Republicans are feeling their oats after the 2014 election when they increased their hold on the House of Representatives and gained control of the Senate. The race for the 2016 presidential election is accelerating (it never stopped, it just slowed a bit) and lots of Republicans are testing the presidential waters. The problem is that the same two things that brought them success in 2014 will disappoint them in 2016, in the Senate and in the race for the White House.
First, the change of majority in the Senate was not due to a groundswell of support for the GOP. It was a mathematical coincidence. It just so happened that several Senate seats in red states that had been won by Democrats in 2008 were up for re-election. And in 2014, with President Obama’s coat-tails in a state of serious disrepair even if he were on the ticket, those red states showed their traditional colors and voted red. The surprise for any who might be seeing a shift to the right is that the same kind of mathematical coincidence will happen again in 2016, but in favor of Democrats in blue states like Illinois; essentially a correction from the anti-Obama sentiment of 2010. Whether the Democrats can retake the Senate in 2016 depends partly on the top of the ticket, which brings me to my second point: The GOP will likely lose the Senate because they’ll lose the top-of-the-ticket race for the White House.
Why won’t a Republican be elected President in the near future (or even the distant future without a serious party-wide personality adjustment)? It’s for the same reason they continue to increase control of the House: gerrymandering. As states (red and blue) continue to make congressional districts safer and safer for the predominant party, the constituency of these districts becomes, on average, more extreme. In fact, the biggest threat to the Representatives in these districts is, as has been shown many times in the last four years, an attack from the extreme of their own party, not from the other party. The problem for the GOP is that the demographics of these increasingly scarlet districts are the opposite of the broader demographic changes in the country. GOP policy is on the wrong side of trends in race, women’s rights, gay rights, age, etc.
Let’s take immigration reform as an example. The GOP has staked its position (in the eyes of the general public and particularly Latinos) as being against immigration reform. Ideas are now being floated to introduce immigration reform through both GOP-run houses of Congress piecemeal, a little at a time, to force President Obama to hand many small victories over to the GOP or face the threat of angering Latinos and liberals. The problem with this idea is that the scarlet districts back home, heavy with nativists (and, let’s face it, some outright racists), will not put up with those kinds of political stunts. They will see any sort of immigration reform as traitorous, and will bare the teeth of a threat from the right in the 2016 primaries. (It’s possible that this is part of President Obama’s strategy in presenting his plans on immigration reform, particularly so soon after the election when the GOP is claiming a mandate; he knows that many will dig in their heels—and play right into his hands.) Because of the intransigence of these gerrymandered districts, the GOP-led House members from these districts will not be willing to do what’s necessary to put the friendly, national public face on the GOP that it needs to win the White House in 2016. [Update Oct 2015: The entitlement to an extreme candidate that these scarlet districts feel leads to the popularity of candidates like Donald Trump, who will never win a national election.]
The GOP will continue to rule the House for a few years (as long as population in Texas continues to grow–but with not too many Latinos making up that growth, thank you very much). They will continue to maintain seats in the House, maybe even gain some as the Democrats win the presidency repeatedly (the party not in the White House always does well in mid-term elections). But I don’t see the GOP, even with all the cash they can muster, winning a presidential election in the next decade or two.