Since 1968, no period of unified government has lasted more than four years

Matthew Comtinetti writes that in this “era of unstable majorities” this was a “thoroughly average midterm.”

The result was not a win for President Trump. The loss of the House means an end to conservative legislation and the beginning of investigations. Still, this year could have been much worse for Republicans, for Trump, and for conservatism. It wasn’t. So it is a loss with an asterisk, and within historical expectations.


The 2018 election was not an outlier. The rule of divided government is one norm President Trump hasn’t violated. Since 1968, no period of unified government has lasted more than four years. As John F. Harris and Charlie Mahtesian of Politico observed: “In the 38 years since Ronald Reagan’s victory, presidents have faced having at least one chamber of Congress controlled by the opposition party in 28 years.” I was born midway through Reagan’s first year in office and have lived through every possible configuration of government. In January, we’ll be back where I began, with a Republican president, Democratic House, and Republican Senate.

He gets into the history earlier in the piece:

Republican losses are in line with historical trends for a president with less than 50 percent support. The Democratic gain is a few seats higher than in 2006, while less than Republican gains in both 1994 (54 seats) and 2010 (63 seats).

President Trump’s approval rating in the exit poll was 45 percent. This is better than Reagan’s approval in 1982 (42 percent) and about the same as Clinton’s in 1994 (46 percent) and Obama’s in 2010 (45 percent). Trump’s approval is less than that recorded for Jimmy Carter in 1978 (49 percent) and George H.W. Bush in 1990 (58 percent). Carter and Bush lost seats in Congress too. Donald Trump may be an extraordinary man, but in political terms he is an ordinary president.

All that so-called “dark money” helps:

The high number of House Republicans who did not seek reelection, combined with a liberal gusher of money, was a boon for the party of Pelosi. The Democrats out-raised and outspent Republicans in what the Center for Responsive Politics says is the most expensive midterm ever. This advantage was especially pronounced in the House, where Democrats raised $951 million to the Republicans’ $637 million. Money isn’t dispositive. But it helps.

No one knows what will happen in 2 years, which is an eternity in politics:

Midterms are referenda on incumbents. Presidential elections are choices. Such was the case in 2016, and so will it be in 2020. Democratic primary voters may follow their passions and nominate a man or woman whom swing voters find extreme, unlikable, or unpalatable. The Democratic nominee may perform badly. Trump may be effective, as he almost always is, at branding his opponent and framing the debate. The political environment might include domestic growth and no new wars. If these conditions pertain, the president will be reelected. The path is there. It always is.

One other thing history teaches: Pundits will ignore history, over-interpret elections, and argue that the next election will be the one where we finally reinvent the political wheel in our closely divided, incredibly heterogenous, rich, grand, beautiful country.

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