The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republicans are poised to grasp the holy grail of governance

Donald Trump supporters cheer at a rally Nov. 8 in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN)

Republicans are set to achieve what has become nearly impossible to achieve in modern-day politics: Control or sway over all three branches of government. That's on top of their historically large majorities in governors' mansions and state legislative chambers.

Here's how Republicans' control at the federal level will likely play out:

1) Donald Trump wins the White House, which as of 2:32 a.m. Wednesday, the Associated Press said he  did.

2) Republicans keep control of Congress. That, too, is assured. Republicans retained their majority in the House of Representatives (a solid majority at that), and they will they hold onto their majority in the Senate by at least one to two seats.

3) Once everyone is inaugurated in January, Trump nominates the ninth Supreme Court justice. Assuming he nominates a conservative justice like he has repeatedly campaigned on, the Republican Senate would approve him or her, which would reset the court to the slight 5-4 conservative ideological lean it held before Justice Antonin Scalia died in February.

Of course, now that the tables are turned, there's nothing constitutionally to stop Senate Democrats from filibustering a President Trump nominee for as long as they like.

But Republicans could quickly end that by changing the rules for Supreme Court appointments so that just 50 votes are needed to approve it.

It's likely by early 2017, America could have a Republican White House, a Republican Congress and a conservative-majority Supreme Court. But wait! -- as they say in the informercials -- there's more.

The Supreme Court drama may not end with Scalia's seat. There are two Supreme Court justices age 80 or over: liberal member Ruth Bader Ginsberg (83) and conservative-leaning swing vote Anthony Kennedy (80). Another liberal justice, Stephen Breyer, is 78.

Ginsberg has said she'll serve as long as she's able to. But their ages suggest it's not unreasonable to think, as Trump often noted on the trail, that he could appoint two, maybe even three new justices in the next four years.

Suddenly, Republicans could be in a position to swing the court to 6-3 or even 7-2 to their side.

Trump's victory has enormous consequences for the Supreme Court

And that means that by the end of their president's first term, Republicans could have a have a Republican White House, a Republican Congress and a clearly conservative-leaning Supreme Court. Down at the state level, Republican dominance of governor's mansions and statehouses is still growing. If you're a Republican, you simply can't dream up a better scenario.

A party hasn't been so dominant in America since the World War II era, said Professor Robert David Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College. From roughly 1937-'45 there was a Democratic president (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), a Democratic Congress and eight of nine justices appointed by FDR (historians call that the court packing episode). This comes even as Democrats still outnumber Republicans in the United States, and the GOP's negative ratings regularly exceed the Democratic Party's.

We should also note that a victory of governance for Republicans at this level would not have happened without Republicans taking a big gamble back in February.

Hours after Scalia suddenly died, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) drew a red line: Republicans would not consider President Obama's Supreme Court nominee. They'd wait until after the election. On the surface, their argument was a moral one: The people, via the presidential election, should get to decide who makes this momentous decision.

But Senate Republicans were really playing a political game. They didn't want to be held responsible by their base for replacing one of the court's most conservative justices with a moderate or liberal one. So they broke with tradition (but not necessarily the rule book or Constitution) and blockaded Obama's Supreme Court nomination, hoping voters wouldn't punish them at the ballot box for it.

Voters obviously didn't punish Republicans for that gamble. Republicans didn't replace Scalia with a more liberal member of the court. And now Republicans have an opportunity to reach the holy trifecta of governance.

It's a trifecta they could hold onto for awhile.

The 2018 midterm elections are much more difficult for Democrats than Republicans. In the Senate, Democrats are expected to defend anywhere from 23 to 25 seats, while Republicans will likely have to defend just eight.

Further down the ballot, 2010 redistricting by Republican-dominated state legislatures has made it very difficult for Democrats to gain a foothold in the House and in state chambers. They'll have to win back those chambers by 2020 in order to redraw lines in their favor.

It's almost a footnote that Republicans tied a 94-year-old record of control of governor's mansions Tuesday night; they now hold 34 of them. (Though Democrats will have a chance to chip away at that in 2018 when at least 14 Republican governors' mansions open up thanks to term limits.)

The sum of all this is that Tuesday's results were overwhelmingly positive for Republicans -- so positive the impact could last for years to come.

In an election year where few gave them the benefit of the doubt, Republicans have achieved the almost-unachievable: Near-absolute victory.

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