A month ago tomorrow, Donald Trump held a post-election press conference in the White House, where a reporter reminded the president, “You’re a man who likes to win, but last night was not an absolute victory for you.”
Before she could even get to her question, Trump interjected. “I’ll be honest,” the famously dishonest president said. “I thought it was a very close to complete victory.”
Even at the time, there was nothing “honest” about the assessment. Trump’s Republican Party had just lost dozens of U.S. House seats and its majority in the chamber, effectively killing the president’s legislative agenda for the next two years.
But a month later, the electoral landscape looks even worse for the GOP. The number of Democratic pickups in the U.S. House reached 40 – on the very high end of what most observers considered possible in this cycle – and as the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman noted last night, the Democrats’ lead in the national popular vote now stands at 8.6%.
That’s the largest margin either party has seen in any midterm cycle in more than 30 years. (I put together the above chart to help drive the point, relying on data from FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver and Princeton’s Sam Wang.)
Also note, in raw popular vote totals, House Democrats recently crossed the 60 million-vote threshold, which means the party received roughly the same number of votes in this year’s midterms as John McCain did in his 2008 presidential election and Mitt Romney did in his 2012 bid.
I imagine many Republicans will be quick to emphasize that the House popular vote is largely about bragging rights, not practical electoral considerations. That’s largely true. But historical context matters in understanding the scope and scale of a party’s performance.
For example, let’s not forget that in the 1994 midterms, Republicans posted huge gains and took control of Congress. Time magazine published a cover image of a powerful, triumphant elephant crushing a donkey, under a headline that called it a “GOP stampede.” Americans were told at the time that it was a Republican “revolution.”
And yet, in 2018, the size of the Democratic victories was larger, at least in terms of how voters cast their ballots.