The conventional wisdom just under a month from election day is that Republicans are poised to hold or even expand their Senate majority, even as they likely give up the House majority. Conventional wisdom is often wrong, but all available evidence based on the polling seems to suggest it’s on target at the moment. It’s possible, of course, that there is a massive wave of Democratic votes that is being undercounted by traditional polling methods, but it would be unwise to stake serious predictions on it.
The reason for the disparity between the House and Senate situation is pretty simple: despite the gerrymandering of districts, a House election comprises the entire American electorate while the one-third of Senators currently up for a vote does not. Of particular interest in the House are those districts that contain the diverse, better educated, mostly suburban populations disgusted with Trump and rapidly fleeing the Republican Party–as well as a smattering of more rural, previously Democratic districts (particularly in the Midwest and the Rust Belt) that seem to be second-guessing their votes for Trump.
The Senate is another matter. Most of the states in play this cycle just happen to be mostly smaller, rural and conservative. Of all of these, Nevada, Florida and Arizona are harbingers of broader demographic shifts nationwide–but states like Montana, Missouri, West Virginia and North Dakota are not.
It seems incontrovertible at this point that the battle of Judge Kavanaugh has both helped and hurt Republicans. On the downside for them, the majority of Americans are upset by Kavanaugh’s confirmation and want to see continued investigations into allegations of assault and other misbehavior. On a broader level, resistance to conservative policies and tactics has never been fiercer and more adamant than it is today, mostly due to the extremism and cruelty that is now so obviously inherent to movement conservatism. Millennials, women and people of color are overwhelmingly determined in their opposition to the Republican Party, nor is that likely to change in the near future.
But the short-term advantage for Republicans is that the show of white male rage by Kavanaugh and his defenders has re-polarized the conservative electorate and energized their base. As a result, deeply Republican states are trending further Republican in recent polling, and Senate contests in those states are becoming nationalized to the Democrats’ disadvantage.
But these advantages will be short-lived. The problem for Republicans here is that most small, rural red states (with a few exceptions) are getting bluer with each passing cycle–especially those with growing Latino populations. Gerrymandering in the House can only take them so far: assembling a majority of slim majority districts has catastrophic effects when demographic shifts push the rising tide over the entire sea wall. Once enough blue states sign onto the National Popular Vote compact, the electoral college will cease to be a barricade against democracy.
If doing the right thing and channeling the anger and resistance of young people, women, the educated and people of color costs Democratic Senate seats in North Dakota or Missouri, that is unfortunate. But it’s a small price to pay over time for securing the House with its fearful investigative power over Trump, and even more importantly the loyalty of the people who constitute America’s majoritarian future.
If they continue to be bold and determined, Democrats will likely take unitary control of the White House and the Congress back in 2020. And if they remain firm in their commitment to structural reforms to ensure the continuation of majoritarian power, then it will be very difficult for Republicans to recover from their position they have placed themselves in, leveraging the hate and prejudice of a shrinking population for evanescent gains.