By Samuel Goldman, The Week
Even if they can’t stop the flood, it would be crazy not to prepare,
Imagine you didn’t know anything about Joe Biden, Donald Trump, the COVID-19 pandemic, critical race theory, Democrats’ stalled spending bill, or any of the other personalities or issues that have dominated political commentary over the last several months. How would you expect a new president and his party to fare in the early years of his administration?
The answer is: pretty badly. Since the Civil War, midterm elections have tended to be a disaster for first-term presidents. Consider the fate of U.S. Grant. In 1870, Republicans lost 31 (of 243 total) seats in the House of Representatives to a party composed partly of literal secessionists. Closer to the present, the parties led by Presidents Reagan, Clinton, Obama, Trump, and to a lesser extent George H.W. Bush, all faced major setbacks in their first midterm contests. The only true exception within living memory is George W. Bush, who benefitted from a surge of support after 9/11.
The incumbent party’s losses aren’t necessarily confined to swing states or districts, either. There are almost always surprises. In 2010, the local politician and former male model Scott Brown managed to get elected to the Senate in deepest blue Massachusetts. Whether you look at overall outcomes, specific races, or opinion polls, the historical pattern is clear. Voters quickly turn against the presidents they just elected.