Hitting the Trifecta

At RealClearPolitics Sean Trende takes a second pass at John Judis’ “Emerging Republican Advantage” hypothesis and offers some support for it beyond what Judis himself says, after making it clear an “advantage” is not the same as a “realignment” or any other sort of predictable majority.

His argument is pretty simple: thanks to the well-established superior “efficiency” of the Republican vote as distributed among House districts (which exists above and beyond the effects of gerrymandering), and the significant majority of states that are going to be “red” for the foreseeable future, the GOP does indeed have an “advantage”–not any sort of “lock,” but an advantage–in controlling both Houses of Congress. And this means that even if you give Democrats an “advantage” in the ability of win presidential elections, Republicans are going to win “trifectas”–united control of the federal government–much more often that Democrats in the immediate future, even if the demographic trends Democrats like to talk about continue slowly to manifest themselves.

Trende adds on another factor that’s so common we sometimes forget it: the high frequency of midterm losses for the party controlling the White House makes “trifectas” even more difficult to maintain than to achieve. That’s why the terrorism-dominated midterm election of 2002 was such an aberration and a big deal: it enabled Republicans to hold a trifecta for four whole years. The last two Democratic “trifectas” (1993-95 and 2009-2011) only lasted two years.

Now if you tend to believe that controlling the White House is as important as controlling Congress, and only the increasingly rare feat of controlling both provides an unambiguous “advantage,” then it’s not so clear either party has one at the moment (though long-term trends do make today’s Democratic presidential election coalition more durable-looking than that of the Republicans). But it does make clear that absent radical filibuster reform, the odds of either party being able to implement a coherent agenda any time soon are very, very limited.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.