By A.B. Stoddard - 10/23/14 05:30 PM EDT
So, let’s just say, what if Democrats survive Election Day?
Seriously, even Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzAttacking Trump for the few sensible things he says is bad strategy The Trail 2016: One large crack in the glass ceiling Castro looking at Cruz challenge MORE (R-Texas) thinks they might. “It’s close enough it could break either way,” Cruz said on Bloomberg television Wednesday.
The polls don’t indicate it, the parties aren’t expecting it, the mood of the voters wouldn’t predict it, and Senate Democrats are already blaming the White House for torpedoing their chances of holding on. But it could still happen.
Should the Big Surprise occur two weeks from now, Democrats will have succeeded in blocking Republicans from retaking control of the U.S. Senate for an astounding three highly competitive cycles in a row. Terrible candidates emerging from Tea Party primary challenges sunk the GOP’s chances in 2010 and 2012 in Nevada, Delaware, Indiana, Colorado and Missouri. This year, it’s not Republicans that are burdened by those liabilities, it’s Democrats — an unpopular president, weak candidates running poor campaigns, a fragile economy, new national security threats, shocking government mismanagement — and losing to Democrats this time would hurt Republicans more than ever.
The victory for Democrats, and defeat for Republicans, could be compounded by another possibility: Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonBiden: Trump knows 'nothing' about foreign policy Dem sen: Clinton 'focused and prepared to keep us safe' Pelosi: Clinton struggling with white men because of 'guns,' 'gays' and 'God' MORE winning the presidency in 2016. Sure, she might not run, and she might not win — but Republicans everywhere are worried she will do both. As the party searches for a powerhouse who can raise a billion dollars, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney is suddenly back at the top of everyone’s list. A Clinton win would not only be historic, as our first woman president, it would break a trend in which only once has either party has managed to hold the White House (former President George H. W. Bush, in 1992) for three consecutive terms in 60 years. Unlikely, but again — entirely possible.
There is also a structural disadvantage for Republicans in 2016, as they will be defending 24 seats in the Senate while Democrats will be up in only 10. Several of the GOP reelection campaigns will take place in blue states President Obama won twice, such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio. While the pendulum will swing back in 2018, when it will be far easier for Republicans to win a large number of Democratic seats — especially if it were a referendum on 10 years of Democrats in the White House — at that point it would be cold comfort.
Should Democrats hang on next month, there is also the fear that the Republican blame game will adversely impact an already divided party and a large GOP presidential field. It might be that no amount of mistakes by Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems put immigration front-and-center on convention's first day Dem ad blasts Indiana senate candidate on Social Security Super-PAC targets Portman on trade MORE (D-Nev.) could unite Republicans enough to overcome the divisions that would inevitably result from competing and disparate conclusions about what went wrong. It would be a Romney 2012 Redux, only more desperate because there is less time for the party to make repairs before the next presidential election.
Successive losses in the Senate, a failure to capture the majority and a Clinton victory in 2016 — which would represent the sixth of seven of the last presidential elections in which Democrats have won the popular vote — would be devastating for Republicans.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.