional leaders hoped to be focused on tax cuts. And by agreeing to tie it all to Harvey relief and recovery funds, Trump made it almost impossible for the GOP to do anything other than to grudgingly accept it.

The key question is whether Trump was just behaving impulsively, or if instead he is punishing the GOP for failing to get more done this year, and/or for failing to make his own priorities (e.g., border wall funding) their own. One informed source, Joel Pollack of Breitbart News, certainly read it the latter way:

“By working with Democrats, Trump can bypass the Republican leadership, GOP moderates, and personal foes like Sens. John McCain (R-AZ). However, it also means that he can cobble deals together between liberal Republicans and the Democrat minority, leaving conservatives out in the cold.

“The only way to stop him is for Republicans to unite. By showing he can deal with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump may have found the one way of making them do so.”

If this is indeed Trump’s idea of a bid for GOP unity, Democrats can only hope he keeps doing it.


Knowingly Or Not, Trump Punishes GOP With Spending/Debt Limit Deal

The deal Donald Trump cut with congressional Democratic leaders to bundle disaster relief with a short-term spending extension and debt limit increase has stunned Republicans. That he sprang the deal in a public meeting attended by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell gave new meaning to the term “adding insult to injury.” And the congressional Republicans weren’t the only ones blind-sided, as the New York Times reported:

“A chastened Mr. Mnuchin left the room, in what one witness described as a state of shell shock. Mick Mulvaney, the president’s fiscally conservative budget director, told Republican lawmakers later that he would do his best to cope with the new reality that his boss was dealing with the opposition.

“And Mr. McConnell, who is barely on speaking terms with the president, quietly seethed, according to two people familiar with the situation. He breezed past other lawmakers and staff members in purse-lipped silence when he returned to the Capitol.”

In terms of the substance of the deal, Trump blew up GOP hopes of postponing future debt limit votes until after the 2018 midterms, instead keeping must-pass debt limit and appropriations votes on the table for mid-December, when GOP congressional leaders hoped to be focused on tax cuts. And by agreeing to tie it all to Harvey relief and recovery funds, Trump made it almost impossible for the GOP to do anything other than to grudgingly accept it.

The key question is whether Trump was just behaving impulsively, or if instead he is punishing the GOP for failing to get more done this year, and/or for failing to make his own priorities (e.g., border wall funding) their own. One informed source, Joel Pollack of Breitbart News, certainly read it the latter way:

“By working with Democrats, Trump can bypass the Republican leadership, GOP moderates, and personal foes like Sens. John McCain (R-AZ). However, it also means that he can cobble deals together between liberal Republicans and the Democrat minority, leaving conservatives out in the cold.

“The only way to stop him is for Republicans to unite. By showing he can deal with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump may have found the one way of making them do so.”

If this is indeed Trump’s idea of a bid for GOP unity, Democrats can only hope he keeps doing it.


September 1: Guess What? Young People Really Loathe Donald Trump

This bit of polling news was of interest to me, so I wrote it up for New York:

It’s not exactly breaking news that millennials are not a hotbed of support for Donald J. Trump (or for that matter, his party). But via Axios, we learn that the latest weekly Gallup approval-rating numbers for the president among 18-to-29-year-olds have hit a dismal new low of 20 percent.

Trump’s approval rating in this age cohort has been sloping downward since late April, when it stood at a merely abysmal 36 percent.

Like most Republicans, of course, Trump’s popularity is directly proportional to the number of years poll respondents have been walking the earth. He’s currently at 33 percent among 30-to-49-year-olds; 42 percent among 50-to-64-year-olds; and 43 percent among those over the age of 65. If you have to pick where to be strong or weak, this is the pattern you’d like in the very short term, since likelihood to vote is also more or less directly related to age. These Gallup numbers are not screened for voter registration, much less likelihood to vote, so the overall profile for Trump isn’t quite as bad as it looks when it comes to people who will, for example, be voting in 2018.

In the long run, though, you don’t want your political party to be led by someone who is loathed by the voters of the future.

No, you don’t see many MAGA hats among millennials.


Guess What? Young People Really Loathe Donald Trump

This bit of polling news was of interest to me, so I wrote it up for New York:

It’s not exactly breaking news that millennials are not a hotbed of support for Donald J. Trump (or for that matter, his party). But via Axios, we learn that the latest weekly Gallup approval-rating numbers for the president among 18-to-29-year-olds have hit a dismal new low of 20 percent.

Trump’s approval rating in this age cohort has been sloping downward since late April, when it stood at a merely abysmal 36 percent.

Like most Republicans, of course, Trump’s popularity is directly proportional to the number of years poll respondents have been walking the earth. He’s currently at 33 percent among 30-to-49-year-olds; 42 percent among 50-to-64-year-olds; and 43 percent among those over the age of 65. If you have to pick where to be strong or weak, this is the pattern you’d like in the very short term, since likelihood to vote is also more or less directly related to age. These Gallup numbers are not screened for voter registration, much less likelihood to vote, so the overall profile for Trump isn’t quite as bad as it looks when it comes to people who will, for example, be voting in 2018.

In the long run, though, you don’t want your political party to be led by someone who is loathed by the voters of the future.

No, you don’t see many MAGA hats among millennials.


August 31: New Centrist Group Comes In Peace

When a new group of Democratic centrists calling itself New Democracy was formed recently, I watched carefully, and had this initial assessment at New York:

Right away, the ranks of those who are ever-ready for a “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” rejoiced, glimpsing a new factional fight. That included conservatives eager to suggest the group would be a redoubt for pro-life candidates progressives wanted to exclude; progressives quick to label it as advocating the “rich-friendly neoliberalism inflected with white identity politics” that Democrats have begun to repudiate; and mainstream-media folk looking for a new entrant in the “fight over the party’s direction….”

Those who were familiar with the New Democrats (and the organization that launched them, the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council) can be forgiven for assuming the new group would again be taking up the cudgels against “fundamentalist liberalism” and an interest-group-dominated Democratic Party — particularly given the new prominence of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and his followers. After all, New Democracy’s founder, Will Marshall, was a co-founder of the DLC more than three decades ago, and he still espouses some of the same policy views (bemoaning economic anti-globalization and pessimism) and political perspectives (embracing a “big tent” party committed to persuasion as well as mobilization of voters) familiar to participants and spectators of intra-party fights in the past.

But in an interview with Ezra Klein, Marshall disclaimed any interest in struggling for souls:

“I was interested to see that Marshall has formed a new organization: New Democracy, which promises to “expand the party’s appeal across Middle America and make Democrats competitive everywhere.” The DLC wing of the Democratic Party has been surprisingly quiet as its legacy has come under attack, and as the argument over the future of the party has centered on how far left it should go. The debate, I assumed, was about to be joined. But when I reached him, that’s not what happened.”

“’I don’t know the one true path to durable progressive majorities, and I don’t think anyone else does either,” Marshall says. “’When you’re in the minority, you need to expand in every direction.’”

When asked to live up, or down, to his reputation as a lefty-basher, Marshall demurred:

“A few decades ago, Marshall helped lead a confident ideological insurgency that reshaped the Democratic Party from top to bottom. Today, he sounds chastened. ‘We’re not interested in engaging in sectarian battles for control of the Democratic Party’s steering wheel,’ he says. ‘New Democracy isn’t aimed at safe blue districts. The Democratic Party is doing well there. We’re focused on the competitive ground where we need to make big gains.'”

Among the current and former elected officials New Democracy has signed up, most are indeed from red and purple states. But they hardly resemble the “southern white boys” the DLC was often accused of representing. Their southern contingent prominently includes two African-Americans from the reddest of red states, U.S. Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama and Columbia, South Carolina, mayor Steve Benjamin. Perhaps their best-known white Southerner is New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose conspicuous stand against neo-Confederate monuments makes the idea this group promotes “white identity politics” a bit absurd. Most typical of the New Democracy supporters is probably former Iowa governor and Obama Cabinet member Tom Vilsack, who has watched his state’s hard-won Democratic majorities unravel rapidly over the last few years, from the top to the bottom of the ballot.

I should note that I was a colleague of Marshall at the DLC back in the day. I almost certainly preceded and exceeded him in the sort of humbled reevaluation of the organization’s tenets that Klein observes, as reflected in my own conflicted assessment of the DLC when it closed its doors, in 2011. But his ecumenical spirit was exemplified by a joint statement on economic policy he co-signed with the American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner — yes, the same rigorously progressive Robert Kuttner whose commitment to economic “populism” made Stephen Bannon think he might make common cause with Trump in China-bashing — back in 2004. Some of us who knew both men thought this meeting of the Democratic minds could be a sign of the End Times.

In any event, Marshall and his colleagues appear to come in peace, asking for a job some Democrats are loath to do. As Jesse Jackson once said to a DLC gathering, “it takes two wings to fly.” That doesn’t mean party conflicts can be perpetually avoided. As Klein observes, when it comes time to nominate a presidential candidate for 2020, there can only be one winner. And Marshall’s suggestion of a red-state/blue-state division of labor won’t convince populists who believe that their own message, not some squishy business-friendly centrism, is the ideal ice-breaker for white working-class voters. But with Donald Trump still raging around the White House, and Republicans still controlling most of the levers of power in Washington and a majority of the states, a delay in the intra-party fisticuffs as long as possible probably makes sense.


New Centrist Group Comes In Peace

When a new group of Democratic centrists calling itself New Democracy was formed recently, I watched carefully, and had this initial assessment at New York:

Right away, the ranks of those who are ever-ready for a “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” rejoiced, glimpsing a new factional fight. That included conservatives eager to suggest the group would be a redoubt for pro-life candidates progressives wanted to exclude; progressives quick to label it as advocating the “rich-friendly neoliberalism inflected with white identity politics” that Democrats have begun to repudiate; and mainstream-media folk looking for a new entrant in the “fight over the party’s direction….”

Those who were familiar with the New Democrats (and the organization that launched them, the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council) can be forgiven for assuming the new group would again be taking up the cudgels against “fundamentalist liberalism” and an interest-group-dominated Democratic Party — particularly given the new prominence of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and his followers. After all, New Democracy’s founder, Will Marshall, was a co-founder of the DLC more than three decades ago, and he still espouses some of the same policy views (bemoaning economic anti-globalization and pessimism) and political perspectives (embracing a “big tent” party committed to persuasion as well as mobilization of voters) familiar to participants and spectators of intra-party fights in the past.

But in an interview with Ezra Klein, Marshall disclaimed any interest in struggling for souls:

“I was interested to see that Marshall has formed a new organization: New Democracy, which promises to “expand the party’s appeal across Middle America and make Democrats competitive everywhere.” The DLC wing of the Democratic Party has been surprisingly quiet as its legacy has come under attack, and as the argument over the future of the party has centered on how far left it should go. The debate, I assumed, was about to be joined. But when I reached him, that’s not what happened.”

“’I don’t know the one true path to durable progressive majorities, and I don’t think anyone else does either,” Marshall says. “’When you’re in the minority, you need to expand in every direction.’”

When asked to live up, or down, to his reputation as a lefty-basher, Marshall demurred:

“A few decades ago, Marshall helped lead a confident ideological insurgency that reshaped the Democratic Party from top to bottom. Today, he sounds chastened. ‘We’re not interested in engaging in sectarian battles for control of the Democratic Party’s steering wheel,’ he says. ‘New Democracy isn’t aimed at safe blue districts. The Democratic Party is doing well there. We’re focused on the competitive ground where we need to make big gains.'”

Among the current and former elected officials New Democracy has signed up, most are indeed from red and purple states. But they hardly resemble the “southern white boys” the DLC was often accused of representing. Their southern contingent prominently includes two African-Americans from the reddest of red states, U.S. Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama and Columbia, South Carolina, mayor Steve Benjamin. Perhaps their best-known white Southerner is New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose conspicuous stand against neo-Confederate monuments makes the idea this group promotes “white identity politics” a bit absurd. Most typical of the New Democracy supporters is probably former Iowa governor and Obama Cabinet member Tom Vilsack, who has watched his state’s hard-won Democratic majorities unravel rapidly over the last few years, from the top to the bottom of the ballot.

I should note that I was a colleague of Marshall at the DLC back in the day. I almost certainly preceded and exceeded him in the sort of humbled reevaluation of the organization’s tenets that Klein observes, as reflected in my own conflicted assessment of the DLC when it closed its doors, in 2011. But his ecumenical spirit was exemplified by a joint statement on economic policy he co-signed with the American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner — yes, the same rigorously progressive Robert Kuttner whose commitment to economic “populism” made Stephen Bannon think he might make common cause with Trump in China-bashing — back in 2004. Some of us who knew both men thought this meeting of the Democratic minds could be a sign of the End Times.

In any event, Marshall and his colleagues appear to come in peace, asking for a job some Democrats are loath to do. As Jesse Jackson once said to a DLC gathering, “it takes two wings to fly.” That doesn’t mean party conflicts can be perpetually avoided. As Klein observes, when it comes time to nominate a presidential candidate for 2020, there can only be one winner. And Marshall’s suggestion of a red-state/blue-state division of labor won’t convince populists who believe that their own message, not some squishy business-friendly centrism, is the ideal ice-breaker for white working-class voters. But with Donald Trump still raging around the White House, and Republicans still controlling most of the levers of power in Washington and a majority of the states, a delay in the intra-party fisticuffs as long as possible probably makes sense.


August 25: Trump, His Base, and White Racial Grievances

After considerable meditation on why Trump’s sympathetic attitude towards Neo-Confederates hasn’t disturbed his base, I offered these conclusions for New York:

GOP elected officials have been unusually willing to put some distance between themselves and Trump on the validity of protests to defend Confederate and neo-Confederate symbols. But as my colleague Eric Levitz pointed out last week, that sentiment has not been shared by the large pro-Trump segment of the Republican base. Indeed, these voters are far more likely to agree with Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville than with the health-care legislation he has been promoting all year.

That’s the most important reason the president’s shocking expression of solidarity with the “fine people” among the open white supremacists carrying torches in Charlottesville has not much affected his approval ratings. It’s true, as Nate Silver observed this week, that Trump’s public standing is so generally low that a negative reaction to any one development might not move the needle much. But there was a visible erosion of support for Trump that appeared after earlier missteps, such as the firing of James Comey, and his embrace of a very unpopular health-care bill. Voters expect Trump to be — well, if not racist, then anti-anti-racist. And his supporters responded to demands to take down symbols of unvanquished southern white pride much as Trump did in his infamous August 14 press conference: as just another “politically correct” imposition on perpetually hard-pressed white people. As Silver puts it:

“Issues related to race, gender, sexuality, religion and social class have long been an animating force in American politics, of course. But they’ve come back in an especially strong way in the Trump era, so much so that views on these questions tend to be stronger markers of support for Trump than views on economic and policy issues.”

Drawing on research about the attitudes of 2016 Trump voters, Thomas Edsall goes further, suggesting that the president’s base easily identifies with white protesters against alleged offenses to “our history, our legacy,” as Trump himself put it in this week’s rally in Phoenix. Indeed, political scientists looking at Trump’s emergence as the shocking front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination last year noted at the time that “white racial identity and beliefs that whites are treated unfairly are powerful predictors of support for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries.”

A more recent study by prominent political scientists zeroes in on the importance of white racial grievances to core Trump supporters, as Edsall explains:

“The three authors describe a rapidly “growing sense of white victimhood.” They cite surveys showing that among Republicans, the perception of discrimination against whites grew from 38 percent in 2011-12 to 47 percent in January 2016.

“A February 2017 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute separately asked voters whether “there is a lot of discrimination” against various groups. 43 percent of Republicans said there is a lot of discrimination against whites, compared to 27 percent of Republicans who said that there is a lot of discrimination against blacks.”

These findings help us to understand the special rage Trump supporters exhibit when they (or their leader) are accused of racism. They think of themselves as the victims of anti-white racism. And Trump has frequently fed that perception, as Christopher Ingraham reports:

“Trump has used the word “racist” or “racism” at least 56 times on Twitter, according to the Trump Twitter Archive, a website that tracks and archives all the president’s tweets. In two-thirds of those Tweets, Trump levied accusations of racism at individuals or groups of people. And those accusations followed a very clear pattern: Trump has directed accusations of racism toward black people three times as often as he has done so against whites.”

Trump’s current determination to view anti-racists demonstrating in Charlottesville as just as objectionable as, if not more objectionable than, the white marchers whining about being “replaced” fits into this pattern, and has evoked a predictable, if shocking-to-elites, response from his core supporters.

You can argue all day long that this makes them, and him, prima facie racists. But racists or not, they are definitely anti-anti-racists who manifest a knee-jerk negative reaction to protests against racism as advancing the interests of non-white people who, in their view, have been coddled for too long. They oppose the removal of the statues of the Confederacy, not because they particularly care about them, but because anti-racists would like to see them removed. That is an attitude that is just beneath the surface in their attitudes toward race-tinged conflicts involving police violence and immigration, as well as monuments to the Confederacy and Jim Crow.

But even Trump must be careful not to take anti-anti-racism too far; there are limits to what even his core followers will support out of antipathy to his opponents. A quarter century ago, when David Duke (who was, like a political zombie, present among the white rioters of Charlottesville) was on the very brink of being elected governor of Louisiana, he wasn’t brought down by his past as a Ku Klux Klan leader. It was when photos of him wearing a swastika arm band as an LSU grad student started circulating (punctuated by opponent Ed Edwards saying to him in a televised debate, “I was working on welfare reform back when you were still goose-stepping around Baton Rouge”) that white Louisianans had second thoughts about making him their governor and national symbol. There were, of course, a lot more World War II veterans alive back then. Still, Trump must learn to keep his anti-anti-racism semi-respectable. It’s not an easy balancing act, particularly for a man of our president’s temperament.

But it could take many steps over the line to convince Trump’s base that he’s doing anything other than standing up for their rights. He may lose support for breaking economic policy promises, but on the cultural and racial front, they are quick to take his side against those they view as oppressors of the white majority.


Trump, His Base, and White Racial Grievances

After considerable meditation on why Trump’s sympathetic attitude towards Neo-Confederates hasn’t disturbed his base, I offered these conclusions for New York:

GOP elected officials have been unusually willing to put some distance between themselves and Trump on the validity of protests to defend Confederate and neo-Confederate symbols. But as my colleague Eric Levitz pointed out last week, that sentiment has not been shared by the large pro-Trump segment of the Republican base. Indeed, these voters are far more likely to agree with Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville than with the health-care legislation he has been promoting all year.

That’s the most important reason the president’s shocking expression of solidarity with the “fine people” among the open white supremacists carrying torches in Charlottesville has not much affected his approval ratings. It’s true, as Nate Silver observed this week, that Trump’s public standing is so generally low that a negative reaction to any one development might not move the needle much. But there was a visible erosion of support for Trump that appeared after earlier missteps, such as the firing of James Comey, and his embrace of a very unpopular health-care bill. Voters expect Trump to be — well, if not racist, then anti-anti-racist. And his supporters responded to demands to take down symbols of unvanquished southern white pride much as Trump did in his infamous August 14 press conference: as just another “politically correct” imposition on perpetually hard-pressed white people. As Silver puts it:

“Issues related to race, gender, sexuality, religion and social class have long been an animating force in American politics, of course. But they’ve come back in an especially strong way in the Trump era, so much so that views on these questions tend to be stronger markers of support for Trump than views on economic and policy issues.”

Drawing on research about the attitudes of 2016 Trump voters, Thomas Edsall goes further, suggesting that the president’s base easily identifies with white protesters against alleged offenses to “our history, our legacy,” as Trump himself put it in this week’s rally in Phoenix. Indeed, political scientists looking at Trump’s emergence as the shocking front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination last year noted at the time that “white racial identity and beliefs that whites are treated unfairly are powerful predictors of support for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries.”

A more recent study by prominent political scientists zeroes in on the importance of white racial grievances to core Trump supporters, as Edsall explains:

“The three authors describe a rapidly “growing sense of white victimhood.” They cite surveys showing that among Republicans, the perception of discrimination against whites grew from 38 percent in 2011-12 to 47 percent in January 2016.

“A February 2017 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute separately asked voters whether “there is a lot of discrimination” against various groups. 43 percent of Republicans said there is a lot of discrimination against whites, compared to 27 percent of Republicans who said that there is a lot of discrimination against blacks.”

These findings help us to understand the special rage Trump supporters exhibit when they (or their leader) are accused of racism. They think of themselves as the victims of anti-white racism. And Trump has frequently fed that perception, as Christopher Ingraham reports:

“Trump has used the word “racist” or “racism” at least 56 times on Twitter, according to the Trump Twitter Archive, a website that tracks and archives all the president’s tweets. In two-thirds of those Tweets, Trump levied accusations of racism at individuals or groups of people. And those accusations followed a very clear pattern: Trump has directed accusations of racism toward black people three times as often as he has done so against whites.”

Trump’s current determination to view anti-racists demonstrating in Charlottesville as just as objectionable as, if not more objectionable than, the white marchers whining about being “replaced” fits into this pattern, and has evoked a predictable, if shocking-to-elites, response from his core supporters.

You can argue all day long that this makes them, and him, prima facie racists. But racists or not, they are definitely anti-anti-racists who manifest a knee-jerk negative reaction to protests against racism as advancing the interests of non-white people who, in their view, have been coddled for too long. They oppose the removal of the statues of the Confederacy, not because they particularly care about them, but because anti-racists would like to see them removed. That is an attitude that is just beneath the surface in their attitudes toward race-tinged conflicts involving police violence and immigration, as well as monuments to the Confederacy and Jim Crow.

But even Trump must be careful not to take anti-anti-racism too far; there are limits to what even his core followers will support out of antipathy to his opponents. A quarter century ago, when David Duke (who was, like a political zombie, present among the white rioters of Charlottesville) was on the very brink of being elected governor of Louisiana, he wasn’t brought down by his past as a Ku Klux Klan leader. It was when photos of him wearing a swastika arm band as an LSU grad student started circulating (punctuated by opponent Ed Edwards saying to him in a televised debate, “I was working on welfare reform back when you were still goose-stepping around Baton Rouge”) that white Louisianans had second thoughts about making him their governor and national symbol. There were, of course, a lot more World War II veterans alive back then. Still, Trump must learn to keep his anti-anti-racism semi-respectable. It’s not an easy balancing act, particularly for a man of our president’s temperament.

But it could take many steps over the line to convince Trump’s base that he’s doing anything other than standing up for their rights. He may lose support for breaking economic policy promises, but on the cultural and racial front, they are quick to take his side against those they view as oppressors of the white majority.


August 24: History Says Senate Democrats Can Overcome Bad Landscape in 2018

It’s always worth looking at electoral history before looking ahead, and I did so today at New York.

[T]he [2018] Senate landscape seems impossibly difficult for the Donkey Party, which is defending 25 of 33 seats up next year, ten of them in states carried by Donald Trump last year. And of the Republican incumbents who are defending their seats, only two appear vulnerable at this point (though both, Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, are now really vulnerable, facing both primary and general-election opposition). Everyone understands that the pro-GOP landscape and the anti–White House midterm dynamics are pushing these races in different directions. But it’s hard to get a handle on the magnitude of these contending forces.

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball filled in some of our knowledge gap today, with a study by Geoffrey Skelley of Senate races in midterms dating all the way back to 1914. The numbers are pretty clear: “91% (287 of 314) of non-presidential party incumbents won reelection in midterms.” That’s much better than the 75 percent midterm reelection rate of senators from the presidential party.

Lest you imagine this is all a vestige of a bygone era of wide-scale ticket-splitting, there’s this factoid:

“If anything, out-party incumbents losing in a midterm is becoming less common: In six of the last eight midterms, including the last three (2006, 2010, and 2014), no such incumbent lost reelection.”

Here’s the fun part of the Crystal Ball analysis:

“Applying the historical averages to next year’s Senate elections would result — drumroll please — in a net party change of…zero seats. If 91% of the Democrats/Democratic-caucusing independents are reelected, that would be 23 out of 25, and if 75% of the Republicans are reelected, that would be six of eight, leading to no net change.

“Without making any predictions, such a scenario is plausible: Democrats could lose two of the incumbents defending dark red states, in states such as Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia, but otherwise hold everything else, while Republicans could lose the only two seemingly vulnerable seats among their much smaller stable of incumbent-held states: Arizona and Nevada.”

It is clear that the tendency to lump all of the so-called Trump Ten senators into the same endangered category has never made much sense. Trump carried Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by narrow enough margins that even the mildest midterm anti–White House breeze could carry Democratic incumbents over the finish line. Ohio (an 8-point Trump margin in 2016) is more promising for Republicans, with Indiana (a 19-point margin) and Missouri (18 points) even more promising, and Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia (20-point-plus margins) really ripe targets. But Democratic incumbents in all these states have their own distinctive strengths, and at the moment not one of them is trailing according to the authoritative Cook Political Report.

There is one more imponderable to throw into the mix: Will the tendency of demographic groups that have recently become central to the Democratic coalition to significantly underperform in midterms change? There is reason to believe, in part based on special elections since Trump took office, that the spirit of resistance to the 45th president will offset some if not all of that phenomenon. But it’s something to keep in mind.

In general, the shape of the Senate after 2018 is going to be conditioned by a variety of competing and conflicting factors. One thing, however, is very clear: Had Hillary Clinton won last November, we would probably be looking at big Senate — and House — gains for the GOP next year. Using the in-party/out-party historical percentages, here’s what you’d get according to Crystal Ball’s Kyle Kondik:

“Just going by the averages, we’d expect the Democrats to lose a half-dozen seats and the GOP to lose one or even zero incumbents. And the net Democratic losses probably would have been even bigger because it’s easy to imagine one or more red state Democrats seeing the writing on the wall and retiring in advance of a tough midterm, giving the Republicans an easy open-seat pickup or two.”

In other words, had Clinton won, we might be talking about a GOP drive to get a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. There are always silver linings for the party that falls short in presidential elections.


History Says Senate Democrats Can Overcome Bad Landscape in 2018

It’s always worth looking at electoral history before looking ahead, and I did so today at New York.

[T]he [2018] Senate landscape seems impossibly difficult for the Donkey Party, which is defending 25 of 33 seats up next year, ten of them in states carried by Donald Trump last year. And of the Republican incumbents who are defending their seats, only two appear vulnerable at this point (though both, Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, are now really vulnerable, facing both primary and general-election opposition). Everyone understands that the pro-GOP landscape and the anti–White House midterm dynamics are pushing these races in different directions. But it’s hard to get a handle on the magnitude of these contending forces.

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball filled in some of our knowledge gap today, with a study by Geoffrey Skelley of Senate races in midterms dating all the way back to 1914. The numbers are pretty clear: “91% (287 of 314) of non-presidential party incumbents won reelection in midterms.” That’s much better than the 75 percent midterm reelection rate of senators from the presidential party.

Lest you imagine this is all a vestige of a bygone era of wide-scale ticket-splitting, there’s this factoid:

“If anything, out-party incumbents losing in a midterm is becoming less common: In six of the last eight midterms, including the last three (2006, 2010, and 2014), no such incumbent lost reelection.”

Here’s the fun part of the Crystal Ball analysis:

“Applying the historical averages to next year’s Senate elections would result — drumroll please — in a net party change of…zero seats. If 91% of the Democrats/Democratic-caucusing independents are reelected, that would be 23 out of 25, and if 75% of the Republicans are reelected, that would be six of eight, leading to no net change.

“Without making any predictions, such a scenario is plausible: Democrats could lose two of the incumbents defending dark red states, in states such as Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia, but otherwise hold everything else, while Republicans could lose the only two seemingly vulnerable seats among their much smaller stable of incumbent-held states: Arizona and Nevada.”

It is clear that the tendency to lump all of the so-called Trump Ten senators into the same endangered category has never made much sense. Trump carried Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by narrow enough margins that even the mildest midterm anti–White House breeze could carry Democratic incumbents over the finish line. Ohio (an 8-point Trump margin in 2016) is more promising for Republicans, with Indiana (a 19-point margin) and Missouri (18 points) even more promising, and Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia (20-point-plus margins) really ripe targets. But Democratic incumbents in all these states have their own distinctive strengths, and at the moment not one of them is trailing according to the authoritative Cook Political Report.

There is one more imponderable to throw into the mix: Will the tendency of demographic groups that have recently become central to the Democratic coalition to significantly underperform in midterms change? There is reason to believe, in part based on special elections since Trump took office, that the spirit of resistance to the 45th president will offset some if not all of that phenomenon. But it’s something to keep in mind.

In general, the shape of the Senate after 2018 is going to be conditioned by a variety of competing and conflicting factors. One thing, however, is very clear: Had Hillary Clinton won last November, we would probably be looking at big Senate — and House — gains for the GOP next year. Using the in-party/out-party historical percentages, here’s what you’d get according to Crystal Ball’s Kyle Kondik:

“Just going by the averages, we’d expect the Democrats to lose a half-dozen seats and the GOP to lose one or even zero incumbents. And the net Democratic losses probably would have been even bigger because it’s easy to imagine one or more red state Democrats seeing the writing on the wall and retiring in advance of a tough midterm, giving the Republicans an easy open-seat pickup or two.”

In other words, had Clinton won, we might be talking about a GOP drive to get a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. There are always silver linings for the party that falls short in presidential elections.