Just two years from now, so don’t expect a rebound.
Of course, this election has proven that maps and demographics aren’t destiny. The GOP finally broke down the blue wall of battleground states that were supposed to ensure Democratic presidential victories. And the Senate was very favorable to Democrats this year—yet they only picked up two seats.
In a sense, whenever a party makes big gains in Congress—as the GOP did with the Tea Party wave in 2010—they can expect to take a big hit six years later. That happens because such a wave usually sweeps into battlegrounds or even opposing groups. In 2010, the GOP won seats in deep-blue Illinois, traditionally blue Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and battlegrounds like Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. All of those seats were in play, plus a few vulnerable seats in red states like Missouri, Indiana, Arizona, and Georgia. If a Democratic wave had developed this year, they would’ve potentially swept 10 Republicans from the Senate and given a President Clinton unfettered control.
Such a wave did not develop, however. The country was largely split even, with slightly more support for Clinton on the coasts and for Trump in the interior. Democrats picked up Illinois, as expected, and New Hampshire—which also went for Clinton. Yet all the other vulnerable GOP seats were in states that all went red and, due to the consistency of straight-ticket voting, all of the Senate seats went red, as well. Compared to what it could’ve been, the hit on the GOP was not nearly as severe as expected.
In 2012, the GOP had another very favorable map (due to a great Democratic year six years prior), but had to compete against a relatively-popular president. President Obama won reelection by a significant margin and not only prevented further GOP gains, but actually helped achieve two Democratic pick-ups. While the GOP picked up a seat in Nebraska, they lost seats in Indiana, Massachusetts, and Maine (an Independent who caucuses with Democrats). Democrats also unexpectedly held seats in unfriendly territory—Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia.
That election sets the stage for the 2018 election. Democrats will be defending seats in six states where Republicans just won by a huge margin in the presidential election—Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Missouri, and Indiana. Even with popular incumbents and/or flawless campaigns, these will be hard seats to hold. They will also be defending seats in five battleground states that all just went for Trump—Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Remember that Ohio went for Trump by nine percentage points as well. There is a twelfth seat that could potentially become vulnerable given the right circumstances in slightly-blue Virginia as well.
Even if the GOP performance in 2018 is underwhelming—like Democratic performance this year—they’ll still likely come away with a number of gains. Despite a lackluster performance this year, Democrats still picked-up their deep-blue seat in Illinois. Expect Republicans to pick up most, if not all, of the deep-red states in the 2016. Also remember that the GOP tends to do better in mid-term elections as well, so the battleground states just won by Trump should be considered dicey for Democrats, as well.
There will also be another “x-factor” in all of this: Will all of the blue collar white voters in the Rust Belt states that just voted for Trump come out to vote in the mid-terms? This current class of Democratic senators won in 2012 in large part because those voters refused to turn out for Mitt Romney. If they come out in numbers anywhere close to their showing last week, you will see a GOP wave sweep through the Senate and produce a nearly filibuster-proof majority.
One thing we pretty much know for sure: 2018 will bring more pain for the Democratic Party.