Republican Governors

Interesting analysis from Dan McLaughlin that shows a couple of things. First, Republicans have had a lot more recent success winning elections in blue states than Democrats have had in red. I can attest to the joys of having a Republican governor in a deep blue state (even if said governor has jumped the gun and already started running campaign ads for the 2024 election). It also demonstrates that Donald Trump has not had the sort of disastrous electoral effect on the GOP some feared.

The latter point is worth considering. Obviously, I am no fan of Trump, but he has not wrecked the Republican party electorally as previous presidents have done to their parties. Now, there are a couple of caveats to this. He only had one term, so that may have mitigated some of the potential damage. Also, it’s possible his presidency precipitated a decline in the suburbs that will reverberate in years to come.

Regardless, it’s worth looking at how presidents’ parties have done at the beginning at the end of their terms. I’ll just take a look at the most four recent presidencies.

Bill Clinton took office with a 258-176 Democratic advantage in the House and a 57-43 edge in the Senate. Moreover, Democrats had held a majority in the House since the middle of Eisenhower’s first term. Bill Clinton left office with Republicans in control of both chambers: 223-211 in the House, and 50-50 in the Senate (with Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote until “Jumping” Jim Jeffords switched parties during the summer of 2001.) That is a net loss of 47 House seats and 7 Senate seats over eight years. The Democrats actually picked up seven seats in the House compared to the post-1994 Congress. Considering the long history of Democratic Congressional majorities, this relatively narrow party split (which almost exactly mirrors the one the 117th Congress will have) doesn’t really tell the full story. Democrats also lost governorships in states like New York and New Jersey, and Republicans made steady gains in local races in the southeast, where Democrats lost majorities they had held since the Civil War, or at least the process began which culminated over the next decade. And Democrats lost the White House, albeit in as close an election as we have ever seen.

George Bush entered office with the above-noted narrow majorities and left office with Republicans seemingly on the brink of extinction. The 111th Congress (2009-2011) saw Democrats with a 257-178 House majority and a 59-41 Senate majority (technically 2 Independents, but both caucused with Democrats), for net loss of 45 House seats and 9 Senate seats for the GOP. Again, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Bush’s presidency was the mirror image of Clinton, as Republicans gained seats in the 2002 and 2004 elections before being wiped out in 2006 and 2008. Republicans held their own in the states, although they were overall in a weaker position.

As for Obama, he entered office with the above-mentioned majorities. After the 2016 election, Republicans held a 247-188 House majority and a Senate majority of 51-47 (or 49 with the Independents). That’s a net loss of 69 House seats and 11 Senate seats (factoring in the Democrats having 60 seats after Arlen Specter’s party switch). Democrats were also decimated on the state level over the course of Obama’s presidency, losing over a thousand state legislative seats and multiple governorships. Obama’s presidency was just a complete electoral disaster for the Democrats – except for Obama himself.

So now the House is looking like it will be a 223-212 Democrat majority, and we don’t know yet about the Senate. That’s a net loss of 35 House seats and anywhere between one Senate seat lost to a net gain of one seat. And Republicans lost several governorships in 2018, but gained a couple back in 2020. All in all, not terrible.

Again, Trump only had four years, so who knows what the party compositions would have looked like with another four years of Trump in the White House. It’s quite possible, and maybe likely, that Republican losses in the suburbs would have left the party in dire straits four years hence. On the other hand, maybe gains in other demographics would have offset those losses. There’s no way of knowing for sure. What is certain is, if nothing else, the Trump presidency did not decimate the Republicans electorally as much as previous presidencies – even two-term presidencies – did for previous parties. And if I had extended my analysis back another thirty years, it would have shown more of the same.