However you slice it, it was a bad election for the GOP. And it cements three years of undeniable backward electoral momentum for the party under Trump.
In 2017, Democrat Doug Jones pulled a shocking upset in a special Senate election in ruby-red Alabama, thanks to Republican Roy Moore’s problems. Democrats also took over the governorship in New Jersey, over-performed expectations in holding Virginia’s top office and won a special congressional election in a conservative-leaning district in western Pennsylvania.
In 2018, Democrats notched their biggest gain in the House since Watergate (41 seats) and took over the chamber. They also won a net seven governorships, while losing two seats on a very tough Senate map.
Then came this year, with the twin losses in Kentucky and Virginia, two of the few states holding high-profile races in the off-year.
All along the way, Trump and his allies have implausibly tried to put a good face on things. In 2018, they pointed to gaining seats in the Senate, even though the deck of seats was overwhelmingly stacked in their favor. They have pointed to wins in strongly conservative special congressional elections as if they were at all surprising. And on Tuesday night, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tried to suggest Trump had helped Bevin by claiming an internal poll had shown him down by 17 points — despite public polls showing a much closer race. (Republicans could also still take a governor’s seat from Democrats in a Louisiana runoff next week as a consolation.)
But the totality of the elections paints a clear picture: the GOP losing ground.
- The House was 241-194 Republican after the 2016 election. Today, it’s effectively 235-199 Democratic.
- Republicans held a historic 33-16 advantage in governor’s seats after the 2016 election. Today, it’s 26-24.
- Republicans had a 32-14 advantage in state legislatures controlled after 2016. Today, it’s 30-19. (Some legislatures are split, with one party controlling one chamber, and the other party in a majority in the other.)
- The GOP had total control over the governance of 24 states, vs. seven for Democrats. Today, it’s a much-closer 22-14.
- Republicans had an advantage of 57 percent to 42 percent in nationwide state legislative seats after 2016. Today, that 15-point edge is trimmed to five, 52-47.
You’ll note that Republicans maintain an edge in political control of this country outside Washington. And that’s important to remember as we head toward a presidential election that is won in the electoral college, not the popular vote. But the momentum is clearly in the wrong direction.
It’s enough to make a party tired of losing.