So, you’re part of the resistance. Oops, I’m sorry — #TheResistance. Ever since the tears began drying on the “I’m With Her” shirt on the morning of Nov. 9 of 2016, you marked the 2018 midterms on your calendar. That’s when the Democrats were going to take the House and the Senate, rendering a Trump presidency meaningless — at least for the last two years of it.
That may sound awesome in theory. Unfortunately, we did the math, and in practice, chances are slim in both departments. Not Cleveland-Browns-winning-the-Super-Bowl slim. But maybe, say, New-York-Jets-winning-the-Super-Bowl slim.
First, let’s start in the Senate. The current breakdown, including independents who caucus with the Democrats, is 51-49 in favor of Republicans. Sounds doable for Democrats, right? Especially after Democrat Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama.
Well, not really. First, the Democrats are going to be on the defensive in a major way. As The New York Times notes, the Dems would have to win 28 of the Senate elections up for grabs this November. And this includes a lot of Democrat incumbents in red states, two of whom are only there because their 2012 opponents made politically fatal comments regarding sexual assault.
Joe Donnelly of Indiana was likely going to get blown out before Republican challenger Richard Mourdock said during a debate that pregnancy from rape could sometimes be “something that God intended to happen.”
Meanwhile, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill floated in when Republican challenger Todd Akin said that in cases of “legitimate rape,” the female body shuts down pregnancy.
Neither McCaskill nor Donnelly can count on opponents who will say anything that damaging this time, and both are going to have serious problems hanging on to their seats.
Aside from that, the Democrats will also have to defend seats in a number of states Donald Trump won in the presidential election. In addition to the aforementioned Donnelly and McCaskill, Bill Nelson of Florida, John Tester of Montana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin will all be defending seats in Trump country.
Oh, and you also have Tina Smith, Al Franken’s replacement, running in a special election in Minnesota. Given that the handsy Franken’s departure from the Senate probably didn’t do the loyal opposition any favors up north, that could be a bigger problem than anticipated for the Democrats.
Dean Heller of Nevada is the only Republican defending his seat in a state where Clinton won. And, while retirements by Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Utah’s Orrin Hatch and Arizona’s Jeff Flake could make those races slightly interesting, all three of their states are fairly solidly red.
All in all, 34 seats are up for election, 26 held by Democrats and eight by Republicans. The Democrats have to win two GOP seats without losing any of theirs. That’s looking highly unlikely.
OK, so what about the House? After all, you only need one house of Congress to block a president’s agenda, and every seat in the lower chamber is up for election every two years.
Don’t get your hopes up, Mr./Ms. Resistance. Despite a number of high profile GOP retirements in the House as well, the prospects are yet again bleak.
As The Washington Post points out, even if the Democrats flipped every GOP-held district where Clinton won the popular vote while holding on to every Democrat-held district where Trump won the popular vote, the GOP would still hold the House. That means the Democrats would have to flip GOP districts that were close in the general election but still went for Trump.
The problem is, we’ve seen this movie before. If it were adapted from a Robert Ludlum novel, it would probably be called something like “The Ossoff Profligacy.”
Despite hyping up Jon Ossoff as the next Obama and then sending dump truck convoys filled with hundred-dollar bills straight to his campaign headquarters during the 2017 race for Tom Price’s vacated seat in Georgia, the DNC couldn’t win a special election in a GOP-controlled district that had only narrowly voted for Trump. This was in spite of the fact that Ossoff’s Republican opponent was woefully underfunded and received almost no media coverage.
Don’t believe me? Ten bucks says you can’t even name him in five seconds. Twenty bucks says you didn’t even realize it was actually a “her” when you read that last sentence. (Her name is Karen Handel, for the curious.)
Let’s consider the Ossoff election more closely, because I think it’s important to understand why this strategy will fail and fail badly. The Democrats couldn’t win a one-off election in the type of district they need to take this November if their strategy is to work, despite giving their candidate nearly unlimited resources and press coverage that most candidates could only dream of.
They now have to do this in a relatively high number of districts scattered across the country during a busy campaign season where Jon Ossoff types are going to be shoved to the back of the media queue, all without the benefit of focusing the entirety of Democrat resources on a morale-boosting exercise in the Georgia suburbs. They also have to win. Forget proving whether or not this could be a winning strategy in 2018 — how is this in any way a sustainable model for a national campaign?
Forget, too, the talk of retirements or Trump’s unpopularity (which seems to be less of a factor these days, anyhow). Taking back either house of Congress will require an outbreak of Todd Akin- or Roy Moore-like candidates on an unprecedented scale, all combined with a Democrat caucus that makes no mistakes. Oh, and the Democrats still have to get America to forget about the improving economy, the defeat of the Islamic State group and the fact that, yes, the GOP’s stand on immigration is actually really popular with voters, no matter what the media might tell you.
Good luck on that one, Mr./Ms. Resistance. Better luck in 2020, when hopefully you either have a chance, or a clue.
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