Bringing Down the House
The result seems even worse looking beyond the Senate. Far from increasing their House majority, Democrats have lost ground they made in 2018’s midterm blue wave, with Republicans flipping several seats and leaving the party with a smaller House majority, despite raising hundreds of millions of dollars.
As the Washington Post notes, much of this was concentrated among vulnerable incumbents in more conservative areas or outright Trump country, such as Iowa’s 1st district, Oklahoma’s 5th district, New Mexico’s 2nd district, South Carolina’s 1st district, and Minnesota’s 7th district. (As Data for Progress’s Aidan Smith pointed out, contrary to the left-punching recriminations currently being thrown around by right-wing Democrats, these were all conservative Democrats who publicly rebuked left-wing policies.) But maybe more alarmingly for the party, incumbents were also upset in two seats located in the Democratic stronghold of Miami-Dade County in Florida, too. And the two seats the party won in North Carolina owed largely to congressional maps being redrawn more favorably last year.
All of these results are stark when compared to previous recession-year elections, which typically result in a swift boot to the governing party and large gains for their opposition. In 1920, for instance, Republican Warren Harding won a thirty-seven-state, 26-point landslide after ten years of mostly Democratic rule, and increased his party’s majority by ten seats in the Senate and seventy-four seats in the House. Perhaps a closer analogue is the 1932 defeat of Herbert Hoover and the GOP in the wake of the Great Depression. Following its onset, Democrats first neared overtaking the GOP in the 1930 midterms, adding eight seats in the Senate, before adding twelve more in the Senate and ninety in the House two years later, on the back of Franklin Roosevelt’s forty-two-state, 17-point landslide win.
More recently, Ronald Reagan capitalized on the 1980 recession to become the first candidate since Roosevelt to unseat a sitting president. On the back of his forty-five-state, nearly-10-point victory, the GOP reduced the Democrats’ House majority by thirty-three seats, and poached twelve seats from the party to wrest control of the Senate. Meanwhile, the 2008 financial crash under Bush saw the Democrats build on their 2006 midterm gains that year, expanding their House majority by twenty-one seats, and ultimately winning eight seats in the Senate, later expanded further to create a sixty-seat supermajority, on top of Obama’s 7-point win in the popular vote. To say this week’s result fall short of these precedents is an understatement.
The recession Trump is presiding over is the worst since Roosevelt’s 1932 landslide, and the October unemployment rate of 6.9 percent, while dropping a point from September, is comparable to than in both 1980 and 2008. And unlike those recession years, this one is paired with a massive health crisis devastatingly and flagrantly botched by the incumbent. In light of this, Democrats are rightly asking themselves behind closed doors how they could have failed so abysmally.
Things get grimmer at the state level. After being decimated in state legislatures around the country during the Obama years, Democrats had what they called a “decade in the making” plan to flip dozen of statehouses and governor’s mansions, and prevent another onslaught of Republican-led partisan gerrymandering that would last another decade. They have failed, the fewest changes in party control at the state level in at least seventy-six years.
Democrats fell short of their prizes in Michigan, where the parties traded two seats each; in Iowa, where Republicans expanded their majority; in Minnesota, where divided government will remain for at least two more years despite Democrats out-fundraising the Right two-to-one; and in Pennsylvania, where their initially good-looking odds to flip at least one of the chambers have evaporated thanks to Trump’s strength in white working-class areas on Election Day.
Particularly disappointing for the party was Texas, where Democrats needed to gain nine seats to take the majority in the state house, but failed to make any impact despite $12 million poured into the contest by a Democratic super PAC. The only change this election saw was in the Republicans’ favor, with the GOP flipping both legislative chambers in New Hampshire, two years after Democrats had done the same.
The results “will put the Republican Party in a position where we’re able to secure a decade of power across the country,” a euphoric Republican State Leadership Committee president said the day after the vote. Or as Daily Kos’s Stephen Wolf put it, they were “an unmitigated catastrophe for Democrats,” expanding the GOP’s already formidable advantage in redrawing congressional districts, and granting Republicans another decade of power in the House disproportionate to their share of the actual vote.