In January 1955, Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, a status they retained until January 1995. It wasn’t until Newt Gingrich and his Contract With America that Republicans regained a majority in the House; that truly was a red wave, with the GOP adding 54 seats in the 1994 midterms.
Democrats also had a majority in the Senate from 1949 until 1981. Republicans won their share of presidential elections during this period, but in the elections that hit closest to home, where voters are electing people to most directly represent them, Republicans were constantly in the minority.
Now, it likely is presumptuous to assign the cause of all this to a single senator; McCarthy died in 1957. But it seems that one lesson from the mid- to late-20th century remains pertinent — in the long run, demagoguery turns off voters and the effect is long-lasting.
As Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, wrote in a press release Thursday: “Robert Frost and politics don’t really mix, but his famous allegory is apt: Two roads diverge before this potential GOP majority. The one ‘less travelled by’ would be to pass bills that would make things better for the American people. The more tempting and historically more frequented road would be to pursue pointless investigations, messaging bills, threats and government shutdowns. The road we choose could make ‘all the difference.’ ”
Republicans might wind up with a majority in the House or the Senate or both. At this point, we don’t know. We don’t even know who our local congressional representative will be.
But we do know that the path preferred by the most prominent and the loudest Republicans on the national stage is one that leads not to governing, but to fighting specious culture wars. We do know that throwing monkey wrenches into the engines of government and then saying, “see, government doesn’t work,” has been the modus operandi in recent years.
Voters largely rejected that strategy in Tuesday’s midterms. Republicans might come out ahead, but considering the inflation rate and the crime rate and the general malaise engulfing the nation, it is shocking they didn’t win easily. Democrats lost 54 House seats in Bill Clinton’s first midterm and 64 in Barack Obama’s first; Republicans lost 42 seats in Donald Trump’s only midterm.
Democrats are celebrating Tuesday’s results, even though the score isn’t final. The gist: A 28-24 loss would be better than 42-0. But it is the reaction of Republicans that will have a lasting impact on American politics.
Some conservatives are calling for the voting age to be raised to 21, complaining that too many young people voted. Some words of advice: That’s not a sound strategy.
Other conservatives are debating the role of Trump in the party and the weight of his influence. Some words of advice: He is an albatross, if not now then for years to come.
We learned that from McCarthyism. People who came of age during the Trump years will forever associate demagoguery with Republicans. And it will take generations for the party to escape that.