The prevailing pundit wisdom is that the Republicans’ majority in the U.S. House of Representatives will hold through the 2016 elections. As Kyle Kondik wrote at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, “a continuing GOP House majority remains by far the likeliest outcome of next year’s House election.” At Politico, Lauren French writes, “Democratic leaders privately admit that they don’t have a chance of regaining control of the House even with Trump or Cruz as the Republican nominee.”
Most of the pundits who hold this view say that Democrats do, on the other hand, have a good chance of winning back majority control of the U.S. Senate. Given the high negatives of current GOP frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, however, Democrats can’t be blamed for entertaining hopes that the pundits are wrong about the House elections.
A net Democratic pick-up of the necessary 30 House seats to win a majority and the speakership is an ambitious goal. But is it really impossible? In the 21st century, there have been net gains of that magnitude on two occasions. Dems only picked up 1 seat in 2000, while Republicans netted 8 House seats in 2002 and 3 seats in 2004. Democrats picked up 31 House seats in 2006 and 21 more in 2008. Republicans picked up 63 House seats in 2010. Democrats only picked up 8 seats in 2012, and lost 13 seats in 2014. So two of the 8 House election years of the 21st century had one party picking up more than 30 seats.
Factors like intensifying polarization and gerrymandering add to the obstacles facing Democrats in meeting the challenge of a 30-seatHouse net gain in 2016. On the other hand. But, as Brent Bukowsky writes at The Hill:
Almost all Democrats are praying that Republicans nominate for president Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. From Democratic establishment insiders who support Hillary Clinton to populist insurgents who support Bernie Sanders, there is a virtually unanimous view that Trump or Cruz would lead the GOP to a defeat so devastating Democrats would probably regain control of the Senate and have a fighting chance to take back the House.
Kondik says that “Democrats probably cannot win the House next year, but Republicans can lose it with a combination of boneheaded missteps.” Yet, given the tone and tenor of recent GOP campaign screw-ups, “boneheaded missteps” in the Republican presidential field’s near future don’t seem all that improbable.
If the GOP regains enough sanity to nominate someone other than Trump or Cruz, the pundits will likely prove correct — that the Republicans will hold their House majority. Even if Trump or Cruz wins the nomination, however, their party could still hold the House majority — but it is far less likely.