President Trump will declare a national emergency and seek money to build a border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday, moments before the U.S. Senate passed a compromise spending bill that didn’t include wall funding.
If Trump follows through on the emergency declaration, he’ll be doing something that large majorities of Americans oppose — and he’ll be doing it at right as his job approval ratings had begun to rebound following the partial government shutdown in December and January.
Indeed, the act of declaring a national emergency to build a wall is even more unpopular than the wall itself — and the wall isn’t popular. Polls as tracked by PollingReport.com show an average of 32 percent of Americans in favor of the declaration and 65 percent opposed. Even in an era where many of Trump’s top priorities poll only in the low-to-mid-40s, that’s an especially large split, with roughly twice as many voters opposed as in favor.
Voters strongly oppose a national emergency over the wall
Polls conducted during and since the partial government shutdown on whether Trump should declare a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border
Approve/ Support/ Should
Disapprove/ Oppose/ Should not
Jan. 30-Feb. 2
ABC News/Washington Post
The emergency plan could potentially become somewhat more popular if Trump tries to rally his base behind it, but it’s an issue that causes a fair amount of divisiveness even among Republican lawmakers.
And the strategy suggests that Trump didn’t learn any lessons from the shutdown. His approval rating, which was 42.2 percent on the day the shutdown began, bottomed out at 39.3 just as the shutdown was ending. It has since mostly recovered to 41.5 percent, however. Despite Trump’s having capitulated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in agreeing to reopen the government for three weeks, the sky didn’t fall and the base stuck with Trump.
The mechanics of this are fairly straightforward. Trump indeed has a loyal1 base. That base is so loyal, however, that very little about what Trump does seems to affect their views or him. Here is Trump’s approval rating by party according to Gallup since the midterm elections, for example. Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating was steady at roughly 88 percent before, during and after the shutdown. Among Democrats, it was also largely unchanged.2 Among independents, however, his approval rating plunged from about 39 percent just before the shutdown to 31 and 32 percent in two polls conducted in the midst of it, before recovering to 38 percent once the shutdown was over.
Trump’s base remained loyal during the shutdown
Trump’s job approval rating, by party, before and after the government shutdown
Trump’s Approval Rating Among
Jan. 2-10, 2019
Nov. 26-Dec. 2
Nov. 12-18, 2018
Again, nothing here is rocket science. It’s Electoral Politics 101. Trump does unpopular stuff, and he becomes more unpopular. The erosion mostly comes from independents because Republicans are highly loyal to him and Democrats are already almost uniformly opposed.
But Trump will need those independents to win re-election. He needed them to become president in the first place. Trump won independents by 4 points, 46 percent to 42 percent for Hillary Clinton, in 2016. Had they gone for Clinton by 4 points instead, she would have won the national popular vote by 4 or 5 points, and won Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and possibly Arizona.
The public response had clear effects in Congress. Congressional Republicans had been unified behind the president in the early stages of the shutdown, but cracks started to emerge as it dragged on. In public, this was demonstrated on Thursday by six Senate Republicans voting for legislation put forward by Senate Democrats that would fund the government without money for the wall. And, in private, disagreement with the president’s strategy extended beyond those six. A meeting between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday reportedly turned into a venting session, with some senators scolding Pence for the White House’s strategy. Among the critics was Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has the power to bring forward legislation, whether Trump likes it or not.
We don’t know much about the private discussions between McConnell and the White House, but it’s possible that Trump folded in part because McConnell suggested Senate Republicans would likely move forward soon with legislation funding the government without paying for the wall — with or without the president’s support. Although Trump, in a Rose Garden speech on Friday, acted as if it were his decision to end the shutdown, the decision to fold may not truly have been Trump’s to make, and the speech may have been McConnell allowing the president to save face and concede before the Republicans in the Senate fully broke with him.
To be clear, it’s not certain that Trump has lost the broader fight over the wall. It’s hard to see congressional Democrats offering much funding for it, but maybe they will agree to some kind of compromise that includes a few billion dollars. (I wouldn’t bet on this, as liberal Democratic opposition to the wall seems to be hardening.) Or, as he suggested on Friday, Trump could declare a national emergency and reallocate funds from other parts of the government to finance a wall. Such a move will almost certainly draw legal challenges. But Trump might win in the courts, as he (eventually) did on his executive order banning travel from certain countries into the United States.
For now, however, we’re back to where we were when the shutdown began. Trump and Congress have three weeks to figure out a solution. In public, at least, all sides are staking out the same positions they held when the shutdown started. Trump will likely need a different strategy going forward. The one he employed over the last month — shutting down the government (which is unpopular) to get the wall (which is unpopular) — could not keep his party united forever.
It might be hard to tell at the moment, but there are freshmen Democrats in the House other than New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive women have become the face of the new class in Congress, a total of 64 newly elected Democrats joined Congress this month, each of them with their own platform and political leanings. Yet all of them won their seats in the same wave election that swung at least 40 House seats to the Democrats1 — an election that has media wags wondering if the new Democratic representatives will cause headaches for the old guard.
The data suggests … probably not.
American politics have been inundated by big waves before, and a close look at how those freshmen classes voted may shed light on how today’s wave might affect the government. In 1994, for example, under the banner of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” the GOP ushered in a so-called Republican Revolution, swinging Congress 54 seats to the right. In 2010, Republicans did it again, this time powered by the tea party; the GOP picked up 63 seats. But American politics are turbulent. In 2006 and 2008, it was the Democrats’ turn to surf — they picked up 31 and 21 seats those years. While there is no widely accepted definition of a “wave” year, there seems to be some consensus that these four elections were waves, so that’s where I’m going to focus my analysis.
After they were elected, all of these wave-riding freshman representatives actually had to go to work and cast votes. Votes are data, and data, in this case, turns into ideology scores. Specifically, we can use Nokken-Poole ideology scores to see whether wave-year freshmen voted demonstrably differently from their more veteran peers. (This method boils down actual congressional votes into a single dimension, meaning that bigger negative numbers represent more liberal positions and bigger positive numbers represent more conservative positions.)
With a possible exception of Republicans elected in 2010, when the tea party was big, first-year representatives entering Congress in a wave year don’t look all that different from any of the other representatives — they tend to be distributed across the ideology score spectrum in about the same way as their longer-serving peers. That could be good news for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she tries to keep her caucus in line.
But it’s not just the wave-riding freshmen who aren’t that different from the veterans. Freshmen of all classes tend to vote similarly to — or, if anything, slightly to the right of — their party elders. These are the ideological distributions of all freshmen and all non-freshmen from 1994 through 2018.
But what became of these freshmen who rode into Congress on electoral waves? Did those who were re-elected (and, in some cases, re-elected and re-elected and re-elected …) begin to alter their legislative behavior after they’d served for a while? Where could Ocasio-Cortez and her peers end up, ideologically speaking, in a decade’s time, if they follow roughly the same path as those who came before them?
There is some weak evidence that those congresspeople who rode in on recent waves — be they Democrats or Republicans — shifted to the left over time. (For the universe of all congresspeople, there is some evidence that spending more time in Congress means a person takes, on average, a slightly more extreme ideological position.) The Republicans of the class of 1994, for example, became on average more moderate than their fellow congressmen, while the Democrats of the classes of 2006 and 2008 became on average more liberal. Practically speaking, however, these effects appear small, especially when each wave-year class is viewed as an aggregate. The single red and blue lines on the chart below represent the careers of each newly elected member of that year’s wave party, while the thick black lines show a smoothed trend for each class. The members of the wave classes thin out over time and, in some cases, shift their ideologies.
There are a couple of notable outliers clearly visible above. In 1999, Rep. Michael Forbes, who had been a freshman in the Republican Revolution class, announced he was becoming a Democrat. And in 2009, Democratic Rep. Parker Griffith became a Republican while still a freshman — he’d been elected in a Democratic wave just over a year before.
There’s an important caveat to all this: the Nokken-Poole scores are built only on how congresspeople vote. The scores don’t tell us anything about what the congresspeople are voting on, or the ripple effects that freshmen may have on senior members by, for example, threatening to vote as a bloc, introducing legislation the House might not otherwise have considered, or using their public appearances to rile up segments of senior members’ electorates who might not normally contact their representatives. For instance, some pundits have argued that the tea party changed “the very DNA of the GOP.” (Congress has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act many times since 2010, for example, which was one of the main planks of the tea party movement.) Others have argued that Gingrich’s Republican Revolution is linked to “the upheaval now taking place around the globe.” Only time will tell what effects the recent and ongoing blue wave might have. Already, we can see how young left is trying to expand which ideas Democrats are willing to entertain — including, perhaps, remaking the country’s very economic system.
We don’t yet have ideological measures for the freshmen swept into the House on 2018’s wave, of course — they haven’t participated in enough votes in D.C. But if today’s freshmen stick around long enough to become senior statesmen, there are hints here that they may shift the House even further to the left. Cowabunga, dude.
Welcome to a special weekend-edition of FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
micah (Micah Cohen, managing editor): Hey, everyone! We’ve convened here on a weekend(!) to talk about President Trump’s address to the nation on Saturday. Trump called the country together to make an offer to Democrats to try to end the partial government shutdown, now more than 28 days old.
Here’s Trump’s offer, summarized by Bloomberg News reporter Sahil Kapur:
President Trump outlines his offer:
• $800 million for “urgent humanitarian assistance”
So, the question in front of us: Is this offer likely to end the shutdown? And, more generally, is this a smart move politically by Trump, who’s seen his job approval rating erode as the shutdown has dragged on?
Let’s briefly start with that first question. What do you make of Trump’s offer? Will it bring about the end of the shutdown?
perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): It’s not at all likely to end the shutdown. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bashed the proposal before the speech started (once reports came out with Trump’s offer). He didn’t consult Democrats before the proposal was released. It’s not clear he was even really trying to get Democrats to sign onto this.
sarahf: Yeah, what I don’t understand about the proposal is that it was negotiated without any Democratic input. It was just Vice President Mike Pence, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talking with fellow Republicans.
natesilver: I mean, there are some permutations where this is the beginning of the end of the shutdown, I suppose.
Those have to involve some combination of (i) Trump offering a better deal than what he’s offering right now, and (ii) public opinion shifting to put more pressure on Democrats.
micah: So is the best way to look at this address as basically a political ploy — an attempt to change the politics of the shutdown? (I don’t mean “ploy” in a negative sense.)
perry: I think that’s the only way to look at this.
natesilver: The real audience for the speech is likely the media. Because we’re the only people sick enough to actually waste our Saturdays watching this thing.
slackbot: I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well. There is Advil, Aleve and Tylenol in the cabinet in front of Nate’s office/Vanessa’s desk.
natesilver: lol, slackbot
Anyway, in theory, “we’re willing to compromise and Democrats” aren’t is a perfectly decent message. It’s BS in various ways (mostly because the compromise Trump is offering isn’t too good). But it’s a fairly conventional message — to sell a not-very-great compromise as being a good deal.
sarahf: Right now, Americans overwhelmingly continue to blame Trump and congressional Republicans for the shutdown. Saturday’s speech seemed like an attempt on his part to try and shift some of that narrative by outlining a proposal that definitely seemed like a compromise.
perry: And I think it has as few potential good effects for Trump. First, it may help keep Republicans on Capitol Hill aligned with him. They were getting leery of his wall-only strategy. This makes it easier for the party to unify around him.
Second, Trump’s proposal allows McConnell to hold a vote and suggest he and his chamber are trying to resolve the shutdown too, just like the House is doing.
Finally, I assume, when pollsters ask people about this proposal, it will be more popular than the wall itself. My guess is it will be near 50 percent support and perhaps higher. Most people I assume aren’t totally against any money for the wall and feel like Dreamers must have a path to citizenship or else.
sarahf: And I don’t know if it’s a good look for Democratic leaders like Pelosi to immediately come out the gate saying, “nope this doesn’t work.” Then again, they weren’t consulted in the making of the deal it sounds like, so maybe she’d be better off highlighting that.
natesilver: I did think it was weird that Trump opened the address with a sort of uncharacteristically gentle paean to the virtues of legal immigration, but then careened to talking about drugs and gangs and violence and some of the other stuff that doesn’t usually pass a fact check. If you actually wanted to portray an image of bipartisanship, you could skip most of that stuff. Or you could talk about how there were extremists on both sides — call out Republicans for X and Y reason.
micah: Well …
I do wonder if this could change the politics of the shutdown in more than one way, as Perry was getting at.
It could make Democrats look like the intransigent side, as you were all saying.
But, it could also shift the narrative towards more “border crisis” and less “wall.” And that’s better political ground for Trump. Polls show more people believe there is a crisis at the border than support a wall.
sarahf: Right, last week we looked at different pollsters who asked Americans what they thought of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. I was surprised by the number of Americans who thought it was a serious problem or a crisis. Fifty-four percent of respondents in a Quinnipiac poll said they believed there was a security crisis along the border with Mexico. And in a CBS News/YouGov poll, 55 percent said the situation was “a problem, but not a crisis.”
natesilver: It could shift things — although, again, it’s worth mentioning that the deal Trump offered isn’t really much of a deal at all.
In fact, it offers a bit less than what they floated last night.
That was my read too -& this is a crucial distinction Democrats are already seizing upon. WH officials last night said it was the Bridge Act-& confirmed that to other reporters today-but what Trump announced just now is NOT the Bridge Act, it's a more limited twist on it. https://t.co/CxX154n9As
The DACA part itself is a compromise, but to get that compromise, Democrats have to give up something (wall funding) that they’re firmly opposed to.
Although, it probably is fair to say that the wall is also a compromise of sorts. As Trump actually emphasized. It’s not all that much wall. It’s certainly not a big concrete wall stretching the length of the border.
natesilver: Right, and Trump hasn’t really made the case as to why a wall is necessary to stop the humanitarian crisis at the border.
The other thing is that … none of this is really new. This compromise, if you want to call it that, has been around for a long time. Democrats have rejected it because it doesn’t give them enough. They rejectedbetter versions of this compromise before the shutdown began, in fact.
And Democrats have more leverage now than then because Trump needs the shutdown to end a lot more than they do — it’s hurting him politically.
micah: I guess my point is more that the convo may change.
perry: To put this bluntly, I think this speech had two audiences the media (so they will do “both sides” coverage) and Republicans (so they will stay loyal to Trump on this issue). I assume this speech will buy him at least of few days of that. And both of those, as Micah suggests, will help with the public opinion.
Like some kind of nod to their hardship. But nada.
perry: They’re all Democrats.
I’m joking, but that is what he thinks.
natesilver: The question is partly: will the press run with Trump’s frame?
micah: Nate, I don’t know if the media will run with it.
The headline in the lower-third on CNN right now is “Pelosi rejects Trump’s proposal to end shutdown.”
perry: Trump may have bought himself at least another week to sustain this shutdown. Next week will be 1. Pelosi rejected Trump’s idea before he spoke, and 2. Senate holds vote and Democrats filibuster.
You all disagree?
micah: I think that’s right, Perry.
As we’re chatting, here’s Politico’s headline: “Trump’s bid to negotiate on wall met by Democratic rejection”
The Washington Post: “Trump offers to protect ‘dreamers’ temporarily in exchange for wall funds”
Dallas Morning News: “Trump seeks border wall funding in exchange for DACA protections to end shutdown”
natesilver: There’s at least some semi-intelligent understanding on the White House’s part of how media dynamics work.
At least parts of the speech play well into the media’s “both sides-ism.”
micah: NBC News: “Trump offers new shutdown deal, Democrats expected to reject it”
Los Angeles Times: “President Trump proposes to extend protections for ‘Dreamers’ in exchange for border wall funding”
ABC News: “Trump will extend ‘Dreamers,’ TPS protection in exchange for full border wall funding”
CBS News: “Trump proposes deal on immigration, Pelosi calls shutdown offer a ‘non-starter’”
natesilver: But the thing about that NBC headline is that the “new” part is pretty misleading.
perry: Those are great headlines for Trump. Considering the reality is closer to this:
Isn't this a kind of hostage-taking squared? First end the programs. Then shut the government. Then promise to temporarily restore the programs you've ended & reopen the govt you have closed, in return for the ransom of $ for a wall that 55-60% of country consistent opposes? https://t.co/PhsMABh6VC
perry: I also think that keeping the Lindsey Graham’s of the world happy is something Trump cares about. The Republicans on the Sunday shows now have something to say. So do the Will Hurd’s.
micah: Very good point.
perry: Pelosi and Democrats, I would argue, were more unified than Republicans before this speech. But I wonder if some moderate Democrats start getting nervous now.
natesilver: The path here is like:
1. Trump and Republicans maintain some degree of message discipline for a week or so;
1b. Trump and Republicans don’t face too many defections from their own base;
2. Polling and other indications show that blame for the shutdown is shifting away from Trump and toward Democrats;
2b. There aren’t any strikes or planes falling from the sky that create a crisis and force an immediate end to the shutdown;
3. Trump offers Democrats a little bit — maybe quite a bit — more.
If all of that happens, maybe he gets a deal!
And no one of those steps is *that* crazy.
perry: So the fundamentals of this issue have not changed, you are saying, Nate?
natesilver: I don’t really think it changed anything.
perry: I agree.
natesilver: Except Trump made a chess move to advance the game instead of just sitting there petulantly staring at his opponent and watching his clock run down.
micah: “It gives him some more time” is a good read, I think.
natesilver: It was an extremely standard chess move, but at least it was a move!
sarahf: Well, I mean leading up to this speech there had been some speculation he’d declare a national emergency. And he didn’t do that.
So all things considered, I think this was a much smarter political move to make.
natesilver: Oh yeah, this is definitely better than that.
sarahf: Because I do think at this point Democrats have to say something other than, “we won’t support this.”
natesilver: It was, like, almost what a normal president with a competent group of advisors would do!
sarahf: Hahaha yeah
natesilver: But it will require a lot of follow through.
perry: I think Trump is aware that declaring a national emergency is a “loss.” He doesn’t want a “loss.” I don’t know how he gets a win. I actually think, this proposal, if it was passed, would very much irritate the right.
I will be curious how the right receives this idea.
natesilver: Coulter attacked it … although… you could almost say that’s helpful for Trump.
perry: Good point.
It makes it seem like more of a compromise if the right hates it.
natesilver: Now, if he loses the votes from several conservative Republicans in the Senate, then he’s screwed.
Or if he himself has second thoughts because Sean Hannity calls him tonight, he could screw himself.
perry: That’s an interesting question: Can Sen. Ted Cruz vote for this?
Can it actually pass the Senate?
micah: That is interesting!
perry: Because I assume part of the play here is for Republicans in the Senate to be seen doing something about the shutdown.
Would Sens. Susan Collins and Cory Gardner support this from the left-wing of the GOP? I think yes. But would Cruz, and some of the more hard-core immigration members on the more conservative wing of the party?
I assume yes, but I’m not sure.
micah: Wouldn’t you assume he cleared this with the Cruz’s of the world before unveiling it?
perry: I would not at all assume that.
That was a soft-ball.
perry: McConnell maybe.
sarahf: Yeah, I’m not picturing mass Republican defections here in the Senate … I guess just because McConnell seems to have been so heavily involved in negotiating this.
natesilver: Right, yeah
perry: Do we think any Democrats vote for it?
Doug Jones? Joe Manchin?
I assume no, right?
natesilver: Manchin maybe.
He voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, so it’s not exactly like he’s worried about stoking the ire of the Democratic base.
sarahf: But it does make you wonder why Trump ever listened to Mark Meadows and the Freedom Caucus in the first place getting into this mess.
Wouldn’t have $1.7 billion or whatever it was and no extension for DACA, TPS, etc. have been more popular for them?
I guess none of it went to the wall. So maybe not. No way to appease anyone!
natesilver: Right, the $1.7 billion didn’t specifically include border wall funding though.
perry: Another question: I think I’m a believer in the distraction theory, so would Trump have scheduled this speech if he knew Buzzfeed’s Michael Cohen story would be so heavily criticized?
micah: He sorta stepped on a pretty good news cycle for him.
natesilver: Hmm. But the fact that he had a good news cycle probably means that today will be portrayed more favorably by the press.
So that gave him more incentive to do it.
perry: So you think the media, cowed by the coverage of the Cohen story, will cover this announcement more favorably than otherwise?
natesilver: The headlines we’re seeing are not “Embattled Trump desperately proposes already-rejected compromise in meandering speech,” but rather “Trump proposes new compromise and Pelosi rejects.”
micah: And you think the former is more accurate than the latter?
natesilver: I think “Trump again proposes already-rejected compromise in competent speech; Pelosi reiterates that she won’t agree” is roughly correct.
micah: The other thing maybe worth keeping in mind: The politics of the shutdown right now are really bad for Trump. Trump is unpopular, and the wall is even more unpopular. This is from our friends at The Upshot:
I guess what I’m saying is that it wouldn’t be too surprising if the politics of this improved for Trump after his speech, given where they are now. There’s plenty of room to improve.
Anyway … final thoughts?
perry: We know that presidential addresses generally don’t work. But Trump is making those political scientists look really smart.
sarahf: I think the fact that Trump didn’t consult Democratic leadership is a big ding against this proposal. But the fact that Trump did put forward some kind of compromise is something. It has the potential to change the politics around the shutdown.
It’ll be interesting to see what congressional Republicans actually put forward and what Democrats choose to counter with.
natesilver: I thought it was a bit weird at the end when Trump said this was just the start of negotiations on a much bigger immigration solution.
If this is just small potatoes stuff, Pelosi might ask, why do we need to keep the government shut down, when we’re going to have a much bigger discussion about immigration anyway?
That’s ultimately the question that Trump doesn’t really have a good answer for. Why do we need to keep the government shut down to have this negotiation?
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Pelosi will need to be clear about that in their own messaging.
At the same … I wonder if they also want to float, maybe on background because it does sort of contradict the message of “no negotiations at all while there’s a shutdown,” some notion of what a real compromise would look like. e.g. the full DREAM Act.
Or my idea: Offer HR1, the Democrats’ election reform/voting rights bill, in exchange for the border wall.
perry: The one reason I have a hard time seeing any deal being cut: “the wall is a monument to racism” is a real view on the left and has real influence. That makes it much harder Democrats to sign off on any money for the wall.
natesilver: Also, Republicans would presumably never agree to HR 1. But it moves the Overton Window (sorry if that’s become an overused concept now) and frames the idea that Republicans are nowhere near offering a fair compromise.
If the wall is so important to Trump — and he’s often talked about it as his signature priority — a fair offer now that we have bipartisan control of government would be to give Democrats what’s literally their No. 1 priority (given that they named the bill HR1) as well.
(That’s Pelosi’s hypothetical argument, not me necessarily endorsing the deal as fair to Republicans.)
micah: Yeah, that kind of deal seems a looooooong ways off.
Despite losing a Senate election last November, Republican Martha McSally still became a U.S. senator. She was appointed to fill the seat held by the late Sen. John McCain,1 but to hold on to the seat, she will have to win a special election in 2020. Assuming she runs and wins her party’s nomination, McSally would be the 12th major-party candidate since 1984 to contest a Senate general election just two years after losing one.2 It’s a small sample, but the bad news for McSally is that although almost all of those second-chance candidates improved upon their previous performance, only four of them won on the second try.
Senate candidates looking for a second chance rarely win
Change in Senate vote margin for candidates who lost a Senate general election and then ran again two years later, since 1984
To be clear, we shouldn’t project too much about McSally’s chances from this data set, since this is a small sample — 12 elections across almost 35 years — and several of these candidates ran under unusual circumstances. For instance, Slade Gorton was a sitting senator running for a second term in 1986 when he lost his re-election bid; two years later, he came back and won the race for the other Senate seat in his state. Then there’s the very peculiar case of Scott Brown, who lost his 2012 re-election bid to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and then ran in a different state two years later. He did a bit better the second time but still came up 3 points short.3 And Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell was something of a fringe candidate running at the height of the tea party movement. Although she did better in 2010 than in 2008, she still lost by almost 17 points the second time around, and she may have cost Republicans a pickup opportunity in a GOP wave year.
And even though most of these repeat candidates never made it to the Senate, for a few of them, the initial defeat was not a kiss of death, especially if the race was relatively close the first time they ran. The three who lost by the narrowest margins the first time around — Gorton, John Ensign and John Thune — all went on to win two years later. This might augur well for McSally, who lost by a little over 2 points in 2018.
But there is some evidence that changes in the electoral environment and the type of opponent a candidate faced can spur a successful turnaround — or at least this appears to be true in three of the four cases where the repeat candidate won on the second attempt.
Ohio’s Mike DeWine, for example, first ran unsuccessfully in 1992 against three-term Democratic Sen. John Glenn, who had always won more than 60 percent of the vote in past elections but garnered only 51 percent against DeWine. However, when DeWine ran again two years later, he easily won an open seat as part of the 1994 Republican wave. As for John Ensign of Nevada, he lost by just 428 votes to Democratic Sen. Harry Reid in 1998, which was an unusually good midterm for Democrats, who held the White House and so would be expected to lose seats in Congress under most circumstances. But two years later, Ensign had no trouble winning an open-seat race in 2000 while George W. Bush carried Nevada for the GOP at the presidential level. Like Ensign, John Thune of South Dakota lost by fewer than 600 votes in 2002 to incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. But Thune then defeated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle by 1 point in 2004 while Bush carried South Dakota by 21 points. As for Slade Gorton of Washington, he successfully mounted a Senate comeback attempt after losing as an incumbent in 1986. He narrowly won by 2 points during a presidential cycle in which Democrat Michael Dukakis carried Washington state by less than 2 points.
As for McSally, she’ll hope to benefit from Arizona’s Republican lean and a lift from the presidential coattails, but considering President Trump only won the state by 3.5 points in 2016, McSally may not be able to count on a baseline GOP edge in 2020.
What’s more, of the repeat candidates we looked at, only McSally was appointed to a Senate seat following a defeat. So she’ll be running as an incumbent of sorts in 2020, but that’s not necessarily to her advantage. Appointed incumbents have a mediocre re-election record compared to their elected counterparts: Prior to the 2018 election, 53 percent of appointed senators who ran for another term had won re-election, compared to 78 percent of elected senators.
McSally’s appointment may not promise much for her future electoral success, but appointments are an important method of getting women into the GOP caucus — and the Senate in general.
One-fifth of women in the Senate started as appointees
Female senators in the 116th Congress by party and the share who were appointed to their first term
In the 116th Senate, 11 out of 100 members first joined the Senate as appointees, although many of them were appointed years ago and are now serving elected terms. Five of those 11 — three Republicans and two Democrats — are women. Although both parties have about equal numbers of women in the current Senate who were initially appointed, those appointees account for 38 percent of all GOP women in the Senate compared to just 12 percent of Democratic women. This reflects the makeup of the two parties — women are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans — but also how each party’s electorate responds to women on the ballot.
“McSally was appointed in a political moment when we aren’t seeing Republican women running in large numbers,” Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, told me. “Even when they do run, Republican women are struggling to get through GOP primaries.”
According to the center, in the 2018 cycle, 48 percent of women who ran for Senate as Democrats won their party’s nomination, while 36 percent of GOP women candidates won.4 In the House, 51 percent of Democratic women and 43 percent of Republican women won party nominations. In Senate races, about 40 percent more women sought office as Democrats than as Republicans, and in House contests, about three times more Democratic women than Republican women entered the race. The gap between Republican and Democratic women — where fewer women seek a GOP nomination, as the chart below shows, and those who do are less likely to win it — contributes to a growing partisan gap in female representation in Congress.
So appointments like McSally’s are an important part of increasing the number of women in the Senate as a whole, but especially the number of Republican women. Overall, 20 percent of women and 8 percent of men in the current Senate were appointed to their first terms, but close to half of all GOP women senators started out as appointees. Historically, appointments have provided the initial entrance for nearly one-third of women senators dating back to the first woman senator, Rebecca Felton of Georgia, who was appointed in 1922. The Democratic Party has sent more women to Congress in recent years, but Republicans are sending fewer women to Congress this year, even though McSally’s appointment helped bring the total number of women serving in the Senate to a record high of 25.
Five of the eight Republican women in the Senate are up for re-election in 2020,5 so McSally’s re-election success — or failure — will be play a major role in determining not only the overall success rate of repeat Senate candidates but also the relative diversity of the GOP caucus.
We’re facing the third government shutdown in less than a year this Friday thanks, in part, to a fight over immigration policy. President Trump wants $5 billion for a border wall — an amount that is unlikely to make it through the Senate. Back in January, a disagreement over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program caused a partial government shutdown.1 So it’s worth taking a step back and asking: Why is immigration such a stumbling block?
But over the past couple of decades — as the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. rose steeply and then began to decline — immigration policy has come to symbolize the two parties’ broader values and electoral coalitions. The battle over immigration policy is about way more than just immigration, in other words, in the same way that the tensions between the two parties on health policy reflect deeper fault lines. The politics of immigration today are notably more divided and partisan than they were 10 or 20 years ago, and there are a few reasons why.
First, there are the party coalitions. Compared to the mid-2000s, the Democratic Party of today includes fewer non-Hispanic white voters: 67 percent people who are or lean toward being Democrats were non-Hispanic whites in 2007, but that number had dropped to 59 percent in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. Forty percent of self-identified Democrats are now nonwhite. Republicans too have grown more racially diverse, but only barely, and they are still overwhelmingly white: 88 percent in 2007, compared to 83 percent in 2017. About 12 percent of Democrats are Hispanic, roughly double the percentage of Republicans who are of Hispanic descent.
So the Democrats have a huge bloc of people in their party who have racial, ethnic and cultural ties to America’s most recent immigrants, who are largely Asian- and Latino-American. And while “minorities” and “people of color” are fraught terms that often ignore differences both between and within racial and ethnic groups, the Democrats are essentially now the home party for Americans who might feel that U.S. society treats them as “other.”
Secondly, while both parties have undergone ideological shifts, Democrats have shifted more dramatically. Pollsters ask a variety of questions to measure public opinion on immigration, but they all show the same thing: Democrats have become far more pro-immigration in recent years.
According to Pew, in 2006, 37 percent of Democrats3 said that legal immigration to the U.S. should be decreased, compared to 20 percent who said it should increase.4 Pew found a huge reversal in those numbers earlier this year: 40 percent of Democrats back higher immigration levels, compared to 16 percent who want them lowered. According to Gallup, 85 percent of Democrats now feel immigration is a “good thing” for America, compared to 69 percent who said the same in 2006. Republicans haven’t actually become more anti-immigration, according to Pew and Gallup. But, per Pew, there are more Republicans5 who want immigration decreased (33 percent) than who want it increased (22 percent).
As a result, the gap between the parties on questions about immigration has become a chasm:
And immigration is indicative of a broader shift: Democratic voters have grown more liberal on issues of race, gender and identity generally. That includes white Democrats.
The voters are not alone. Elites in each party have moved toward the ideological poles on immigration policy. Liberal-leaning activists and Democratic politicians argue that policies like the wall aren’t just bad or ineffective, they are immoral and racist. Trump and other conservatives have suggested that more immigration could both hurt the U.S. economy and lead to more crime.
Let me avoid making this a both-sides story: For the most part, Democrats are more aligned with overall public opinion on immigration. The majority of voters want undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children to be protected from deportation, and Democrats’ demand for that provision that led to last winter’s shutdown. Likewise, most voters don’t support a border wall, but Trump is driving toward a shutdown in pursuit of a wall, an idea that many congressional Republicans are fairly lukewarm about.
That said, America did elect a president (in 2016) and a Senate majority (in 2016 and 2018) who belong to the party that is generally less supportive of immigration, so either there is some appetite for a middle ground or immigration is not a deal-breaker issue for many Americans. Either way, it would be logical for the two sides to find a compromise. But the shifts the parties have undergone in the last 10 or so years make such a compromise hard to execute. Democratic leaders can’t easily sign on to any funding for a wall that their base thinks is a physical monument to racism, particularly since the top Democratic leaders are white but much of the party base is not. Trump can’t easily give up on the wall, since he basically campaigned on the idea that America needs a wall to remain a great nation.
So we’re already at two shutdowns involving immigration policy in the Trump era — and I would not rule out a few more.
If at first you lose a Senate race … hope for an appointment! Despite a narrow defeat in Arizona’s 2018 U.S. Senate race, Republican Rep. Martha McSally will still be headed to Congress’s upper chamber next year. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced on Tuesday that he is appointing McSally to fill the state’s other Senate seat, formerly held by the late Sen. John McCain and currently held by Jon Kyl, who Ducey initially appointed to the seat; Kyl announced last week that he will resign on Dec. 31.
So what might we expect from Sen. McSally? Well, perhaps she won’t be too different from McCain. According to data from Voteview, a system that measures the political ideology of all senators and representatives based on their voting records, both McCain and McSally were more moderate than most other Republicans in the 115th Congress.1 In fact, less than a third of congressional Republicans were more moderate than McSally (29 percent) and McCain (30 percent). Both were squarely in the left wing of their party. However, despite having a relatively more moderate ideology score, McSally voted in line with President Trump in most cases, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Trump Score.
During her two terms in the House, McSally represented the Arizona 2nd, a R+1 battleground district that Democrats won in November. That purple electorate probably influenced her moderate approach. If we just look at McSally’s first term, she had an even less conservative voting record, so she has shifted a bit further to the right during her tenure, perhaps in anticipation of her Senate bid and the fact that she needed to beat staunch conservative challengers like Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio to win the Republican nomination. Still, Arizona looks likely to be a politically competitive state going forward, so if McSally mimics McCain’s record as a “maverick”, a less-than-hardline voting record might work out for her, electorally-speaking. He did win six Senate elections from 1986 to 2016, all by margins greater than 10 percentage points.
Then again, members of Congress sometimes shift ideologically when they move from the House to the Senate. Take Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, for example. She went from being one of the most moderate Democrats in the House to one of the most liberal Democrats in the Senate. That shift can be partly explained by the leftward shift of the Democratic Party overall, as well as Gillibrand’s potential presidential ambitions. But it’s also reflective of her switch from representing a competitive Upstate New York district to serving a very liberal state. McSally might find herself subject to a similar pull, just in the opposite direction, moving from an R+1 district to an R+9 state. Electoral concerns certainly won’t be far from her mind. Provided McSally stays in the position, she faces a re-election bid in a 2020 special election, and if she wins that, she would then have to run in the seat’s regularly-scheduled election in 2022. McSally’s next primary could also be a real challenge given the dissatisfaction among some Arizona Republicans over how she handled her 2018 Senate campaign and subsequent defeat against Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
McSally’s record in the next Congress will be an important factor in that primary, as it could encourage or discourage a significant challenger.
California is huge — it has 39.5 million residents, making it the largest state in the U.S. by population. As a result, it has by far the most House members — 53 in total. Texas, by comparison, is the second-most-populous state and only has 36 representatives. So it’s not necessarily surprising that California is sending more Democrats to Congress than is any other state — 46 Democratic representatives in the new Congress will be from California. Still, since the end of World War II, the House’s majority party has never had this large a share of its membership come from a single state.
The state that had the most members in a party’s caucus in a given year has always, of course, been one of the more populous states, like New York, Pennsylvania or Texas. But those large states hold a bigger share of the caucus when they’re dominated by a single party, like California is now. For instance, in the 1946 election, Texas elected Democrats to all 21 of its House seats, which amounted to 11 percent of all House Democrats; the party was in the minority that year after a GOP wave. And New York, which had the most representatives before California took over, sometimes had more seats than any other state in both parties’ caucuses, as it did in 1948 and 1960. Back when California was less of a single-party state, it occasionally pulled off the same feat, including as recently as 2006, when it led the Democratic caucus and tied Texas for the lead in the GOP caucus.
Nearly 20 percent of the incoming Democratic caucus will hail from California, and using data primarily from Gary Jacobson’s data set on House elections from 1946 to 2014, I found that no state has ever been responsible for a larger percentage of the majority party’s House caucus during the post-World War II period.14
That said, California’s share of the Democratic caucus has been even larger than it is now — 20.7 percent after 2014 and 20.1 percent after 2016. The catch is that Republicans won the majority in both of those elections, which meant that even though California represented a significant share of the Democratic caucus, the state’s representatives had relatively little power.
In the Republican delegation, Texas has held the most seats since 2004 (counting 2006, when it tied with California at 9.4 percent) — and it leads the party’s caucus again this year with 11.5 percent of the GOP’s House seats.
From 1970 to 2002, California also had — or tied for — the largest share of the GOP caucus. As recently as 1992, California had a larger share of the Republican caucus than the Democratic one, even though Democrats held more seats in the state. But the GOP’s position in California has weakened since the early 1990s, a trend often blamed on Proposition 187, which in 1994 sought to, among other things, eliminate public services to illegal immigrants and require state employees to report illegal immigrants to federal authorities. The theory is that this ballot measure turned California’s sizable Hispanic population away from the Republican Party, which campaigned in support of the proposition, and drove those voters into the arms of the Democratic Party. Now the California GOP seems almost like an endangered species, a development punctuated by the complete wipeout of Republican members from Orange County — a traditional home of California conservatism — in the midterm election.
Given the size of California’s congressional delegation, it will be interesting to see what issues California Democrats pursue — especially as relates to President Trump. Several members of the state’s delegation are in line to take over key leadership positions in the House, which would give them more power to take on the president, if they choose. For example, Rep. Adam Schiff, the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, will get to determine whether and how the House is involved in investigations related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he just raised eyebrows by saying that the president could face jail time. Rep. Maxine Waters will head the Financial Services Committee, where she wants to investigate the Trump Organization’s financing. Many commentators have also suggested that Waters could pursue the president’s still-unreleased tax returns. Additionally, one lower-profile Californian slated to be a committee head — Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who is in line to lead the House Administration Committee — may be thrust into the national spotlight. Uncertainty surrounding the outcome in North Carolina’s 9th District could lead to a congressional investigation, which Lofgren’s committee would spearhead. Rep. Mark Takano is seeking to chair the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and if he succeeds, he’d be the fourth potential Democratic committee chair from the state (that we know of).
For Pelosi, the sizable California delegation could boost her bid to become House speaker again — after all, she faces dissent within the Democratic ranks from a faction looking to spoil her efforts to remain head of the party. Matthew Green, a political science professor at Catholic University, told me that in leadership elections, “lawmakers are more likely to vote for candidates who are elected from their state.” So we might expect most California Democrats to back Pelosi. Still, there is a fairly wide ideological range among the returning California Democrats, and most of the incoming freshmen won seats in battleground races. In fact, one freshman, Gil Cisneros, signed a letter opposing Pelosi’s candidacy for House speaker. So if some new members from previously Republican districts break against Pelosi in her bid for speaker, that would eat into her base of home-state support. However, at this stage, only Cisneros has openly demonstrated opposition and most other California representatives have expressedsupport.
California Democrats could be too politically diverse to agree on many legislative priorities, but the group may be able to generate momentum on a few specificissues. “You might see a little more action on climate change and immigration that specifically have to do with where California has really pushed back against the Trump administration,” said Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. Given the federal-state conflict that has defined the relationship between the president and California in recent years, it would make sense that California Democrats would push hard on environmental issues, even if a Republican Senate and president mean that those initiatives have little chance of becoming law.
George H.W. Bush, whose death at 94 was announced on Friday by his family, was a hugely influential figure in the Republican Party: chairman of the Republican National Committee, vice president, president and father of another GOP president. But the GOP has changed dramatically since it nominated Bush for the presidency in 1988 — a fact reflected in the ex-president’s strained relationship with the GOP’s new standard-bearer, President Trump.
So, I think Bush’s death is another moment to highlight what my colleague Clare Malone described in the summer of 2016 as “The End Of A Republican Party.” Let’s run through some of the big shifts that have occurred within the GOP:
The GOP was once a more moderate party
Ideology is complicated to measure. By some standards, the Republican Party has moved to the left. In a poll conducted last year, 42 percent of Republicans backed same-sex unions; it’s safe to assume that number was far lower during George H.W. Bush’s presidency. In 1992, one of South Carolina’s senators was Republican Strom Thurmond, who ran a 1948 presidential campaign featuring his opposition to civil rights for blacks. Today, one of South Carolina’s senators is Republican Tim Scott, who is African-American.
But by most other measures, the GOP is far more conservative than it used to be. The General Social Survey, for example, shows self-identified Republicans moving far more toward the “extremely conservative” end of its scale (as opposed to “extremely liberal”) over the past several decades.1
In Bush’s era, Fox News did not exist. Deeply conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch and their allies had not created a huge network of right-wing groups that constitute basically an alternative political party. There was no tea party or House Freedom Caucus. Trump may be personally more conservative than Bush, but even if he weren’t, the forces that push a Republican president to the ideological right are stronger now than they were in the 1980s.
Bush himself famously signed a tax increase to help reduce the federal budget deficit, a move that angered the party’s conservative base. His two GOP successors (George W. Bush and Trump) never even really considered tax hikes, aware of the power of the party’s conservative coalition.
The GOP used to be more in line with the nation demographically
Trump’s rallies include lots of older white people, as the stereotype goes. But that is the Republican Party of today. The country has become older, more diverse and more educated. The GOP, meanwhile, has grown even more disproportionately old. And while its voters grew more diverse along with the country through the 1980s (though at a bit of a lag), that shift stalled in the party in the 1990s. Same with education: The share of non-Hispanic white voters without a college degree fell throughout the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s — in the electorate overall and the GOP. But beginning in the 1990s, it stopped falling among Republicans.
In 1992, according to the Pew Research Center, about 38 percent of registered voters who identified as Republicans were 50 years or older. By 2016, that number had grown to 58 percent. In 1992, 61 percent of Republicans were under 50, compared with 41 percent today.3
Republicans were once competitive on the coasts but weak in the South
The ideological and demographic shifts described above have corresponded with big changes in the GOP’s geographic coalition. In 1988, Bush won California — the sixth straight election in which the Republican presidential candidate carried the Golden State. Bush also won Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey and Vermont. The Republican caucus in the U.S. Senate from that era included two members from New Hampshire, two from Oregon and one from both Delaware and New York. There were zero Senate Republicans from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee.
All but one of the 16 Senate seats I just described are now held by the opposite party that controlled them in 1992, as the GOP gained ground in the South but lost power on the coasts. Trump, reflecting the growing weakness of Republicans in California, lost there in 2016 by 30 percentage points. Bush lost West Virginia in 1988 by 5 percentage points. Trump’s 42-point win in West Virginia in 2016 was his second-biggest margin in any state.4
Let me not overstate the changes in the Grand Old Party. It still loves to cut taxes, like it did in the George H.W. Bush era. It’s still overwhelmingly white. The majority of its voters are still whites without college degrees. White evangelical Protestants are still about a third of the party. It still deploys negative racial stereotypes about non-white Americans to appeal to white voters. (Remember the Willie Horton ad of the 1988 Bush campaign?)
But the changes highlighted here have dramatically altered the power dynamics in Washington. Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush always had to share power with Democrats, who controlled the House from 1949 to 1994.5 But since the GOP won the House in 1994, the party has held the chamber for all but four years.6 (They won’t be in control in 2019, of course.)
When George H.W. Bush won 53 percent of the national popular vote in 1988, it was not that remarkable. Richard Nixon had won more than 60 percent in 1972, and Ronald Reagan breached 50 percent in both 1980 and 1984. But 1988 was a watershed moment for the Republican Party — it was about to start a measurable decline in terms of its national standing. In the seven presidential elections since then (including Bush’s 1992 defeat), Republicans have won more votes nationally than Democrats just once (2004).
The tensions between Trump and the Bush family, and between Trump and McCain, speak to this broader narrative. Trump is a different kind of Republican — and he is changing the party in his image in ways they don’t like. But he is also the product of a different Republican Party than the one that the Bushes and McCain ascended in. Trump got the GOP nomination in some ways by embracing what the Republican Party had become, not what the Bushes wished it were.
CORRECTION (Dec. 1, 2018, 1:30 p.m.): An earlier version of this article said President Trump’s largest margin of victory in any state in the 2016 election was in West Virginia. It was in Wyoming.