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National Politics|By Charlie Cook, October 25, 2016

This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on October 21, 2016

Re­pub­lic­ans will now have four years to think about what they did to them­selves this year, plenty of time to con­tem­plate the con­sequences of hand­ing over their party’s car keys to the tea-party move­ment and watch­ing as the quint­es­sen­tial tea parti­er, Don­ald Trump, drove the car over a cliff. If Re­pub­lic­ans are really, really lucky, their cur­rent 54-46 Sen­ate ma­jor­ity will only be cut back to 51-49. Los­ing the Sen­ate is at least an even bet, and some ana­lysts think the GOP’s chances are much worse than that. If the Re­pub­lic­ans are really for­tu­nate, they can keep their House losses down to 15 seats or so, half of their cur­rent mar­gin. Then there are the 12 gubernat­ori­al races, where Re­pub­lic­ans once hoped to pick up three to four seats. Also in play are 5,920 of the na­tion’s 7,383 state le­gis­lat­ive seats, 80.2 per­cent of the total, ac­cord­ing to Bal­lot­pe­dia. State le­gis­lat­ive seats are a party’s fu­ture, their seed corn. Demo­crats can tell you what hav­ing dev­ast­at­ing midterm elec­tions can do, as it happened to them in 2010 and 2014.

On sev­er­al levels, this polit­ic­al car wreck wasn’t sup­posed to hap­pen. Six times since the end of World War II we have had a party that has held the White House for two terms seek a third term. Five times out of six, the Amer­ic­an people in­stead voted for change. Maybe it’s the cu­mu­lat­ive griev­ances with a party that builds up over eight years; maybe it’s be­cause voters think it ill-ad­vised to leave one party in power for too long. For whatever reas­on, that’s the way it usu­ally hap­pens. Ar­gu­ably it should have this year.

It’s also true that when a party nom­in­ates a can­did­ate for pres­id­ent whose un­fa­vor­able rat­ings ex­ceed his or her fa­vor­able rat­ings at the be­gin­ning, middle, and end of the cam­paign, the nom­in­ee shouldn’t win. But Hil­lary Clin­ton is go­ing to win with un­fa­vor­able num­bers that av­er­age 9 or 10 points high­er than her fa­vor­ables. Even so, the ques­tion to be de­cided on Elec­tion Night is how far over 300 elect­or­al votes she will go. Keep­ing in mind that you need 270 to win, will Clin­ton sur­pass Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2012 elect­or­al vote total of 332? Could she even get up to the 365-vote level Obama hit in 2008? How many nor­mally Re­pub­lic­an states will turn blue on Nov. 8? Ar­gu­ably Re­pub­lic­ans could have nom­in­ated a pot­ted plant and do bet­ter than they will in 17 days.

And what about the tea party, the Free­dom Caucus in the House, and oth­er Trum­pet­eers with no polit­ic­al philo­sophy ex­cept re­sent­ment? Will they slink off in­to the night and al­low the rest of the GOP to be­gin re­pair­ing the party of Lin­coln and Re­agan, or will they con­tin­ue to sab­ot­age it for an­oth­er two or four years? Nobody knows at this point.

In 2018, Re­pub­lic­ans the­or­et­ic­ally have a chance to put their party back on track. Midterm elec­tions, with 40 per­cent few­er voters, fea­ture an elect­or­ate that is gen­er­ally older, whiter, more con­ser­vat­ive, and more Re­pub­lic­an. We also know that midterm elec­tions are usu­ally un­kind to the party in the White House. In only three midterm elec­tions in the last cen­tury has the party hold­ing the White House not lost seats: in 1934, Frank­lin Roosevelt’s first midterm elec­tion, when Amer­ic­ans were not fin­ished kick­ing the day­lights out of Her­bert Hoover’s party; in 1998, when voters pun­ished the GOP for try­ing to im­peach Pres­id­ent Clin­ton des­pite a strong eco­nomy; and in 2002, when voters were not about to vote against their com­mand­er in chief in the af­ter­math of 9/11. The GOP should have an edge in the Sen­ate in 2018. The seats to be con­tested be­long to law­makers who won in 2012, when Pres­id­ent Obama was reelec­ted; Demo­crats have 25 seats at risk, to just eight for the GOP.

Then there is the eco­nomy. As was aptly poin­ted out in last Fri­day’s Wall Street Journ­al, the cur­rent, al­beit an­em­ic, eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery began 88 months ago in June 2009, mak­ing it the fourth-longest peri­od of growth since 1854. While eco­nom­ic ex­pan­sions are said not to die of old age, something has to kill them, and I sus­pect they grow frail with age, par­tic­u­larly when they’re as slug­gish as this one and the world eco­nomy is in even worse shape. On top of that, in­terest rates are already at rock bot­tom, the Fed­er­al Re­serve Board has few ar­rows in its quiver, and a dys­func­tion­al polit­ic­al pro­cess in Wash­ing­ton is un­likely to re­spond quickly and boldly with stim­u­lus. No mat­ter who wins, the odds of a re­ces­sion over the next four years are pretty good, something ob­vi­ously bad for the coun­try but giv­ing Re­pub­lic­ans an op­por­tun­ity to bounce back—but only if they right a party ap­par­at­us that is cur­rently list­ing at about 45 de­grees.

When I talk to smart Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers and strategists, they have a very good idea of what their party’s prob­lems are, and they know what needs to be done. But my col­league Amy Wal­ter re­cently re­minded us of a great line by former House Speak­er John Boehner: A lead­er without fol­low­ers is simply a man tak­ing a walk. Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers are faced with a party in which about half of its mem­bers be­lieve that com­prom­ise is a four-let­ter word and hold some pretty exot­ic views of what this coun­try is and where it is headed—views that are very dif­fer­ent from where the coun­try ac­tu­ally is and where it is go­ing.