When my colleague Bob Costa spent the weekend with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) in Wisconsin, Ryan seemed pretty chill about his reelection prospects ahead of Tuesday's primary, and with good reason. But he seemed a lot less sanguine about keeping his party's historic majority in the House of Representatives despite the fact that, in a normal election year, both would be as close to a given as you could get.
Here's what Ryan said when Costa asked whether he'll keep the largest majority Republicans have enjoyed since World War II:
“Mitt [Romney] and I lost by four points and we lost eight seats. [Arizona Sen. John McCain] lost by seven [in 2008] and we lost 21 seats,” he said, referencing the past two presidential elections. “If you’re speaker of the House, it’s your job to worry about the Republican majority, no matter what the circumstances are.”
Ryan didn't predict a Democratic landslide or anything -- but he didn't rule it out. And the mere fact the House changing parties is a possibility should give you an indication of just how concerned Republicans are about Donald Trump dragging them down in November. Way down.
Before Trump's post-convention poll collapse — before Trump was the Republican nominee — we called the idea that Democrats would take back the House of Representatives "far-fetched." Here's why:
[According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report's ratings of House seats], just 33 seats out of 435 are truly competitive, including 27 held by Republicans and six held by Democrats.
Democrats would need to hold all six of their seats and pick up all 27 from Republicans — 12 of which the Cook team says "lean Republican." And even then it wouldn't be enough.
Americans' polarization, Democrats' concentration in fewer and fewer districts (we increasingly live in neighborhoods that agree with us politically) and gerrymandered congressional districts, a majority of which are drawn by Republican-controlled statehouses across the country, are three big reasons that we thought it would take years for Democrats to chip away at Republicans' majority.
Clinton would likely have to win the popular vote by 54 percent to give House Democrats a big enough wave to ride on, a benchmark no presidential candidate has hit in two decades.
But six months after we wrote that, Ryan seems to be telegraphing that the impossible isn't impossible anymore. Here's why:
- Trump just keeps stepping in it in terms of controversies that are absolutely toxic to the Republican Party.
- Trump is losing to Clinton right now by eight points, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
- And he's losing to Clinton by more than 10 points in at least two key battleground states, according to two new state polls in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. The usual caveats remain that one state poll does not determine the race, and these numbers likely still reflect Clinton's post-convention bump. But overall, it's not a good general election start for Trump.
At a conference last week sponsored by Republican mega-donors the Koch brothers, the New York Times reported, Ryan "expressed concerns that the House was increasingly at risk," and implored "donors not to assume that the House was impregnable and not to entirely focus their efforts on retaining the Senate."
To some extent, it's possible — even likely — that Ryan is using Trump's threat to his majority to raise cash from Republican donors who may be watching this election unfold from the sidelines. But the fact that his majority is even a line he can use to raise funds says a lot about how Trump has turned this election upside down — and not in a good way for Republicans.