Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Is the GOP's tide rising just in time for 2016?


After eight years of President Obama, with Republicans constantly being told they have to change this and change that lest they go the way of the Whigs, it probably comes as a surprise to learn the GOP is as strong as it's been in almost 90 years.

And yet, according to Sean Trende , elections analyst extraordinaire at Real Clear Politics, that's exactly where things stand after the 2014 elections.

 

The above chart shows the GOP's standing over the years according to an index Trende developed with his colleague, David Byler. A positive number indicates relative Republican strength, a negative number relative Democratic strength. Read their article for all the nitty-gritty, but the short explanation is that their index takes account of the party's performance in five types of elections: those for president, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, governor, and state legislatures. And while the GOP has struck out in the last two presidential elections, Republicans have made great -- even historical -- strides in the other four categories:

"It goes without saying that Republicans improved upon their showing in the 2014 elections.  Their 54 Senate seats represent the second-best tally for the party since 1928.  Their 247 House seats is the most the party has won since 1928, although when combined with the popular vote percentage, it drops to the second-highest since then (in 1946, the party did slightly better).

"At the state level, the GOP's share of governorships is the ninth-highest since Reconstruction, and the third-highest in the post-war era (1996 and 1998 were higher). The party's showing in state legislatures is the highest since 1920, the ninth-highest ever, and the third-highest since the end of Reconstruction."

So, Republicans not named John McCain or Mitt Romney are winning elections, and lots of them. While performance in past elections doesn't necessarily predict future success, as the GOP's standing in 1928 and precipitous slide afterward shows, this index does suggest a better candidate at the top of the Republican ticket could very well capitalize on the party's recent successes in gubernatorial and legislative races.

One thing the above chart illustrates quite clearly is the proverbial pendulum swing: The direction of that black line tends to change each time the background color (reflecting control of the White House) changes from red to blue or vice-versa. Momentum changes quickly. That's a major reason why, since Truman left office, there has been only one run of three straight presidential wins: the GOP's streak of 1980, 1984 and 1988. History, at least, does not bode well for Democrats' ability to win next year.

Ah, but what about the Democrats' famed "blue wall" of electoral votes? Isn't the eventual Republican nominee, whoever that might be, starting at an extreme disadvantage, practically doomed to failure?

Not really, according to a separate analysis by another respected political watcher: Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com.

Silver notes there effectively was a "red wall" leading up to the 1992 elections: 21 states with 191 electoral votes that had gone Republican in at least six straight elections. This list included such hard-right states as California, Illinois, New Jersey and -- wait for it -- Vermont. But a funny thing happened on the way to George H.W. Bush's re-election:

"In 1992, Bill Clinton won nine Republican 'lock' states, containing 118 of the red wall's 191 electoral votes, en route to a 370-168 overall Electoral College victory. Four of the GOP 'lock' states -- California, Illinois, New Jersey and Vermont -- haven't voted Republican since. Democrats obliterated the red wall."

Silver argues that the "blue wall" really just amounts to "a pretty good run in presidential elections lately .... if you conveniently draw the line at 1992 (it doesn't sound so impressive to instead say Democrats have won five of the 12 elections since 1968)."

In fact, Silver goes on to point out, Mitt Romney easily could have won the same number of electoral votes in 2012 as Obama did, had he won the same share of the popular vote as Obama did:

So it is not the case that Democrats have an indomitable advantage in the Electoral College, any more than the GOP did in 1992. They've just performed well in recent elections, and that's a streak that, as history shows us, can change on a dime.

Now, if Republicans can just figure out who is the person to turn around their fortunes ...


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.