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Markos Moulitsas: GOP DOA in 2016

Republicans are certainly optimistic about their 2014 Senate chances. Between good candidate recruitment, President Obama’s low approval numbers and lingering uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act, Republicans like the looks of November’s elections, and many are openly talking about taking the majority. 

Yet even if the GOP’s 2014 Senate dreams come true, they won’t have more than a two-year rental on the chamber.

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As I’ve written in prior weeks, ObamaCare’s popularity is trending into positive territory as more and more people enroll; moreover, the president’s numbers have stabilized. For these and other reasons, a Democratic defeat this November is no sure thing. 

But in 2016, Republicans will have to defend their 2010 landslide victory and will face presidential-year turnout,  which is demonstrably more liberal than midterm turnout, as well as the possibility of a popular Hillary Clinton at the top of the ballot. 

The Democrats who survived 2010 are near indestructible. Republicans might try to nominate someone sane to take on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (unlike 2010’s Sharron Angle), but no other Democrat appears even remotely endangered. 

But the GOP vulnerabilities are legion.

Republicans will have to defend freshman senators in the blue states of Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (where former Sen. Russ Feingold is rumored to be gearing up to fight for his old seat), as well as the purple state of North Carolina. Longtime Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley will be 82, and a retirement would give Democrats another major pickup opportunity. 

Arizona Sen. John McCain will be 80 on Election Day 2016, but Democrats will likely root for him not to retire. Polling shows that he is currently the most unpopular senator in the country. Meanwhile, Florida freshman Sen. Marco Rubio won’t just be distracted with a presidential bid; he’ll be battling net-negative approval ratings as well. 

That’s already nine seats, and we haven’t even accounted for the Tea Party effect on the race. In the last two cycles, Tea Party candidates cost the GOP at least six seats: in Colorado (Ken Buck), Connecticut (Linda McMahon), Delaware (Christine O’Donnell), Indiana (Richard Mourdock), Missouri (Todd Akin) and Nevada (Angle). In other words, Republicans might already have the majority if it hadn’t been for their crazy base. Already, their negative influence is being felt this year, giving Democrats unexpected opportunities in Georgia and Kentucky. 

Any successes in 2014 will only embolden the Tea Party crowd, forcing Republican incumbents to veer hard to the right in order to head off a primary, spurring early retirements (like Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss this year) or generating the kind of divisive (and sometimes victorious) primary challenges that gifted Indiana to the Democrats in 2012. 

The 2016 map gives Republicans added impetus this year: pick up enough seats, and perhaps they can hold off the inevitable Democratic clawback two years later. On the Democratic side, holding the Senate, even by a sliver, would mean a real shot at a filibuster-proof majority in 2016. And while the filibuster may be on life support, the symbolism of a super-majority still has value. 

The Republican Party’s chances aren’t as good as its members think this year — don’t forget that the party was just as optimistic heading into the 2012 contest, which featured a map that was nearly as GOP-friendly as this year’s. But even if their greatest dreams come true this fall, 2016 and the Clinton juggernaut loom just around the corner. 

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.

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