2014: The sixth-year curse

Republicans and conservatives might not have to wait until 2016 to get out from under the ravages of an ultra-liberal Obama administration. History suggests that almost every two-term incumbent faces a sixth-year curse in which his party fares terribly in the midterm elections.

In nine of the 10 sixth-year congressional elections since 1910, the president’s party has lost seats in the Senate and in the House. The average loss in the Senate has been 8.6 seats; in the House it was 30 seats. Only in the congressional elections of 1998 did Clinton’s Democrats lose no seats in the Senate and gain five in the House. (This election was a response to the Republican overreach in trying to impeach the president.)


Here’s the scorecard:

1918, Democratic president

• Senate: Democrats lost six seats

• House: Democrats lost 25 seats

1926, Republican president

• Senate: Republicans lost six

• House: Republicans lost nine

1938, Democratic president

• Senate: Democrats lost five

• House: Democrats lost 72

1950, Democratic president

• Senate: Democrats lost three

• House: Democrats lost 28

1958, Republican president

• Senate: Republicans lost 10

• House: Republicans lost 48

1966, Democratic president

• Senate: Democrats lost three

• House: Democrats lost 47

1974, Republican president

• Senate: Republicans lost three

• House: Republicans lost 48

1986, Republican president

• Senate: Republicans lost eight

• House: Republicans lost five

1998, Democratic president

• Senate: No net change

• House: Democrats gained five seats

2006, Republican president

• Senate: Republicans lost six seats

• House: Republicans lost 30 seats

The reasons for the six-year curse are quite various, but repetitive: wars gone bad, obsession, staleness, corruption and broken promises.

Wilson lost because, after being very narrowly reelected on the slogan “He kept us out of war,” he promptly led us into World War I. By 1926, the Harding scandals finally caught up with the Republican Party. By 1950, reversals in the Korean War and Truman administration corruption took their toll. In 1958, the recession laid the Republicans low. Vietnam brought down Democrats in 1966, Watergate caused the Republican crash of 1974 and Reagan fatigue led to the 1986 defeat. Iraq cost George W. Bush his Senate majority in 2006.

Whatever the immediate cause of these defeats, the deeper one is hubris and presidential overreaching. Reelection is heady vindication, and presidents fall victim to their own success. As the Greeks said, “Those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad with power.”

But it was the experience of FDR losing five Senate and 72 House seats that might carry the most relevant portents for Obama in 2014.


Obama followed closely to the FDR model in his pursuit of a second term. As Amity Shlaes explains in her book The Forgotten Man, Roosevelt despaired of dragging the economy out of depression as he faced reelection in 1936. Despite all his public works and deficit spending, joblessness remained at a stubborn 13 percent. 

So FDR invoked class warfare against “economic royalists” to win reelection, saying, during the campaign, “I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for economic power met their match … I should like to have it said of my second administration that these forces met their master.” 

Roosevelt no longer focused on the overall economy but carved out special interests catering separately to farmers, the elderly, blacks, labor and Jews.

In both his invocations of class envy and his special-interest appeals to women, Latinos, blacks, gays and students, Obama followed the model closely.

Will he now follow the rest of the FDR model? Right after he took office for a second term, Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court and “purge” conservatives in his own party.

Will Obama’s hubris — obvious to all — lead him to overreach, setting a second-term agenda that breaks the speed limits and runs the stop signs? Will his arrogance lead him to a sixth-year disaster?

Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of Outrage, Fleeced, Catastrophe and 2010: Take Back America — A Battle Plan. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by e-mail or to order a signed copy of their latest book, Revolt!: How To Defeat Obama and Repeal His Socialist Programs — A Patriot’s Guide, go to dickmorris.com.