After all the votes are counted, the Republican Party will likely have secured a majority in both the House and Senate when the 114th Congress takes the oath of office in January. As unpalatable as that sounds, there is no reason for liberals to freak out. In fact, Republican majorities in Congress will be a good thing for Democrats come 2016.
Let me explain.
This happens all the time in midterm elections: The president’s party typically experiences congressional losses, and it’s been this way for a long time. Going back to the 1934 midterms, the president’s party has lost seats in both houses in 14 times out of 20 elections. And with the exception of Bill Clinton in 1998, no-two term (or in Roosevelt’s case, four-term) president’s party was able to avoid losing seats in both chambers. The 1998 midterms are particularly instructive, and it’s part of the reason liberals shouldn’t be worried about a Republican-controlled Senate. (More on that in a moment.)
Here’s a breakdown of those last 20 midterms by The American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara:
Given the Senate’s role confirming judges, ambassadors, and the heads of executive departments, it will certainly be difficult for President Obama to fill vacancies in the judicial and executive branches with the kind of appointees he wants. This is the biggest downside to a GOP takeover of the Senate, since, after the Senate passed a filibuster reform, Democrats have been able to confirm executive and non-Supreme Court judicial nominees with a simply majority vote of 51. Come January, the Democrats would no longer have 51 votes.
Legislatively, the president’s agenda has been in tatters since 2011 when the Republicans took the House, and it’s being projected that the GOP will have a net gain of something in the neighborhood of nine seats. Despite the gains expected in both houses, the GOP still won’t even be close to being able to muster the two-thirds needed to override presidential vetoes on whatever crazy bills they decide to pass. On this front, nothing is fundamentally changed.
Another reason not to be too concerned is that, in predictable fashion, Republicans will do what they always do when they make big gains in Congress: overplay their hand and make fools of themselves. Over the next two years, we’re probably going to see one of the most obstructionist and hostile Congresses in U.S. history. More than this, however, the prospect of an Obama impeachment is very real. We can expect more a lot more subpoenas from human subpoena vending machine Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and it’s only a matter of time before the GOP seizes on something they think constitutes the “high crimes and misdemeanors” mentioned in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment.
Impeachment proceedings Obama would be especially alluring for Republicans because not only would it satisfy the anti-Obama bloodlust of their base, but they’d have the added bonus of conceivably tarnishing two key administration figures in Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden — the two front-runners for the 2016 nomination, though Clinton is way ahead. And if it means revisiting and embellishing the Benghazi attack during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, then they might just do that. Also remember that the Republicans only need a straight majority to impeach.
This is what the Republicans did in 1998 to President Clinton, hectoring him all year for his affair with Monica Lewinsky and his subsequent lies about it. One month before the election, House Republicans ordered a full impeachment inquiry and Republicans across the country campaigned against their Democratic counterparts by essentially campaigning against Clinton. The GOP ploy backfired in spectacular fashion, as Republicans lost five seats in the House while the Senate remained unchanged. The 1998 midterm elections were the first since the Reconstruction era in which the president’s party didn’t lose seats in both chambers in that president’s sixth year in office.
Despite the great Republican electoral disappointment of 1998, House Republicans nonetheless went ahead and impeached Clinton, after which every Republican Senator voted to convict. The vote was split along party lines, with 55 Republicans voting for and 45 Democrats voting against, meaning the “ayes” weren’t enough for the necessary two-thirds.
In the 2000 elections, Republicans were rebuked for their obstructionist ways and their smear campaign against Clinton by the American people, who docked the them for two seats in the House and five seats in the Senate. And While George W. Bush won the presidential election, he had lost the popular vote, which is becoming routine difficult for Republican presidential candidates, as they’ve lost the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential elections, having lost four of those.
Even if the House doesn’t impeach Obama, over the next two years congressional Republicans are going to do more blocking and finger-wagging than Dikeme Mutombo playing against a peewee basketball team, which is fine. But at least with the GOP controlling both houses, it will be easier for Obama to use his bully pulpit to point to both houses and seize upon the new normal that is the bottom-scraping approval rating of the U.S. Congress. This is a tool that Obama has underutilized to this point, but it’s entirely imaginable that the congressional hydra of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Darrell Issa, and others will drive the normally calm Obama into 2008 rhetorical beast mode in an attempt to boost the 2016 Democratic presidential and congressional candidates. Furthermore, given the absurdity of the present crop of GOP presidential candidates, the liberal base will likely mobilize against the party’s nominee and therefore whatever other Republicans are on the ballots across America.
Whatever happens on Tuesday, reality is on the president’s side. By virtually every objective measure, the country is better off than it was when he took office after eight years of arguably the most disastrous presidency in American history, which ended with the biggest economic crisis seen since the Great Depression. Regardless of what Americans think about the state of the country now, reality will eventually win out.
Even if it takes another two years.