The Republican comeback

Not many are long on the GOP's future, but Townhall's Donald Lambro is.

Published December 19, 2008 3:32PM (EST)

Though the seemingly endless Franken-Coleman race in Minnesota prevents us from completely closing the books on the 2008 cycle, I believe it's never too early to start speculating about 2010. In fact, we had a Salon conversation about this very subject just last week.

Townhall's Donald Lambro seems hopeful for the Republicans. He concludes his latest essay with these lines:

About a year from now, we will be in the beginning stages of the midterm-election cycle when the political history books tell us that the party in power almost always loses seats in Congress. That record has been broken only twice in our history. The last time was in 2002 when President Bush was riding high, the Republicans had cut tax rates across the board, and the GOP made substantial gains in Congress.

The chances are extremely high that the GOP will gain congressional seats in November 2010, dealing Barack Obama the first political defeat of his presidency.

Lambro is right about the historical pattern. (But the other partial exception is also recent: 1998 for Clinton, at least in the House . . . though I suspect Lambro is referring to FDR's first midterm as the other exception.) And surely there are any number of landmines facing Obama in his first two years which could present problems for the Democrats in two years. Obama is going to have to show some shooting range because nothing on the national agenda has "layup" written on it.

But "extremely high"? I wouldn't go that far.

For one thing, the non-historical fundamentals of the 2010 cycle do not shape up favorably for the GOP. The Republicans are defending more Senate seats (19 to 14). The large class of 2006 Democratic freshmen largely survived the 2008, and as sophomores should be just as secure in 2010.

Also, the other historical analogs to which Lambro points -- the 1966 GOP comeback following LBJ's 1964 landslide; the post-Watergate rise of Ronald Reagan in 1980 -- are far less relevant today because (a) the demographics of the country are fundamentally different and moving away from the GOP's dying coalition; and (b) the conservative movement's ideas and political practices are falling out of favor.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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