The GOP's rising tide of unpopularity

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One of our major political parties is going to win Texas and its 38 electoral votes in November. Spoiler alert: It is not going to be the one that has not carried the Lone Star State since 1976, despite quadrennial fantasy pieces by pundits. Democrats should also not get too carried away about the state's House delegation, which is likely to remain red for the foreseeable future.

This doesn't mean the GOP has anything to celebrate going into this fall's congressional elections. The majority Republicans enjoyed at the beginning of Donald Trump's presidency disappeared two years later, leaving them with nothing to show for it except tax cuts, i.e., the only thing the party does when it controls both houses of Congress and the presidency. A net gain of 20 seats that would return them to power in the lower chamber is well-nigh impossible. A modest shift of five or so is just about imaginable, but it's far more likely to go in the other direction.

This, one suspects, is why even in Texas they are suddenly behaving like a losing party, which is to say one that cares more about fleecing the most reliable portion of its donor base than it does about trying to win a majority. Hence the recent election of Allen West, the one-term congressman from Florida, as chairman of the Texas Republican Party. When you put a carpet-bagger who was nearly court-martialed for torture in charge of boring logistical tasks like deciding what brand of seltzer you are going to serve at official GOP events because you know he is still popular with aging Tea Party types on Facebook, you know where you are.

Meanwhile Democrats are likely to have a good year in the House even if Trump is re-elected this fall. It's difficult to imagine them passing any meaningful legislation in such a scenario, especially with the Senate likely to remain under GOP control. Instead we can look forward to Impeachment 2: Electric Boogaloo. The only question is whether the pretext for this unprecedented move will be Trump's handling of the pandemic, a throwaway line from a recently published memoir, or spurious allegations of receiving foreign assistance during the election.

What if Joe Biden wins? Even then, we should not necessarily expect the kind of midterm anti-White House backlash that has delivered the House to opposition parties during the first terms of three of our last four presidents, in 2018, 2010, and 1994 respectively. This is true for a number of reasons, but the most important is that in the long run, the math in the House, as opposed to the Senate, is not favorable to Republicans. Democrats might complain about the built-in advantage for the party of rural America in the upper chamber, but the corollary in the lower one is the reality that even in the reddest of red states, cities and suburbs are getting bluer with each election cycle. In 2018, the GOP won only a quarter of districts in which a higher than average percentage of residents had at least a bachelor's degree. As Tom Davis, the former congressman and chairman of the Republican National Committee, put it recently, the suburbs were "the base of the Republican Party just a decade and a half ago. And there just aren't enough rural voters to make up for those kind [sic] of losses. It means for the Republicans that instead of picking up seats in the House, that the bleeding could continue."

This is the real blue wave that the GOP faces, not a sudden unexpected tsunami, but a rising tide of unpopularity that will sooner or later become a bore and lead. To keep their heads above water, Republicans will either have to figure out how to retake the suburbs (which would involve, among other things, disavowing Trump when he leaves office and likely abandoning the culture-war issues that keep the party's rural white working class base going to the polls) or somehow make themselves appealing to socially conservative Black and Hispanic voters.

My guess is that they are going to keep getting wet.

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