Topic: Elections

Capt. Seth Keshel, Apr 11

The Republican Party was formed on March 20, 1854, in Ripon, Wisconsin, as an abolitionist party opposing the spread of slavery to the western territories, and its existence in the states.  The party was made up largely of former Whigs, who were likely unaware that the GOP of 150 years later would be infiltrated by pretenders who lacked the courage to stand up for anything of consequence.

The party first ran a presidential candidate in 1856, John C. Fremont, and won the White House in 1860 when Abraham Lincoln defeated three challengers.  The GOP was not able to field an entire slate of U.S. House candidates to coincide with a presidential election until 1872, when Ulysses S. Grant won reelection in a blowout.  The Republicans picked up a net gain of 61 seats while riding Grant’s coattails, and ever since then, a dominant re-election performance has resulted in a gain for the incumbent’s party on every occasion except one (Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 41-state victory in 1956).

Here are some examples of modern-day landslides, and the impact down-ticket into the U.S. House.  The Republican gains are particularly impressive, because the GOP lacked a U.S. House majority from 1954 until 1994, when the “Contract with America” platform was championed.

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Indeed, I find it quite curious that Joe Biden blew away Barack Obama’s (and Donald Trump’s) popular vote records, just to see his party lose 13 seats in the U.S. House, with not one single Republican incumbent losing a seat.  With Biden receiving 81 million votes (12 million more than Obama’s 2008 wipeout), I would expect huge Democrat gains all over the country, especially with staple Republican states like Georgia and Arizona turning “blue.”

Here are reelection campaigns since 1872 in which the Presidential result applied to the shift of power in the U.S. House (14):

1872: Grant, reelected, GOP +61 net U.S. House seats

1888: Cleveland, lost reelection, Democrats -15 net U.S. House seats

1900: McKinley, reelected, GOP +13 net U.S. House seats

1912: Taft, lost reelection, GOP -28 net U.S. House seats

1932: Hoover, lost reelection, GOP -101 net U.S. House seats

1936: F. Roosevelt, reelected, Democrats +12 net U.S. House seats

1940: F. Roosevelt, reelected, Democrats +5 net U.S. House seats

1944: F. Roosevelt, reelected, Democrats +22 net U.S. House seats

1972: Nixon, reelected, GOP +12 net U.S. House seats

1980: Carter, lost reelection, Democrats -33 net U.S. House seats

1984: Reagan, reelected, GOP +16 net U.S. House seats

1996: Clinton, reelected, Democrats +2 net U.S. House seats

2004: G.W. Bush, reelected, GOP +3 net U.S. House seats

2012: Obama, reelected, Democrats +8 net U.S. House seats

Here are the four reelection campaigns (since 1872) in which the presidential election result diverged from the shift of power in the U.S. House.

1892: Harrison, lost reelection, GOP +38 net U.S. House seats

Note: Harrison lost 268,000 votes from his 1888 total, reflecting his lack of popularity.  Democrats had a rare presidency, the first since the Civil War, and were largely unpopular and blamed for slavery and the war during this period.

1916: Wilson, reelected, Democrats -16 net U.S. House seats

Note: The most notable discrepancy in this list.  Wilson was narrowly (277-254) reelected over the GOP’s Charles Evan Hughes.  He gained over 2.8 million votes from his 1912 campaign, but that campaign was known for having four major candidates, including the incumbent GOP president and his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, dividing the popular vote.  Wilson kept his job for staying out of the Great War, but the GOP was perceived as capable of checking any change of mind Wilson might have on the war effort.

1956: Eisenhower, reelected, GOP -2 net U.S. House seats

Note: Eisenhower gains 1.5 million net votes from 1952, electorate opts for the status quo with the post-World War II economy on the rise.  The result is a slight nudge toward expanding the Democrat house majority.

1992: Bush, lost reelection, GOP +9 net U.S. House seats

Note: Critics of this column will cite this election with Clinton’s electoral landslide evident, but Bush was notably unpopular due to broken promises, had a bad economy, was running for a fourth consecutive Republican term (unprecedented since the 1870s), and lost over 9 million votes from the previous election.

This brings us right to where we are.  Donald Trump became the first Republican incumbent president in 148 years to gain votes during his reelection campaign, have his party pick up seats, and “lose” the election.  Not only did Trump gain votes, he gained over 11 million net new votes, a total that is arguably the most prominent vote gain in history based on the exceptions noted in yesterday’s article.

In an era of maximum polarization, with a record gain on the board, with a record primary performance recorded, and with all bellwethers pointing to a Trump blowout, why is it that some fail to ask why a president popular enough to unseat an incumbent with a record performance in reelection failed to drag his colleagues across the finish line in the U.S. House, and couldn’t knock off a single member of the opposing party?

You all know the answer but must proceed in changing minds.  This fifth irrefutable point is grounded in many years of examples.  Donald J. Trump’s performance in 2020 would not align with all known indicators, bellwethers, predictors, and trends forecasting victory, and likewise not align with the trend of power in the U.S. House.

SK