My assertion that there’s a 70% chance that the GOP controls White House, Senate, and House in 2017 has attracted a lot of pushback. And it’s certainly possible that I’m wrong! Here’s my thinking, for what it’s worth:
Since the Civil War, only two Democratic presidents have been succeeded by another Democrat. Both of them–FDR and JFK–accomplished this by dying in office.
Since World War II, only four presidents have been succeeded by a member of their party. As I mentioned above, two of them accomplished this by dying in office. One of them accomplished this by resigning in disgrace ahead of his own impeachment. Only one of them, Ronald Reagan, left office at the end of his appointed term and was succeeded by a duly elected member of his own party. Mostly, the White House flips back and forth like a metronome.
At the beginning of Obama’s term, people were talking about the kind of Democratic dominance that FDR enjoyed. Didn’t happen. Isn’t going to. So I think the GOP goes into the race with a big edge on the White House. Voters just get tired after eight years.
For example, when I pointed out how few presidents have been succeeded by members of their own party, you may have been tempted to argue that Al Gore “really” won. I’m not going to have that argument right now, but even assuming you’re correct, what does that tell you? That after the greatest economic boom in decades, the Democratic vice president fought hard to a statistical tie with the Republican governor of Texas. Sure, he wasn’t the most charismatic candidate either, but neither was George Bush. Getting a third term in the White House just seems to be really difficult. And Barack Obama is not going to finish with a ground-shaking economic boom.
Add to that the Democratic bench. Hillary Clinton is a formidable politician, but she will be nearly 70 years old in 2016. No one else except Biden (who is older than she) has anything like the national name recognition that multiple people on the GOP bench enjoy. But if one or both of those two decide to run (and I think it’s nearly certain that they will), they’ll probably get the nomination just because they will suck all the oxygen away from the other candidates–both the money and the publicity will follow them. And though they’re both formidable challengers, I think their age is going to hurt them. I think it would have hurt Reagan if he’d been running against more formidable opponents, but Carter was badly damaged, and Walter Mondale was a nice man who made a very good Senate candidate in Minnesota.
Democrats who think they’re a shoo-in seem to be unaccountably banking on the GOP nominating some tongue-tied wingnut who will spend the campaign discussing the scientific evidence that women can’t get pregnant from rape. But as Joe Scarborough argued in 2012, this is wishful thinking . . . in his words, “The GOP doesn’t nominate crazy”. In 2012, out of an incredibly weak field filled with tongue-tied wingnuts, they nominated the moderate with the best public policy chops and solid debating skills. In 2016, they will have a much more attractive bevy of candidates from which to choose someone electable.