The Beltway Buzz (Season of Despair)

A coffee cup at Terra Vista. Detail of photo by B. D. Hilling, 2013.

Two paragraphs from Shawn Zeller of Roll Call would seem to beg a particular question:

Republican aides are growing increasingly despondent about their party’s prospects in the 2016 presidential election, according to CQ Roll Call’s most recent Capitol Insiders Survey.

A majority of the GOP staffers who responded to the April survey now expect either Donald Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to win the party’s nomination and nearly half of them―a solid plurality―think the Republican nominee will lose.

That is to say: A plurality? What do you mean “nearly half”? Who the hell are the rest, and what the hell are they thinking?

Taking the White House: "The next president will be …".  Results based on CQ Roll Call Capitol Insiders Survey, 19-26 April.  (Image: Randy Leonard/CQ Roll Call)The answer is actually pretty straightforward: Denial.

Say what we will about the thirty-one percent of GOP respondents to the CQ Roll Call Capitol Insiders Survey who actually think a Republican candidate will win; between those who so loathe Hillary Clinton as to not see straight, those who hope the Party will find another nominee somewhere, and those who for whatever reason really believe Donald Trump or Ted Cruz can win the election, sure, I can believe thirty-one percent.

The forty-nine percent of GOP respondents who said a Democrat will be the next president would seem to be the realists.

That nineteen percent opting for, “I don’t know”, however, is simply in denial.

Then again, it seems an understandably terrifying prospect:

It could be that the aides are worried about Trump’s effect down the ballot. “It should be a Republican year but the big question mark is Donald Trump,” says Don Nickles, the former Senate Republican whip from Oklahoma. “He’s unlike any Republican we’ve ever seen before,” since the public views him so negatively, Nickles said.

GOP fretting about the Senate majority has grown throughout the year. When CQ Roll Call asked aides in January, only 28 percent of Republican respondents were worried. That rose to 45 percent in March, and now it’s nearly half. By contrast, this month only 37 percent of the Republicans said they expected their side to maintain control.

And there’s the story. While Democrats might be a bit overconfident, with eighty-six percent predicting their party can take the Senate, the striking number is the lack of Republican confidence; only thirty-seven percent of Republican respondents expect their team to hold the chamber. In this, the sixteen percent who chose, “I don’t know”, might well prove to be the realists.

And while Democrats in the 19-26 April survey were “full of bravado”―okay, fess up, who’s the one Democratic aide who said Republicans would win the White House?―hopes are high for “significant gains” in the House of Representatives. To the other, it’s Congress, and even if Democrats can take the Senate, they’re not picking up sixteen seats; there will be no filibuster-proof majority. And while significant gains might well be possible, It is hard to see the Democrats picking up thirty seats in the House. Last month brought some buzz around the possibility after the Cook Political Report explained, “So many assumptions have been wrong this cycle that it’s difficult to be definitive about another: that the House majority won’t be in play in 2016.” As the Beltway buzz went bonkers, Steve Benen offered a dose of reality:

Given the existing landscape, flipping 30 House seats is extremely difficult. In 2012, for example, President Obama won with relative ease; Democratic turnout was decent; and when all was said and done, House Dem candidates earned more actual votes than House Republican candidates. But when the 113th Congress convened, Democrats still controlled 201 seats―17 shy of a majority.

Yes, House Dems flipped 30 seats in 2006―an anti-Bush wave year for the party―but it’s even more difficult now because of 2010 redistricting, with several states stacking the deck in the GOP’s favor to an almost ridiculous degree.

Finally, let’s not forget that if Republicans take stock around Labor Day and conclude that the White House and Senate are slipping away, every possible GOP resource will go towards preserving the House majority. As things stand, we can make projections as if the elections were tomorrow, but both parties will make investments between now and then that will alter the landscape in unpredictable ways.

In practical terms, as Zeller explains:

If the aides are to be believed, their bosses might as well go home and start campaigning now. Asked about the prospects for action on a number of hot button issues, from overhauling the budget process to tackling the corporate tax code, they said gridlock will reign.

While criminal sentencing reform got some of the most optimistic marks, “Only a quarter of the aides said they expected Congress to act”, down from nearly forty percent at the end of last year. Cybersecurity and refugee issues also saw steep declines; twenty percent to the one is not hopeful, and four percent to the other sounds grim to the point of doom. Zeller closes on “the one bright note”, which apparently is appropriations: “On that, slightly more than half of both Republican and Democratic respondents said they expected Congress would enact some of the 12 annual spending bills this year.”


And the numbers are up, just a bit sunnier than the forecast last month.

So maybe those GOP aides in despair should cheer up some. It could be worse, after all. Democrats won’t be dominating Congress, so Republicans can still labor to make certain government just doesn’t work. Still, though, it is easy enough to admit Republicans do seem to be face a prospective season of humiliation. And, you know, that’s gotta sting.


Image notes: Top ― Coffee probably won’t help Republican despair. (Detail of photo by bd). Right ― Some results of the CQ Roll Call Capitol Insiders Survey, 19-26 April. (Image by Randy Leonard/CQ Roll Call).

Benen, Steve. “The fight for congressional control takes an unexpected turn”. msnbc. 21 March 2016.

Wasserman, David. “House Republicans Staring Into the Abyss: 10 Ratings Changes Favor Democrats”. The Cook Political Report. 18 March 2016.

Zeller, Shawn. “GOP Aides in Despair Over Election, CQ Roll Call Survey Finds”. Roll Call. 28 April 2016.

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