Thursday, January 03, 2019

Happy Divided Government New Year!

Trump Pelosi McConnell Divided Government
As noted by a recent twitter acquaintance, January 2nd is Divided Government Eve, and January 3rd is the real date to celebrate the political new year.
And the Dividist is celebrating. After another disastrous short 2 year stint of unified one party rule, today Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats take majority control of the House of Representatives and restore divided government to Washington D.C.

Since the election, the punditocracy has been weighing in on what we can expect from divided government over the next few days, weeks, months, and years. Unsurprisingly, the Dividist has some thoughts on the subject, but we'll leave those for future posts. This Divided Government New Year is a time for celebration and prognostication.

Victory Lap
We hope the reader will indulge us as we look back at some previous predictions, spike the ball in the end-zone and look forward to the next cycle.

With this post we begin 2019 where we finished 2018. On the eve of the election we posted our bi-annual appeal for a more rational approach to understanding and voting for our federal government:
The President of the United States is not the government of the United States. The President of the United States is not even necessarily the leader of the government of the United States. The executive is one of three co-equal branches of government. The actual government of the United States is led by the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader representing their respective democratic institutions in concert with the President of the United States. The personalities, interpersonal relationships, communication skills, ideological motivation, partisan loyalties, personal ambitions, institutional obligations and dynamic interactions between those three leaders determine the domestic policy and international posture that governs the United States... 
This structure is unique. This structure is exactly what the framers intended. This structure is what makes our system exceptional. The point is this - given that this power sharing triad is the essence of our elected government, perhaps we - as voters - should focus less on the singular office of the President and  more on the combination of leaders that will run our government."
 The voters delivered the result we hoped to see:

Republican PresidentRepublican SenateDemocratic House

Your 2019-20 Divided Government
"The pollsters, analysts, and betting markets tell us this is the most likely scenario to emerge from the election. I likes it. Speaker Pelosi goes out on top. Two professional legislative pols will be forced  to compromise and craft compromise legislation that will make the fringe of both parties unhappy. Some semblance of fiscal sanity will be restored... We'll have real oversight of the Executive Branch, with House Impeachment hearings to entertain us.  And with Congress already divided, Americans will have a free hand choosing our next billionaire celebrity President." 
Ask and ye shall receive. As the 116th Congress begins it's session the GOP holds a 53-47 majority in the Senate representing a net gain of 2 seats, and Democrats now have control of the House with a 235-199 majority representing a net gain of 40 seats (with NC-9 still outstanding). Which pretty closely matches the Dividist prognostications:
"Like everyone else, the Dividist is gun shy after badly misreading the 2016 election. No matter. We got this. The dividist quantum gives us solace... History says the conditions are right to flip the House and divide the government. We're sticking with our prediction: Republicans retain the Senate majority picking up a net gain of 1 or 2 seats. Democrats win the House majority with a net gain of ~35 seats. Divided Government is emphatically restored."
That October 2018 prediction repeated the Dividist's January 2018 prediction prior to primaries and most polling which was in turn based on the April 2017 post following the Alabama special election. Which was in turn based on the 2018 election dynamics outlined by the Dividist in a post before the 2016 election. The Dividist is not just patting himself on the back with this retrospective. Wait... Yes he is. But there is another reason.

The Point
Despite all the Sturm and Drang of the 2018 campaign with all the dark money, Political PACs, #RESIST-ers, #MeToo-ers, tweets, Presidential rallies, #MAGA cultists, #NeverTrump-ers, Russians, and run of the mill partisan hackery, this mid-term election result was pretty predictable from the day after the 2016 election. Yes, candidates and money and policy positions and debates and competent operatives and ground game and political smarts are all important in the outcome of any individual election. But nevertheless, you can just look to history and the Senate map years in advance and have a pretty good idea how the House and Senate elections will turn out in toto.

In 2018 the Senate result was pre-ordained by the map. Republicans were defending 9 seats while Democrats were defending 26. Ergo, Republicans would retain the majority and pick up seats. History says the President's party usually lose House seats in midterms, the House only flips against unified one party governments, and President Trump's conflicts of interest, lies, arrogance and polarizing style would provide the impetus needed to nationalize the election and flip the House - a la "The O'Neill Exception." 

What about 2020?
To test a hypothesis you make a prediction, and see what happens. So let's make some predictions about the 2020 presidential election cycle. A presidential election is an individual election that depends on the candidates and about a gazillion other variables that we have absolutely no idea about today. Usually an incumbent has a significant advantage, but we don't even know if our current incumbent will be still be President or the nominee of his Party.  Hence, we have no friggin' idea how to make any guesses about the 2020 Presidential race today. But the House and Senate are a different matter.

The closest thing to a sure electoral bet is that the Democrats will keep the House majority in 2020. In the entire 162 year history of Republican vs Democratic elections, the House has only flipped majorities in 18 of the 81 elections. All but three of those flips were against a unified single party government. Moreover, the last time the House flipped against a divided government was the Truman - Dewey election of 1948 when no one believed Truman would win.  The House almost never flips against divided government. In 2020 we will have a divided government, hence the Democrats will keep the House. Republicans will need to retain the White House or Senate to maintain a divided government.

The Senate is a tough call. In 2020 the partisan Senate map fortunes will be reversed vs 2018. Republicans will be defending 22 seats and Democrats will be defending 12. Advantage Democrats, but not as big an advantage as the Republicans had in 2018. Democrats need to gain 4 net seats for a clear majority or 3 for a VP tie-breaking majority if they can also win the White House. Republicans only gained 2 seats when they had a bigger advantage in 2018. A Democratic flip is certainly doable, definitely plausible, perhaps even likely. Whether President Trump is running as the Republican nominee will probably be the single biggest factor.

2018 showed that President Trump is an electoral boat anchor around the neck of candidates in all but the reddest of red states. If Trump is still the nominee, I expect we'll see a reprise of the 2018 Blue Wave and we'll be staring in the face of Unified One Party Democratic Government again.  If the Republican Party can cut loose the Trump boat anchor before the 2020 election, put up a quality nominee with qualifications, intelligence and integrity (cough - Nikki Haley - cough), they have a reasonable chance of staying afloat and retaining the Senate majority even if they lose 2 or 3 net seats.

That's our stake in the ground for 2020. The expected Democratic candidate cavalry charge for President is already underway with Senator Elizabeth Warren leading the charge. We'll have plenty of time to sort it our over the next two years. But for now, let us simply sit back and celebrate the restoration of divided government with the increased fiscal responsibility, compromise, accountability, and oversight of the executive branch that it brings.

The Return of Divided Government

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