What’s more, I think that all of his warnings will still hold true even if Republicans do “make big gains at all levels,” as Ponnuru puts it, and head into next year with a larger minority in the Senate, control of more statehouses, and maybe even a slim majority in the House (hey, it’s possible).
Ross is discussing the GOP’s difficulty in coming up with a credible agenda for governing, so I realize this is a bit of a throwaway line, but barring something dramatically, catastrophically bad for this administration it is not possible for the GOP to win any kind of majority in the House. Breitbart’s colleagues may be dreaming about another ’66 or ’94, but we are still a very long way from such a result. The Democrats’ Senate prospects are noticeably worse than they were just two months ago, where they could now conceivably drop as many as five seats, but they have not lost nearly as much ground in their House races. Right now, the Republicans can look forward to picking up a maximum of 15 seats, and they are probably more likely to net just 12 more seats.
One problem with the comparisons to 1966 and 1994 is that they usually ignore the differences between 2008 and the other presidential elections that preceded these midterms. The last time we had a midterm election following a presidential vote in which the Democratic candidate won more than 50% of the vote, Democrats lost 15 House seats in 1978. 2010 still seems more like 1978. 2010 is the first midterm election after two strong Democratic cycles that we have had since then. There were dozens of open Democratic seats in 1994, which it much easier for the opposition party to pick them up. There are only eight open competitive seats this year, two which are Republican-held, and according to CQPolitics there are fifteen vulnerable Democratic seats overall. Del Beccaro notices that the GOP was able to make huge gains during a period of economic expansion, and then wrongly concludes that the GOP is in an even better position to make large gains during a period of economic weakness.
The last time we had midterms in such poor economic conditions was 1982, when the Democrats netted 27 House seats after the very severe ’81-’82 recession. While the opposition party stands to benefit from poor economic conditions, the GOP may be in a bad position to take advantage of this. There is the lack of an agenda that Ponnuru and Ross mention, and the GOP’s reputation remains terrible, but no less important is the limited appeal Republicans usually have during recessions. This appeal may be even more limited to the extent that voters still remember and care that the recession and financial crisis began on a Republican President’s watch.