The tail end of the Bush/Cheney era was politically brutal for the Republican Party. Democrats made dramatic gains in back-to-back “wave” elections in 2006 and 2008, and by the time Barack Obama was inaugurated, the GOP appeared beaten, directionless, and small.
It did not, however, last long. The funny thing about political capital is that its investment comes at a cost: Obama and his allies made dramatic advances on a wide range of issues, which had the predictable effect of mobilizing far-right voters. In 2010, Republicans took back the U.S. House. Four years later, they claimed the U.S. Senate, too. By the time Obama exited the White House, his party had lost hundreds of state legislature seats, a dozen gubernatorial offices, more than a dozen U.S. Senate seats, and dozens of U.S. House seats.
By the time of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the political landscape looked a bit like a mirror image of the one Obama saw nearly a decade earlier, this time with Republicans in a dominant position.
Except, it’s not enduring, either. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake published five fascinating data points this morning:
* The House was 241-194 Republican after the 2016 election. Today, it’s effectively 235-199 Democratic.
* Republicans held a historic 33-16 advantage in governor’s seats after the 2016 election. Today, it’s 26-24.
* Republicans had a 32-14 advantage in state legislatures controlled after 2016. Today, it’s 30-19. (Some legislatures are split, with one party controlling one chamber, and the other party in a majority in the other.)
* The GOP had total control over the governance of 24 states, vs. seven for Democrats. Today, it’s a much-closer 22-14.
* Republicans had an advantage of 57 percent to 42 percent in nationwide state legislative seats after 2016. Today, that 15-point edge is trimmed to five, 52-47.
To be sure, the news for the GOP isn’t all bad. The U.S. Senate, in particular, has become a bright spot for the party, thanks in part to some structural advantages that have helped Republicans enormously. Despite the GOP’s many electoral setbacks, it hasn’t lost any ground in the Trump-era Senate.
But taken as a whole, there’s no denying the fact that the GOP’s hold on power is moving in the wrong direction – and it may get worse before it gets better.
Axios published a report last week on the “growing number” of party insiders who are “privately warning of increasing fears of a total wipeout in 2020.” The piece pointed to three data points of interest:
* House Republicans in swing districts are retiring at a very fast pace, especially in the suburbs of Texas and elsewhere. (Republicans talk grimly of the “Texodus.”) Rep. Greg Walden – the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the only Republican in Oregon’s congressional delegation – [last week] shocked the party by becoming the 19th GOP House member to not seek re-election.
* The Republican Senate majority, once considered relatively safe, suddenly looks in serious jeopardy. Democrats are raising more money, and polling better, than Republican incumbents in battleground after battleground.
* President Trump trails every major Democratic candidate nationally and in swing states – and his favorable ratings remain well under 50%.
Just to state the painfully obvious, a lot can and will happen over the course of the next 363 days. We don’t know what kind of electoral impact the impeachment process might have, for example, and predicting the state of the economy a year from now is difficult. The number of variables is staggering.
All things considered, however, the heightened Republican anxieties make sense. If I were a GOP leader taking stock of the party’s Trump-era losses, I’d be nervous, too.