More disagreement on who controls the levers of government in 2017

. . . from Nate Cohn:

A lot of people look at these numbers and see some sort of anti-incumbent curse, especially since the challenger technically won the 2000 election. What I see is a bunch of close elections: 2000, 1976, 1968, and 1960 are the four closest elections of the last century. 1948 was a pretty close election too—Dewey beats Truman close. I think all five of these elections could have gone the other way. The two elections that weren’t close seem like relatively predictable blowouts. The less predictable blowout was probably 1988, the one where the incumbent party did pretty well.

So I think the most reasonable thing to expect is a pretty close race in 2016. No one will have the advantage of incumbency, and therefore you get a pretty level playing field—save particularly favorable or unfavorable economic conditions. Even if you’d give the challenging party an edge, it should only be a slight one—slight enough to be overwhelmed by a Clinton candidacy or a demographic trump-card, which might wind up giving the Democrats a slight edge heading into 2016. But since the economy is still the biggest variable, it’s tough to give either side much better than a 50 percent chance, unless you’re much better at predicting future economic growth than, say, economists.

Read the whole thing.

One last thought, however, before I have to do some other work.  Let’s think about the possible states of the world:


Basically, I think there are only three scenarios with any real probability for 2016:

Scenario 1: Republicans take the Senate and the White House and keep the House of Representatives

Scenario 2: Republicans take the White House, keep the House of Representatives, but don’t take the Senate

Scenario 3: Democrats keep the White House and the Senate, but don’t get the House of Representatives.

(There’s an outside chance that they also take the House, I suppose, but I don’t see how; this seems to happen in reaction to a previous, much-disliked incumbent.  Since Obama is the incumbent, I view this as very low-probability.  The probability of anything other outcome is even more negligible–not exactly zero, but very close. I don’t, for example, see any circumstances in which Democrats get the White House, but lose the Senate).

In Scenario 1, filibuster reform hurts Democrats; in Scenario 2 it doesn’t matter; and in Scenario 3, it helps them a bit.

But there’s some asymmetry.  The damage that can be done in Scenario 1 (GOP uses this as an excuse to get rid of filibuster entirely, rams through a bunch of changes to core Democratic programs); is larger than the benefit you get from making a few presidential nominees.

And as I say, I view Scenario 1 as much more likely than Scenario 3.  All of which makes what Reid is doing very risky, with very limited upside.  Even if I’ve gotten the percentages wrong, as I may well have, you have to think that it’s very unlikely that the GOP gets the White House before Reid’s move begins to make sense.  On the other hand, it’s obvious that many Democrats do think that’s very unlikely, and fair enough.

31 thoughts on “More disagreement on who controls the levers of government in 2017

  1. I await the day when an all GOP government pushes through a law that taxes abortion providers at $1000 per abortion, and the lack of filibuster allows them to push it through on a 51-49 party line vote in the Senate.

    Goose/gander and all that…

  2. I wouldn’t totally rule out the Democrats taking the House in 2016-2017. The GDP did all it could to gerrymander congressional seats after the wins in 2000 and 2002 following the 2000 Census, but then they got wiped out in 2006. Three years is a good amount of time for stuff to change in this country, including both demographics and attitudes (just look at gay marriage).

    • If you can arrange for a Republican president to suffer two disastrous clusterfucks in Iraq and hurricane relief, I agree. Short of that, I’m pretty skeptical.

    • They don’t have to be actual clusterfucks, they just have to be visible problems that the media can blame Republicans for. Remember the cannibalism at the Superdome? Katrina was primarily a local failure, with the police force self-disbanding like something out of the Third World and both the mayor and governor failing to enact their emergency plans — except for the part where ACOE misconstructed the levees decades ago.

      Anyways, Grover Cleveland enjoyed 38 landfalling hurricanes, if you can believe it. Just imagine the howling for blood from the global warming crowd if that happened today! I think a Republican would be lucky to survive his term.

  3. One additional factor that I think could change the odds for Scenario 3 and other scenarios in which the Dems retain the WH: provided she runs, Hillary isn’t going to run for Obama’s “3rd term.” She’s going to run as if he (and Bill, for that matter) was her opening act. Dovetailed with the First Woman President/victory of first- and second-wave feminism aspect, the narrative will be that it’s all been building toward her. I can see this enabling her to build a voter coalition bigger than Obama had in 2008.

    Perhaps the GOP should just let Newt finally have his crack at bat in 2016. Baby Boomer Götterdämmerung!

  4. People thinking Hillary is a shoe-in are really underestimating the effect of her age. Not the raw number, but the fact that she is a different, older generation than the current President. The US has never reached back to a past generation for a president in our history.

    • The age gap between Carter and Reagan is within a few months of the age gap between Hillary and Obama. Generation-wise, they’re both boomers.

    • JMN
      I think that’s true, but misleading. Hillary was born in 1947, and Obama in 1961. While they’re both technically boomers, I think Obama is basically Gen X in his outlook and actions, especially since he was too young to be really cognizant of the counter-culture of the 60s.

  5. ” you have to think that it’s very unlikely that the GOP gets the White House before Reid’s move begins to make sense. ”

    You’re leaving out the possibility or consideration that Reid and the Democrats think the Republicans are going to get rid of the filibuster if they regain the Senate again. If they think there is a good chance of that, and there is a good case to be made that there is, then eliminating the filibuster now the only way to take advantage of that inevitability.

  6. Megan,

    I think you’re wrong about the most probable outcomes in 2017 (demographics will play a much larger role than what’s happened in the past), but that’s irrelevant to my comment.

    As someone you’d no doubt classify as “liberal,” I’m in favor of ending the SILENT filibuster regardless of what happens in 2016. If you want to upend majoritarian rule in this country, you should have to stand up and explain why until you convince enough people of your rightness or you decide to quit (Mr. Smith goes to Washington and all that). And that’s my opinion even if my party is in the majority.

    I don’t believe for a second we should end the filibuster entirely. But the silent filibuster? Yep, end it now.

    • There’s a reason they use silent filibusters, which is that talking filibusters are actually worse for the majority party, which has to keep enough people in the room at all times to maintain a quorum. The minority, meanwhile, only needs to keep a couple people there plus the one that’s talking. If the majority folks leave, the minority can simply note the absence of a quorum and go home. The Democrats could totally have talking filibusters if they wanted. But they’d like to leave the chamber every once in a while.

    • That’s not quite right, but I do understand the rationale behind the silent filibuster (I’ve briefed this issue). The filibuster is a product of the unanimous consent rule. The reason we have the silent filibuster is (ironically) to avoid legislative congestion. I’m not sure how much you actually know about the filibuster, but the silent filibuster allows the senate to dual-track bills (so that a filibuster doesn’t cause the entire chamber to stop working). While the talking filibuster would halt business in the chamber, the minority party would probably not abuse it as much as the silent filibuster given that much more is required of them.

    • Given how little is happening in the Senate, it’s not like the minority party has an incentive to clear the floor so they can get back to serious legislating.

    • Many of the American People are trying like hell to stop the Senate from doing anything.

      The filibuster is anti-democratic for the same reasons as the Bill of Rights.

      But if the Dems end it, I predict this will be a relatively cost-free move for them because the GOP will campaign on the issue, and then be forced to actually reinstate it by the Tea Party faction when they take over.

    • Talking filibusters are more difficult for minority parties for two reasons. First, they’re practically difficult; you have to literally talk for a long time. Second, they result in high-profile media coverage that is sometimes undesired. For instance, most of the GOP filibusters are not politically popular, but since the silent filibuster is more deniable, they don’t pay the political price.

      Another problem with the silent filibuster is that by demanding 60 votes to pass legislation (for all practical purposes) it creates a situation where senators representing less than 20% of the population can block the wishes of the other 80%. I’m all for a minority having power in the upper chamber, but they should have to voice their concerns instead of simply sitting on their hands.

  7. George Purcell – not quite right. William Henry Harrison, “Old Tippecanoe,” born 1773, inaugurated March 4, 1841, died April 4, 1841. Admittedly, not an auspicious precedent.

  8. Of course, if a future Republican Senate does away with the filibuster and rams through a bunch of changes to core Democratic programs, Democrats are equally free to reinstate them when they have the majority, plus add a few more. And likely they would have the majority back fairly soon, because some of those programs are pretty popular.

    The real problem with the filibuster is not just that it makes any major policy change almost impossible; it’s that no one is held accountable for what goes on in Washington except perhaps the President, even when he/she isn’t (aka the Green Lantern theory). There are a lot of incumbents who are incumbents precisely because they can’t put the policies they say they favor into effect. I think in the long term it would be healthier to have parties compete on agendas that the voters believe the parties could enact, even if that leads to instability in policy for a while.

    As Mencken said, democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

  9. I think we will never have a Republican president again for the forseeable future. After listening to a podcast by Bruce Scnhier (ap?) where he postulated that Google could easily throw and election, and the fact that the CEO of Google lent his team to Obama and was at the victory ball, I think we are already where Big Data +MSM + Education System +LIV = Democrats will simply win all the big national races for a long, long time.

    Another obvious factor is that since the IRS and other agencies have been used against the right, without much of a peep from the MSM to really dig and see what’s up with that, and the fact that all new big programs come with “marketing” budgets that go to left-leaning NGO’s to “get the message out” that the Left will go from strength to strength until the bond market says no.

    Hell, if they keep just on culture war alone, maybe they can become fiscally more responsible and keep it going…a positive scenario, I suppose.

    Look at Obamacare and how it was rolled out manipulating the CBO, allowed to be passed in the middle of the night, ruled on by the SC, and Obama gets another pass to delay implementation.

    I know I probably come off like a right wing loon, and the scary thing is that I don’t really think I am at all. I would actually be okay with many Dem programs, but the way they roll them out for their cronies and enable their power base I find to be a grave danger to the republic. Remember you’re supposed to have the consent of the governed…good luck when everyone starts to figure out everything is rigged.

    • I think we will never have a Republican president again for the forseeable future.

      And then — looking at how Bush Jr. stood essentially to the left of Clinton in many aspects — even if we do get a Republican president, would that matter?

  10. Also in case someone says “the MSM did cover the IRS stuff”, my reply is very simple. Those accusations of the politicization of the tax agency, the one that must absolutely be like Caesar’s wife, should be covered by the MSM like Abu Ghraib was covered. Front page for 3-6 months. Remember at that time, the Army already was investigating and had charged people!

    Sorry, but a few days in the headlines for this IRS bias story, followed by being buried, and ignored won’t cut it. Obama played Sgt. Schultz, and then said he was outraged but the FBI isn’t even investigating. No special prosecutor. What a joke. If the GOP ever did this to one little lesbian reading circle, the MSM would have it on front page for a year.

    Since there are so many progressives who need an oppressed/oppressor story to understand anything, saying the IRS doesn’t need to be investigated or no changes need to be made is like saying a police force caught using excessive force on 292 black people, but only thinking about using excessive force on 6 white people is not racist and is fine and dandy. Oh, sure, the mayor never said to beat up black people, so we don’t need any outside investigation, we can just trust their promise to not do it again. Honest.

    p.s. I still want to know the IG report on Austan Goolsbee., but that is being hidden as well. Most transparent my ass.

  11. As a Canadian who thinks the USA is better in most ways, I have to say you guys are f’d on this election bs. I can’t think of anything less important to my financial future than who wins the election in three years. What wasted energy. Like in Canada, there is no “choice”… The parties are so essentially similar.

  12. Why are the Democrats pushing this? Because a large chunk of them simply can not wrap their heads around the idea that THEIR plans can ever come back to harm them. Senate Democrats lose their majority, start using teh filibuster in ways it’s never been used before. Now Republicans are doing it back to them, and they’re OUTRAGED. “How dare the Republicans do exactly the same think we did!?!” So the idea that “Harry Reid changing Senate rules by a simple majority vote” will lead to Republicans do the same thing to them simply does not compute. So they’ll push for nuking the filibuster next week, and if they get their way, in 3 1/2 years they’ll be shocked, shocked! when teh Republicans do the same, and then repeal ObamaCare.

  13. But remember, the GOP still lost the 1988 House elections, badly: 260-175. Dems actually gained a couple seats while Reagan won.

    I think the House is the real cheese — in modern times the House only seem to go over in response to the other side gaining total control and scaring the bejeezus out of the people who disagree with them, such that they coalesce around any issue they can find. HillaryCare did it for Clinton, Iraq did it for Bush, Obamacare for Obama. Those seem to be the genuine realigning elections.

    Presidential and Senate races tend to come down to the personalities involved because there are far fewer of them, and the stakes are higher so the parties tend to take them more seriously which leads to more contested races — and of course you can’t gerrymander a state. So there’s a bigger element of chance there, sort of like the difference between a one-game playoff and a seven-game series.

  14. Again…can someone name any accomplishment by Hillary in her career – getting elected or appointed does not count. Still waiting. Come one lefties – this is your savior and hero. Show me her landmark legislation or her historical peace accords…did she even start any free trade treaties?

  15. Scenario 4 (Republicans take the Senate/ Democrats take the presidency) is possible.

    Let’s say Republicans have an awesome 2014 in the Senate elections, with pick-ups in Arkansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Montana and two more states (Alaska, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina are possibilities.)

    So the party will have a 52-48 majority in 2015. And they could keep their majority if 2016 mostly goes to incumbents, or if they lose two seats and gain one.

    But it would still be possible for the Democratic nominee to win, especially if the Republicans nominate a weak presidential candidate. Mike Pence did much worse in Indiana than Romney did, which does suggest that a candidate who is too far to the right can cost the Republicans a non-trivial percentage of the vote.

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