David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report observes, “The COVID-19 pandemic has all but frozen House recruitment and fundraising, shielding Democratic incumbents with big financial head starts. Now, Republicans’ path to picking up the 18 seats needed to win back the majority now looks slim to non-existent.” With former vice president Joe Biden at the top of the ticket rather than self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the crop of moderate Democratic freshmen who won swing seats in 2018 can breathe a sigh of relief. They will not have Sanders’s infatuation with left-wing dictators or outlawing of private medical insurance hanging over them.
As Trump’s standing erodes even further, there is good reason to believe House Republicans will fare poorly, as well. “President Trump’s poor standing — evidenced by polls on his handling of the outbreak and against Biden — could limit the universe of districts where his presence atop the ballot helps GOP candidates,” Wasserman warns. “Historically, even presidents who win reelection have had short coattails.”
With disadvantages in money (among targeted Democrats, “the median Democratic incumbent ended March 2020 with $2.2 million on hand — more than six times the median leading GOP challenger’s $366,000”), a rotten message to defend (repeal Obamacare, the virus be damned!) and lack of new recruits, Republicans are in trouble. And when the party is in trouble, members do not want to hang around either to lose or, at best, serve in the minority. So, “nearly three times as many Republicans (27) as Democrats (9) are retiring or running for other office.” With a number of pick-up chances for Democrats in Texas and North Carolina and virtually no vulnerable incumbents, “Anything from no net change to a small single-digit gain for either side is possible. That’s good news for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats.” And for Biden, who will need a cooperative Congress if elected.
Republicans have a few choices. First, they can at some point throw in the towel on Trump and run simply as a check against a President Biden. (Well, sure Biden’s going to win, but you don’t want Democrats to have all the power.) Such as strategy is not likely to emerge — if it happens at all — until the final stretch of the race (for fear of enraging Trump).
Second, they could start taking popular positions: Support first responders, teachers and health-care workers by funding states and local governments; give up on repealing Obamacare; stop shoveling subsidies to big corporations and insist on real oversight of the trillions already spent; and refuse to endorse what seems to be Trump’s too-bad-about-the-deaths attitude in seeking a quick reopening of business.
Third, they could hang on to Trump as tightly as ever, double-down on grossly unpopular positions and hope gerrymandering keeps them from losing too many additional seats. As unrealistic as it might be, the third option may be the likeliest for the Trumpized House Republicans.