The “Transformative Election” Is A Myth

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Following a midterm election that saw sweeping changes to the House of Representatives, as well as a number of down-ticket shifts toward the Democratic Party, some have hailed the election as a “blue wave” of sorts, a stern rebuke toward the the personality and policy of President Trump, and perhaps most importantly, a harbinger of things to come in the 2020 election. However, those hopes should be tempered, because history suggests otherwise, according to Spectator USA.

Time and time again over the past fifty years, the media has reported on the anticipated extinction of a political party, unless said party radically changes it platform and basic assumptions. For example, after the Watergate scandal in 1974, the Republican Party was in shambles. Roy L. Williams, the former President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, gave a memorable New York Times interview that year in which he admitted the Teamsters were in league with the Mafia but took offense to the idea that they were linked with the Republican Party. Many conservatives began to consider forming a third party. Yet the Republican Party survived. Gerald Ford did reasonably well in the 1976 election, and in 1980, Ronald Reagan’s victory ushered in what many Republicans consider to be the Golden Age for the conservative party.

During that same era, the Democratic Party seemed just as doomed as the Republicans had a decade earlier. Democrats suffered crushing electoral defeats throughout the 80s until Bill Clinton’s victory over George H. Bush in 1992 gave the party new life.

The Democrats swept the election in 2008 behind Barack Obama, crushing the Republicans so thoroughly that many believed it had perhaps ushered in a Democrat Golden Age that could rival the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Except, the Republicans roared back in 2010, wrestling away control of Congress and opening the door for a long period of obstruction and opposition.

It seems that in electoral politics, “forever” lasts about two years.

Temporary and transient electoral outcomes apply with even greater force to midterm elections over presidential elections. The reality is that those elections follow a predictable pattern and offer no indication of what will happen in the presidential election two years later.

In fact, most modern presidents face a midterm defeat for their party in their first term. It happened to Reagan in 1982, Clinton in 1994, and Obama in 2010. George W. Bush may have suffered a similar fate in 2002, but Republicans were able to ride a wave of post-9/11 patriotic enthusiasm — and perhaps more than a little fear — to victory. Each President, however, was able to win re-election for a second term.

The re-election of Clinton and Obama are particularly notable, considering the landslide losses that Democrats suffered in their first midterm election. Both of them suffered far more crushing defeats in their first midterms than President Trump did this year.

Historically, following that first-term defeat in the midterm elections, the media will write off the sitting president as a one-term lame duck with no hope for re-election. In fact, the modern incumbent President always wins re-election in this case.

If the 2020 election breaks the trend, it will be historic in terms of the modern election cycle. It may very well turn out to be a historic election, but don’t bet on it.