Republicans Could Be Weakening Their Party’s Future

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 07: U.S. Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) returns to his office after he spoke in the Senate Chamber October 7, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Democrats and Republicans are still at a stalemate on funding for the federal government as the partial shutdown goes into its seventh day. 
National Journal
Charlie Cook
Add to Briefcase
Charlie Cook
Oct. 7, 2013, 5:45 p.m.

There is no ques­tion that the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s brand is ex­per­i­en­cing griev­ous dam­age. In fact, you would be quite be­liev­able if you were to sug­gest that the GOP has been mak­ing an act­ive, mas­ochist­ic ef­fort to isol­ate it­self from mod­er­ate, in­de­pend­ent, and swing voters, fur­ther ex­acer­bat­ing all the prob­lems with tar­get con­stitu­en­cies that cost Mitt Rom­ney the pres­id­ency and the GOP a na­tion­al pop­u­lar House vote vic­tory.

Of course, there have been wave elec­tions in the past, where large num­bers of seats swung from one party to the oth­er. Demo­crats be­nefited from such elec­tions in 1958, 1964, 1974, 1982, 2006, and 2008, just as Re­pub­lic­ans came out the big win­ners in 1966, 1980, 1994, and 2010. But his­tory doesn’t ar­gue for a re­peat this time. Sev­en of these 10 wave elec­tions were midterms, as 2014 will be. In every one of the sev­en, the party in the White House, not the op­pos­i­tion party, suffered.

There is reas­on to look at 2014 as unique. Demo­crats picked up net gains of 31 seats in 2006 and 21 seats in 2008. Between these two elec­tions, they man­aged to pluck all but a few hardy Re­pub­lic­ans from com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts. In 2010, Re­pub­lic­ans re­turned the fa­vor, with a net gain of 63 seats. In those three elec­tions, each side pretty much re­moved the low-hanging fruit, leav­ing very few Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans in po­ten­tially mar­gin­al dis­tricts; neither party is in a po­s­i­tion to eas­ily gain many seats.

At The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port, we have al­ways said, giv­en their struc­tur­al ad­vant­ages, House Re­pub­lic­ans would pretty much need to self-de­struct to lose con­trol of the cham­ber. Today, they seem to be flirt­ing with just that pos­sib­il­ity, but the elec­tion is still more than a year away, and it is far too early to say that the House ma­jor­ity is at risk. Min­im­al net party change is still the most likely out­come, but we no longer fore­cast a GOP gain of two to sev­en seats; that swing could now just as plaus­ibly go in Demo­crats’ dir­ec­tion.

If you take a look at any of the three ma­jor in­de­pend­ent polit­ic­al ana­lysts who look at in­di­vidu­al races — Stu­art Rothen­berg’s Rothen­berg Polit­ic­al Re­port, Larry Sabato’s Crys­tal Ball, pro­duced by the Uni­versity of Vir­gin­ia Cen­ter for Polit­ics, and The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port — you will find ana­lyses ex­plain­ing why it’s pos­sible, but very un­likely, that the House will flip. Giv­en cur­rent dis­trict lines, and the geo­graph­ic­al “sort­ing out” that has taken place over the past three elec­tion cycles (Demo­crats tend to live in highly con­cen­trated urb­an areas, “wast­ing” a lot of votes; Re­pub­lic­an voters tend to be more broadly geo­graph­ic­ally dis­trib­uted and thus more ef­fi­ciently al­loc­ated), no one is very con­fid­ent that a turnover will oc­cur, al­though it could.

In the Sen­ate, while the cur­rent stan­doff isn’t likely to help the GOP score a net gain of six Sen­ate seats and win a ma­jor­ity in 2014, the six seats that will most prob­ably de­term­ine wheth­er the GOP suc­ceeds are all in states Rom­ney car­ried. Whatever the back­lash in those states over the cur­rent shut­down and loom­ing fisc­al battles, it is more likely to be more muted than else­where in the coun­try. Rom­ney won big in the three states with the most-vul­ner­able Demo­crat­ic open Sen­ate seats: West Vir­gin­ia by 27 points, South Dakota by 18 points, and Montana by 14 points. Like­wise, the seats held by the four most vul­ner­able Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors all went to Rom­ney: Mark Pry­or’s Arkan­sas by 24 points, Mary Landrieu’s Louisi­ana by 17 points, and Mark Be­gich’s Alaska by 14 points. Only in Kay Hagan’s state of North Car­o­lina — Rom­ney pre­vailed by 2 points in 2012 and Pres­id­ent Obama nar­rowly won in 2008 — could a plaus­ible ar­gu­ment be made that a back­lash against the GOP could make a real dif­fer­ence. At least in West Vir­gin­ia, South Dakota, and Montana, the out­come is not likely to be de­term­ined by any par­tic­u­lar pro-Demo­crat­ic or anti-Re­pub­lic­an tide.

The two Re­pub­lic­an-held seats in real danger at this point are Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s in Ken­tucky and the open seat in Geor­gia. In Ken­tucky, where Rom­ney won by 23 points, Mc­Con­nell is more en­dangered by voters fed up with all of Wash­ing­ton than by any anti-GOP sen­ti­ment. The open seat in Geor­gia, where Rom­ney won by only 8 points, could be where na­tion­al factors have the po­ten­tial to kick in; however, it seems that the most im­port­ant factor for Re­pub­lic­ans’ chances in the gen­er­al elec­tion there is wheth­er they choose a Ted Cruz-lite nom­in­ee.

With the elec­tion over a year away, most cam­paign poll­sters are hold­ing off un­til the dust settles. In a dis­cus­sion among a group of poll­sters Monday morn­ing, all took a “wait-and-see” ap­proach. One prom­in­ent Re­pub­lic­an poll­ster put it in an emailed re­sponse: “I don’t think we’re go­ing to lose any Re­pub­lic­ans on [the shut­down]. I don’t think the Demo­crats will lose any Demo­crats on it. I think in­de­pend­ents dis­like Obama­care but don’t want to use de­fund­ing, let alone a shut­down. So it hurts in the cen­ter. In the cen­ter, the primary re­ac­tion will be: a pox on all their houses; the sec­ond­ary [re­ac­tion] will be R’s more to blame than D’s. But I think that is a dis­tant second.”

The dam­age to the Re­pub­lic­an Party ap­pears to be more struc­tur­al than im­me­di­ate. The GOP is ad­mit­tedly weak­er but seems un­likely to crumble im­me­di­ately. Re­pub­lic­ans should worry about what is hap­pen­ing to their brand: what im­pres­sions they are build­ing among new voters, what mod­er­ate and in­de­pend­ent voters are tak­ing away from this fight, and the long-term ef­fects of these im­pres­sions in 2016 and 2020 — and on the over­all health of the party.

What We're Following See More »
CNN/ORC Has Clinton Up 5 Points
33 minutes ago

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump 49%-44% in a new CNN/ORC poll out Monday afternoon. But it's Gary Johnson's performance, or lack thereof, that's the real story. Johnson, who had cleared 10% in some surveys earlier this fall, as he made a bid to qualify for the debates, is down to 3% support. He must hit 5% nationwide for the Libertarian Party to qualify for some federal matching funds in future elections.

Rapper Jay Z to Perform Concert for Clinton
44 minutes ago
Log Cabin Republicans Don’t Endorse Trump
46 minutes ago

While the organization praised him for being "perhaps the most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party," the Log Cabin Republicans refused to endorse Donald Trump for president. The organization, which is the largest gay organization in the United States, said that Trump failed to earn its endorsement because he surrounded himself with anti-LGBTQ people "and committed himself to supporting legislation such as the so-called 'First Amendment Defense Act' that Log Cabin Republicans opposes."

Congress Needs to Deal With Impending Nuclear Plant Closures
1 hours ago

Energy Secretary Ernesto Moniz is warning Congress "that Congress and businesses need to act with more urgency to work out a medley of challenges in promoting nuclear power." A number of nuclear plants are currently on track to close around 2030, unless their licenses are extended from 60 years to 80 years, something that could jeopardize the success of the Clean Power Plan. Moniz called on Congress to pass legislation creating interim storage facilities for used nuclear power.

Trump Pocketed Insurance Money Following 2005 Hurricane
2 hours ago

Donald Trump has said he received a $17 million insurance payment in 2005 following Hurricane Wilma, which he claimed did severe damage to his private club in Florida. However, an Associated Press investigation could not find any evidence of the large-scale damage that Trump has mentioned. Additionally, Trump claimed that he transferred some of the $17 million to his personal account thanks to a "very good insurance policy."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.