Big Republican missteps needed for Democrats to win in November

Big Republican missteps needed for Democrats to win in November
© Greg Nash

November is still eight months away, but Republican leaders are already conceding defeat in the midterm elections. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators introduce bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Republicans see some daylight in midterm polling Exclusive: Bannon says Rosenstein could be fired 'very shortly' MORE (R-Ky.) told the New York Times on Saturday, “the odds are that we will lose seats in the House and Senate.”

Expectations management is a long tradition of political leaders. Undersell the outcome, paint yourself as facing major headwinds, and then if you wind up on top, you’re a genius! If not, well, like you said, it was gonna be a tough ride.

But given the Senate’s electoral math, McConnell’s statement is actually quite shocking. Let’s break down the numbers. There are 34 seats up for election later this year. The Democrats are currently defending 26 seats. Republicans, on the other hand, are only defending eight. This electoral advantage — that is, the difference between how many seats the Democrats have to defend versus the Republicans — is 17 seats.

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As I wrote late last year, those 17 seats represent the biggest electoral advantage ever held by a governing party since elections to the First Congress of 1790. In other words, McConnell and Senate Republicans are presiding over the biggest electoral advantage in history.

 

Yet, if McConnell is to be believed, Democrats could potentially win 28 seats in November by successfully defending every seat they currently hold and defeating two Republicans.

Numerically, this would be a mammoth take, and a very difficult one. Of the 26 seats Democrats are defending, 10 are in states that Trump won in 2016 — including five that he carried by double digits. Republicans, on the other hand, are defending eight seats, seven of which are relatively safe. Other than Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerKennedy retirement rumors shift into overdrive McConnell: Midterms will be 'very challenging' for GOP Singer Jason Mraz: Too much political 'combat' in Washington MORE (R-Nev.) who is looking wobbly, the rest of the GOP seats are showing relatively well.

It’s true that electoral outcomes are inherently unpredictable, particularly so in the Trump era that has motivated the Democratic base. It’s also true that the president’s party generally loses seats in a midterm year (recall President Obama’s “shellacking” in the Democrats’ 2010 midterm wipeout).

However, even accounting for this, average losses from the president’s party only amount to 29 seats in aggregate (25 in the House and 4 in the Senate), — not the 28 seats that McConnell assumes Democrats will win in the Senate alone. And even the most resistant of the self-described “resistance” movement will likely not have the resources to wipe out 26 Senate Republicans, 23 of whom are incumbents. President TrumpDonald John TrumpCEO of American investment firm believed Michael Cohen could bring in GOP donors for deals: report NAACP slams NFL for gag rule on national anthem Pelosi: Republican meeting over informant will 'nix' possibility of bipartisan briefing MORE’s approval rating is also on the rise — a good sign for Republicans in cycle.

So why, then, is McConnell so insistent on being a portent of doom for the GOP majority? One wonders if McConnell is trying to protect himself from a wave of losses that his own Senate may very well be responsible for.

I’ve written about the policy perils that result from the Senate’s 2.5-day work week, but there are electoral consequences as well. By keeping the Senate in town only from Monday evening to Thursday afternoon, McConnell is allowing vulnerable Democrats four extra days on the campaign trail. Just keeping the Senate in session from mid-day Monday through Friday afternoon — not even a full workweek — could cut that campaign time in half.

There is also the issue of campaign promises. This Republican Senate put the death knell into ObamaCare repeal, despite campaigning on it for nearly a decade. Even though repeal remains a top issue among the GOP base, McConnell has stated his intention to “move on.”

This is also the Republican Senate that recently blew a trillion-dollar hole in the deficit with a bill that busted the budget caps, a hard-won conservative spending victory, and funded everything from racehorses, to rum, to honeybees.

Just last week, eight Republicans joined Democrats in an attempt to give amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, including those who haven’t even arrived here yet. 

Voters are rightly frustrated with Republicans, who have used their majorities to, in some cases, do exactly the opposite of what they promised. The Senate’s 2.5-day work week exacerbates this frustration, as it is essentially an in-kind contribution to Democrats who use the spare time to work on their Senate campaigns.

McConnell can hedge about outcomes in November, but one thing is clear: With a 17-seat advantage, the largest of any majority in electoral history, Republicans have the edge they need to maintain their majority, and to grow it. The political climate is no more challenging than it has ever been in a midterm, but even if it was, the electoral math so favors the Republicans that it could serve to neutralize the Democrat advantage of motivated turnout. 

Republicans are coasting into November with a mile head start and the wind at their backs. The only way they could suffer significant losses at this point is if their leaders simply fail to try.

Rachel Bovard (@RachelBovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint aimed at promoting limited government.