Who’ll Control the Senate?
Forecasters give Democrats better than even odds of a majority.
While most focus has naturally been focused on whether the Democrats can oust President Trump from the White House, the degree to which a President Biden can govern will depend on whether his party can also retake the Senate. Right now, it’s just too close to call.
The Economist gives them a whopping 67 percent chance of taking a majority, with an average of 51.4 seats, but the range of outcomes is rather wide:
Obviously, it’s better to be in the 47-57 range than the 43-53 range. It’s possible for the Democrats to have a massive win, whereas the best Republicans can possibly do is maintain the status quo. That’s good news for Democrats. But there’s also an incredibly good chance of falling short of a majority.
The site has interactive graphics looking at each race that I commend to you. But here’s a static snapshot:
A shocking number of races are essentially tossups.
The FiveThirtyEight gang has similar odds, giving Democrats a 60 percent chance of taking control (compared to Biden’s 77 percent). Moreover, they think the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the resulting fight over who will choose her replacement actually helps Democrats more than Republicans in close races.
Not all Senate races line up with the presidential race
Forecasted margin in competitive Senate races, compared with the forecasted margin of the presidential race in those states, according to the FiveThirtyEight model at 3 p.m. Eastern on Sept. 22
|State||Forecasted Senate Margin||Forecasted Presidential Margin||Difference|
I honestly have no strong view on how this will unfold. One of my two popular Democratic Senators, Mark Warner, is up for re-election this year but it’s a token opposition. Aside from my former home state of Alabama and Mitch McConnell’s reelection bid in Kentucky, both of which the Republicans are likely to win easily, I’m not following any of the races all that closely.
In terms of rooting interest, I’m honestly a bit torn. A week ago, I was hoping for something like the Economist’s best case scenario for the Democrats. The combination of a landslide for Biden and a sweeping takeover of the Senate would be a strong rebuke to the Republicans and Trumpism. While my hope is that this would result in some soul searching that would lead to something akin to the Democratic Leadership Council that brought Bill Clinton and the “New Democrats” to power in 1996, I fear that they’ll just double down on the crazy.
Alas, all the talk of court-packing and other radical structural reforms has me rethinking that wish. A rebuke is one thing. But one-party control leading to a major upheaval of our governing structure—none of which was campaigned on—may well be worse for the country than divided government.
Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Tom Cruise, Oprah, please don’t let the Wrecking Crew stay in charge. The record number of obstructions they did to Obama will probly be broken.
(Simpsons reference, not trying to steal credit)
Let me preface my comment by saying once again, it ain’t just Trump. And you recognize the need for reform of the Republican Party.
James, do you really want a narrow R majority with Moscow Mitch reprising as Majority Leader and setting out to make Biden a one-term president? Do you really want all efforts to deal with the damage of the last four years, including dealing with COVID and its fallout, blocked? Do you really want Biden unable to fill judicial vacancies, not only at SCOTUS but at every level? Is there perhaps some lingering team loyalty driving your new reluctance to see a Dem sweep now that it’s looking more real?
Yes agreed if Republicans lose they will double down on the crazy. Contrasted with if Republicans win then they will . . . double down on the crazy.
In terms of outcomes, I’m actually fine with that. But in terms of process, no, that would be very bad indeed.
If so, it’s fairly marginal and confined to judicial philosophy. I liked Joe Biden even when I was voting the other way and think he’ll make a perfectly fine President. While I would prefer, say, a John Kasich, I’d prefer him calling the shots than any Republican I can see getting the nomination in the current environment on pretty much everything other than judicial picks.
But I’m seeing enthusiasm for all manner of really controversial even-the-score proposals even from moderate Democrats of late. Would Biden stop them if they were passed through a Democratic Congress? I doubt it. Or, heaven forbid, if the reins passed to Kamala Harris, would she? I don’t think so.
I would see court-packing, for example, as akin to the radical education reforms Scott Walker foisted on Wisconsin a few years back. That is, regardless of whether it was justifiable on policy grounds, it was outrageous to enact change that radical out of the blue. That’s the kind of thing that you should have to run on to enact.
Right, none of this has been campaigned on. There are no official positions from Biden, Pelosi, Schummer, or other relevant Democratic Party officials.
Against that, there’s the known quantity of GOP dirty, power-grab politics, adn what @gVOR08 said.
In the meantime, I think it’s in everyone’s best interests to let the adults take back the Senate.
Any excuse, right James?
You’re a guy who, as a Republican, helped to form the lynch mob. Then when you realized that lynch mob really meant to start lynching people, you objected loudly and strenuously! Good for you.
But actually take effective action to stop the next lynch mob? Heaven forbid. Oh customs! Oh mores! Oh traditions!
Only Republicans get to fight, Democrats are best advised to lie back and enjoy it.
@James Joyner :
Yeah, that’s what happens when people get sick and tired of being screwed over and decide to play by the other side’s rules. Karma’s a bitch.
As the GOP has noted, they have the Senate and the WH so if it’s legal (or even not), it’s their right to do as they please with their agenda. Dems would be absolute fools to bind themselves to norms the GOP have no intention of honoring. Who hamstrings themselves going into a fight? As for controversial, really it means cons don’t like it but again, they got no problems pushing things through libs don’t like so I’m not seeing the issue here. Fair is fair and if you live life under the philosophy of “own the libs”, you don’t get to be pissy when the libs start doing things to own you back.
It’s always a shock to the bully when the victim punches back. The cheating spouse never expects to get cheated on in return and the bank robber doesn’t expect to get jacked. People hate when they’re treated as badly as they treat others. Repbulicans have lived that last few decades under the principle that no matter how badly or unfair their legal tactics, the Dems will be the adults in the room to maintain stable government and not stoop to their level. Not anymore – the whirlwind cometh and Biden may be all that stands between them and a shitton of liberals looking to even the score.
I think the Democrats should get a triple sweep of White House, Senate and House, and should do to the GOP what the GOP has done whenever it has the whip hand. And do it often, and good and hard.
Umm, James? Have you even been in the U.S. since January 2017?
I’m curious – other then abhorring “Might Makes Right” and “demolishing norms” what possible reason is there to protest a party that controls most if not all of Congress and the WH from enacting whatever legislation they want? They would have a clear mandate from the people and have the legal authority to do so – why *wouldn’t* they pass what they want, even if it’s “controversial”?
The only reason I can think of is not pissing off the political minority but since said minor is doing just that as we speak, that logic holds little weight. You can’t claim it’s “unfair” as again, they’re doing it now so they have no right to expect it to not happen to them. You can’t claim it’s illegal because it’s not and you can’t claim it’s illegitimate without being a raving hypocrite. It’s not escalating a cycle because that’s been the norm for a while now with the only difference being the party doing the screwing. Perhaps one can try to cite a moral high ground issue but really, what’s so moral about letting yourself be ground down and watching your ethics and beliefs be destroyed?
What possible justification can someone have for the Dems not acting on their beliefs when holding all the cards other then “it’s gonna suck for me”?
I don’t disagree with KM, but I will note that we live in a time of hyperbole and over-the-top rhetoric. That’s what got the current occupant elected president. That’s what generates media attention.
Nancy Pelosi, for instance, has a reputation among conservatives as being a crazy radical, but how she’s led the House is anything but. She is careful to advance initiatives that most, if not all, of her Members, many of whom come from districts that aren’t nearly as liberal as SF (which is still pretty strongly opposed to government-owned means of production, in spite of what you may have heard).
Like it or not—and I very much don’t—Trump has governed almost precisely as he campaigned in 2016. And the result was the Democrats taking back the House by storm in the 2018 midterms.
I think it’s perfectly reasonable, in the event a party has won the White House and majorities in both Houses of Congress, that they govern according to the agenda that they campaigned on. But Biden and company have campaigned on one thing: Getting rid of Trump and restoring normalcy and competency. That hardly constitutes “a clear mandate from the people” to enact radical reforms they didn’t advertise.
@KM: Mostly I agree. I have one point of disagreement, but before I lay it out, I want you to know that it’s just one point. It doesn’t invalidate what you’re saying. It seems many are asking for unilateral disarmament from Democrats. Republicans can break longstanding norms whenever it advantages them, but Democrats better not do the same! Because that would be wrong!
I would like to observe though, that resentment and revenge is a terrible, terrible way to run a country. We’ve had a graphic illustration of that the last four years, and especially this year. If we Democrats think we can do a better job of running the country, then we should do that – run the country better. Better for everyone. Doing a good job is the best politics.
It may be that “better for everyone” turns into “better for most” with some people that get the worst end. We should expect them to complain, and loudly. Especially if they are rich and powerful.
James, can you clarify what exactly are your fears of a Kamala Harris presidency? Because, and of course, it’s only my opinion, I’m willing to bet that a Harris presidency would be 100x more circumspect and even-handed than this Trump presidency, or even the Bush II presidency.
@Jay L Gischer:
I actually agree with that. Given divided government, she’s been quite shrewd. I think she’s pretty far left by the standards of Americans of her generation but she’s not even that far left in her own caucus at this stage. And, yes, she’s clearly cognizant of the fact that, for Democrats to have a strong majority requires them to win and hold seats in districts that will vote for Trump.
The “heaven forbid” wasn’t an expression of fear of Harris but of what it would mean: the death or permanent incapacitation of Joe Biden. I plan to vote for the ticket and, indeed, thought she was the best choice once Biden narrowed the field to women. She’s relatively moderate and seemingly competent. But she doesn’t have Biden’s love of the institution of the Senate and reverence for the norms of the system. I don’t know that she’d insist on court-packing, for example, but I can’t imagine she’d fight it, either.
There are all manner of reforms that I would support to increase representativeness, stop gerrymandering, end voter suppression, and the like.
I just oppose court-packing vehemently and would be highly suspicious of adding microstates for the purpose of giving one party free seats. Both of those upend two centuries of traditions in ways that are unrecoverable.
Trump ran as an economic populist, and then happily signed a massive tax break for the wealthy.
And I don’t recall him campaigning on nepotism and corruption as being good things.
Although the talk among Bulwark-type Republicans about whether or not to burn it all down seems to have died away a bit, I think all of these conversations about working to effect the majorities in the Senate and House ignore the Tip O’Neil dictum that all politics are local. While I hate McConnell as much as the next guy, it doesn’t matter what I think, it only matters what Kentuckians think. “Shall we continue to have the most powerful man in Congress as our representative or shall we switch to now the most junior member of that body?” (We have a similar problem in Illinois with our perennial State House leader, who most people hate but gets reelected by his district every 2 years.) All of these conversations about who controls the Senate and by what margin are fascinating, but pretty irrelevant to the elections.
@James Joyner: “adding microstates for the purpose of giving one party free seats.”
The purpose would be, at least in part, to represent people who aren’t represented.
And the two states people talk about are much larger than our smallest states in population. Do you have a minimum acreage you require? Minimum number of cows?
If Republicans want to respond, tit-for-tat with giving representation to other territories, I think that would be wonderful.
I would be fine adding Puerto Rico to Wyoming, and Washington DC to South Dakota, if that would help.
Block quote button vanished.
Resentment and revenge might be an awful way to run the country. They are, however, a perfectly normal human reaction to a setup that has resulted in the Republicans winning the White House while only once in the past two decades winning the popular vote, and the Senate being held by Republicans even though there are more votes cast for Democrats.
Our current setup, for a variety of reasons, is not representing the majority. When the minority rules, it must do so with an understanding that that is the case, or people get frustrated–and very, very angry. McConnell has taken pride in stomping all over everything (he just apparently threw a wrench in the government funding measure) and pushing through a reactionary agenda no matter what. Trump has trampled norms from day 1. And we’re talking about not playing nice? Really??
You can only kick people for so long before they want to stand up and fight back.
TL;DR: Republicans pushing for their extreme agenda despite not representing the majority of the population is what brought us to this point. Moderate their agenda and the pitchforks would likely get put down.
@James Joyner :
I think we need to clarify our terms here. What do you mean by “radical reforms” and “normalcy”? Furthermore “clear mandate” means what – “we picked you to get rid of Trump” or “congrats, here’s the keys go forth and do my will”? Does “radical” mean “massive social change involved” or “only R’s are allowed to get away with that”?
To me normalcy doesn’t mean “status quo from the day before Trump was elected” as you cannot just hit the reset button and just pretend this whole thing never happened. He’s not promising a memory wipe or mass denial. Biden’s promise of competency and normalcy for me means a government that’s not killing it’s citizens (defunding and demilitarizing police), dealing with international crisis effectively (pandemic, Russia, climate change) and functions effectively for it’s people (fix the Post Office, Medicare for all, addresses QAnon misinformation and radicalizing of the alt-right, etc). I’m 100% certain it doesn’t mean that for you. I’m willing to bet that what many liberals consider to be implied in Biden’s promise of normalcy is in fact highly radical to someone of a conservative nature.
Besides Biden’s agenda isn’t necessarily the Dems in Congress. They’ve been advertising what they want pretty clearly; much like with Hillary, it’s there if you look but most can’t be bothered. If they pass all these things on their wish list and more, should he veto them because he personally didn’t promise all of them? His party believes in these things so it’s not unreasonable to assume he’s down with them. The clear mandate I’m referring to is that they picked a D rather then a R knowing what that means. You may be signing up for things you don’t necessarily approve of (there’s Dems who are opposed to abortion after all) but you approve of the package. Isn’t that why so many voted for Trump in the first place? They gave him a mandate to do as he pleased – while they might personally hate kids in cages, they love the no mask policy and all those judges.
If you don’t like Trump, you don’t have to vote Dem. You can just stay home or vote 3rd party – you just don’t cast a vote for him. A vote for Biden is a vote for Biden, a liberal and Democrat as well as a reprimand against Trump. You choose Biden and you choose what comes with him. That’s a clear mandate, James – that’s their choice and should be respected.
Nope, just people. I wouldn’t admit Wyoming, the Dakotas, Alaska, etc. if they weren’t in already—at least not as individual entities. The Senate, which we literally can’t get rid of, and its pairing with an Electoral College simply complicate what would otherwise be a non-problem. If it was just the House and voting for President, I’d happily support the admission of all the territories.
I’ve long argued for retrocession, whether actual or virtual, to Maryland as the obvious solution for DC. I’m sellable on PR, as it’s something like a median-sized state. Guam and the other territories are just tiny; I’d be amenable to treating the whole shooting match as some sort of archipelago and admitting them as a single state.
I think it is unfair to pile on James…he is just thinking out loud about some potential requests from the Democratic party base that he hopes Biden does not act on in their entirety. Also, for what it is worth I would like Biden to continue to deny that he will act on the most “radical” requests from Democrats and if he just happens to change his mind regarding say, “packing” the courts after he is elected I am okay with that.
For Pete’s sake, let’s get the man elected first before demanding he pack the courts, he literally has no power to do this at the moment so lets keep our powder dry for the next few weeks, it will all be over soon…and a whole lot of tears of joy or anguish will soon be shed (joy, Biden wins, anguish we get another four years of Trump).
I do not want us to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. We only have 41 days to go so while it may be a hard ask we need to patient for a bit longer.
Biden literally campaigned AGAINST much of that so, no, it doesn’t mean that. The notion that voting for the lesser of evils in a binary system is somehow a mandate for them to do whatever the hell they want, even if they explicitly campaigned against it, is crazy.
Like the tradition of splitting the Dakota territory into North and South, or splitting Nevada off from Utah?
Also, I still have no edit function.
Alas, we live in a world where those are states, and we have no mechanism for dissolving them. Given that, my preference would be to add more tiny states, break up the larger states, if we can, and get to a level playing field.
I don’t really care about the elevation of that level playing field. More fairly representative with big states or little states is fine to me. We only have a path going forward for little states (and until we start splitting big states, that path forward doesn’t go forward all that far, but brings us a bit closer).
I’m curious why you’re “sellable” on Puerto Rico. What’s the argument against it?
It has 3.2 million people. That’s more than 20 states, including Arkansas, Nevada, Iowa, New Mexico, etc.
Hell. DC has more than Wyoming or Vermont, with no Federal representation.
California has more people than the bottom 30 states combined. Yet the same two Senators as Wyoming.
Sure. Don’t do anything Democrats. After all, we might piss off a few people in flyover country. Um..No.
We’re talking about raw power. The GOP set the rules. Dems should play by them. Add six progressive (not liberal) justices in their 40’s. Make it a 15 seat Supreme Court.
The formatting buttons go away after I post. And no edit function. Edit is supposed to be 5 minutes now? I wonder if the formatting buttons will return in 6.
@EddieInCA: “Add six progressive (not liberal) justices in their 40’s.”
At the judicial level, I’m not sure what the difference would be. People’s rights are either balanced above or below corporation’s rights. Minorities are either protected or they aren’t.
I’m a bit confused which of the reforms are so radical. Allowing DC and PR to become states means no longer disenfranchising millions. And the Dems have been very vocal about it (and it was even in the GOP platform about PR not that long ago).
As for expanding the court, it has been done previously and expressly when the political wheel turned, see Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money and he discussion of Thomas Jefferson’s Constitutional Hardball.
Two centuries of tradition? You mean, like the ‘traditional’ way we added states like Texas, California, NM and Arizona? Fabricate a pretext, invade and seize big chunks of a foreign country? Or perhaps the traditional way we decided on admitting Kansas? Or were you thinking more of the traditional way we added Hawaii by invasion and repression leading to the installation of white rule over Native and Asian folks?
This entire country is territory we took by force of arms, or bought from other people who’d taken it by force of arms. We admitted states with an eye on slavery, an eye on Native American land and gold, or with an eye to lovely naval bases in the Pacific.
Admitting Puerto Rico would be a bit of an outlier – I mean, we’re actually going to ask them if they want to be a state. And even the non-whites will have a say!
For one, it’s not clear the residents of PR want statehood. Beyond that, we have traditionally, going back two hundred years now, brought states in pairwise to balance out partisan impact on the Senate. But PR is presumed to be fairly purple, so its impact isn’t that obvious.
Right. That’s why I lean in the direction of statehood.
But I wouldn’t vote to give separate statehood to Wyoming or Vermont if they were applying now. Rather, I’d incorporate their territory into an existing state. I’d be happy to add residential DC to Maryland; I just don’t think 600k people ought have two Senators.
@Michael Reynolds: That we acquired control of most of our territory by conquest or purchase is hardly atypical. Regardless, it doesn’t have much to do with the process of admitting them as states. The recent Vox essay “The US almost tore itself apart to get to 50 states” provides a really good historical overview.
IIRC, you could tack all of the Pacific island territories on to Hawaii and it wouldn’t increase the population enough to get Hawaii another House seat. Less than 300K people total.
Shorter James: “I don’t care about reality and prefer to live in a fantasy world where the status quo and the accompanying failure to fix things doesn’t literally kill people.”
Note – this is the nicer version of my initial reaction to one more so-very-inside-the-beltway, Broder-esque handwringing post by James. The original ended something along the lines of “and the horse you rode in on”
SCOTUS will be let be if it is prudent. If that turns out not to be, there will be a response.
That’s the reality.
I’m almost always getting the edit button as a logged-out user in both Chrome and the Chromium-based Edge. The comment quicktags [b, i, link, quote] is mostly there but not always. I even switched to a different plugin and still getting that issue. I’m guessing there’s some sort of conflict between one or more of them.
The point is that there is no ‘traditional way’ we’ve added states, unless violent conquest and ethnic cleansing are traditions. It’s always been political, it’s never been anything but political. But now political motivation is upsetting to tradition?
Not at all. In fact it is perfectly in keeping with tradition, except that we probably won’t have to slaughter many people.
The norm of admitting states pairwise was suspended during the Civil War and Reconstruction period, ironically by radical Republicans looking to stick it to the South and ensconce their power over the country for generations. It worked! I say “ironically” because, of course, the “Republicans” of that era are much closer to the Democrats today and vice-versa so, in the long run, it would up having the opposite impact: empowering traditionalist voters and stymying those wanting change.
With the aforementioned exception of the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, though, the tradition has been to balance the partisan impact by bringing in states pairwise.
“Trump has governed almost precisely as he campaigned in 2016”
Trump promised in the 2016 campaign that the tax cuts would primarily go to the middle class. Trump promised that he had a better alternative to Obamacare ready to release. Trump promised that he would release his tax returns after the election.
Do you want to revise and extend your comments?
Except that time and a changing country has resulted in a situation where, as you documented yesterday, we are *not* in balance. We are in a situation with minority control is the default. Maintaining that is not sustainable. It will lead to more unrest and, if not corrected peacefully, violence.
Change would bring about balance, preserving the status quo maintains a lack of balance.
On the other hand, some of the most egregious Trump/Republican political/governance abuses involved the White House and their outlaw approach to governing (ignoring Congressional oversight, misappropriating money, assuming Executive branch authority, etc.). Those opposed to one party rule are fearful the Democrats will do the same.
Well, Speaker Pelosi is putting together a package designed to rebalance the three legged stool.
Pelosi unveils Watergate-style anti-corruption reforms — tailored for the Trump era
These are not the proposals of a radical leftist. Just the opposite.
When WordPress generates a page, many blocks of PHP code are executed. No one knows exactly the order in which they will be executed. As I read the specs, it is possible for the order to be non-deterministic. Flip the order of execution and two blocks may yield two different results.
“The amazing thing about a dancing bear is not how gracefully it dances, but that it dances at all.”
@Michael Cain: Possibly more useful observation… The [b, i, link, quote] buttons do not appear on the page I get in response to clicking the “Post Comment” button, but reappear when I refresh that page.
We’ve added 12 states since reconstruction:
state date of admission
North Dakota November 2, 1889
South Dakota November 2, 1889
Montana November 8, 1889
Washington November 11, 1889
Idaho July 3, 1890
Wyoming July 10, 1890
Utah January 4, 1896
Oklahoma November 16, 1907
New Mexico January 6, 1912
Arizona February 14, 1912
Alaska January 3, 1959
Hawaii August 21, 1959
North and South Dakota on the same date. Montana and Washington close enough to same date. And Idaho and Wyoming. Were North and South Dakota expected to vote differently from each other?
Utah, all by itself.
Then we have New Mexico and Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii.
With the possible exception of that last pair, what I’m seeing is rural farm states getting extra bites at the apple. I’d love to hear how any of those represented balance or fairness. In fact much of our current paralysis can be traced to the practice of inventing rural states out of whole cloth, giving ’em two Senators each and raising a big middle finger to the coasts.
Even in 1890 no one believed Wyoming was ever going to be more than the fief of a few rich ranchers. No one was expecting Montana to become a population center.
@Michael Cain: Another observation… Looking at the page source, it appears the [b, i, link, quote] buttons are inserted by a piece of JavaScipt. Uglier and uglier.
I find it odd that you are somehow okay with the Garland Rule only applying in the case of a party split between the Executive and the Senate. Injecting a partisan criterion into general rules strikes me as building in an advantage given your views on skewed representation.
It’s even more critical because the Senate is elected in thirds. They never really have a mandate, to the extent one truly exists, for that reason.
There aren’t that many individuals who have the same love and “reverence” for the institution as an older, White heterosexual male does in the U.S. We understand and value the importance of the institution as it upholds the written creed of the DoI and Constitution, but have a serious side eye for the ways in which it upholds White male domination. Apart from that, though, can you provide evidence for your assertions that Harris wouldn’t push back on left-wing Sanders/AOC-type policies? And, for the record, can you explain the justification of sanguinary and monetary expenditure to maintain U.S. forces in the middle east and southwest Asia these past two decades, and failure to invest a fraction of that in the health and well-being of U.S. citizens and residents?
I think that’s a legitimate policy debate.
To be fair, the notion of a mandate, let alone a clear one, is a bit of a myth.
I also note that he isn’t campaiging on things like Court expansion, and think it unlikley he will pursue them (there appears not to be much appetite for in in the Dem Senate ranks, for that matter).
But I could see a situation wherein ” Getting rid of Trump and restoring normalcy and competency” could lead to choosing to engage in some serious reforms and I don’t think it would be violating the campaign in that sense.
Aaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahaha!!! Oh, James . . .
It’s purely a coincidence that we added a bunch of virtually unpopulated states which between them had six Black people.
Many Bothans died to bring us the formatting buttons.
JJ: What specifically do you fear Dems will do? The Democratic Party is basically a centrist party so I wonder what specific action the party would do that has you so concerned? And we are not talking about procedure which has mostly broken down anyways.
“Even-the-score proposals” aren’t radical! All the proposals you are fearful of are intended to restore evenness or balance where there is none currently. Allowing the persistence of anti-majoritarian advantages are what is radical.
@James Joyner: I understand how it would seem a breach of faith for a candidate to win on a platform of anodyne good gov’t and to then enact large scale (“radical”) changes.
If one’s platform included ‘protecting women’s rights to control their own reproduction’ however…
IIRC, Dakota was split into North and South because there were fears that a single state would be physically enormous and massively populated, and wouldn’t be properly represented.
If you look at the populations at the time, and the population growth in South Dakota in particular, this wasn’t crazy. As we moved from a more agrarian society to a more urban society, however, the Dakotas were just left behind. And Wyoming.
There was also a Shelbyville vs. Springfield rivalry between the north and south.
Beyond AK-HI, I am going to plead ignorance as to this norm, could you elaborate?
A quick look at the list of states indicate, going backwards:
1959: 2 states (AK and HI)
1912: 2 states (AZ and NM–where those a partisan balance? I honestly don’t know)
1907: 1 state (OK)
1896: 1 state (UT)
1890: 2 states (ID and WY–was that for partisan balance?)
1889: 4 states: ND, SD, MT, WA (same question)
1876: 1 state (CO)
1867: 1 state (NE)
1864: 1 state (NV)
The immediately pre-Civil War period I will leave out, as there was the slave state/free state issue, but even then they were not admitted in pairs (FL and TX were both admitted in 1845, but they were both slave states).
Indeed, all states added from 1791-1845 were done as singles.
I am prepared to be corrected, but I do not see the norm you are asserting.
@Steven L. Taylor: @James Joyner:
It’s because it’s not a norm. It’s something Dr. Joyner has grasped on to, which isn’t based on any reality – just his emotions.
I can’t say it any other way, and I know it sounds harsh, but it’s bullshit. There was never a norm like that which Dr. Joyner is stating. It’s Dr. Joyner defending the indefensible.
I’m farther to the Dem side than James, politically, but I think he has some legitimate points. (Not the bit about divided government. The Republicans are a sh*t sandwich. As currently constituted they offer no useful function.) I’m angry and want to bring down the wrath of god, but have lived long enough to know that anger makes even the most stupid idea seem brilliant.
That said, there is almost no chance Biden will toss out norms wantonly. I hope, however, he will do what it takes to crush the Republicans purely obstructionist behavior.
@Steven L. Taylor: FWIW, AZ and NM both voted D for president in their first chance (1916) but did enter with D Senators in AZ and Rs in NM.
Not to pile on, but you’re making an error here.
1) The Senate seats would not be free. Yes, they’ll probably go blue in their first election, but then keeping them blue will take some doing. The GOP is as capable of standing up for the interests of the news states as the Democrats. they just very likely won’t want to, not in the Republicans’ present form.
2) Tradition is a bad reason for continuing to do anything. An existing policy or custom ought to be judged on its merits, not on how long it has existed. Popular election of Senators, for instance, upended over a century of tradition. So did the abolition of slavery. So did penicillin, as opposed to traditional ways of treating disease. For that matter, so did women’s suffrage, and suffrage without property qualifications.
To be clear, I agree his concerns have a reasonable basis, even if I disagree with some of his conclusions.
This is pretty much exactly where I’m at in this. I’m furious that RBG’s seat is in play, and that McConnell got away with his Merrick Garland stunt. I don’t want these court-packing notions to gain traction enough before the election, but after it, if Biden wins and both houses go Democratic, I’m all about making movements in that direction. I want that issue hanging like the Sword of Damocles over Republicans’ heads.
I also happen to actually believe that some Court reforms are long overdue, and maybe having that Big Threat there will help some less radical reforms go through.
That’s rather harsh. Most of us learned about states being admitted to the Union in a careful balance in the leadup to the Civil War, and then learned nothing else about it.
Our dear friend James did not just grab onto this idea from nowhere, it’s not just from his emotions, he is simply wrong.
@Steven L. Taylor: Something you might just happen to know the answer to:
Were most states voting for governments (say, Senate and President) that would match the party in power when they were admitted?
I suspect that the period of attempting balance was a complete aberration, and that generally it was about the party in charge expanding their power. But it would be work to look into that, and you might happen to know.
Our country would be so much better off if the Republicans did make an earnest effort to win Puerto Rico that I would happily accept defeat if they succeeded.
I think others have demolished your paired states argument there pretty well James. Whatever you may “feel” happened or “thought” happened…didn’t.
I am genuinely curious. Are there any norms left in our politics that favor Democrats over Republicans that you think we should keep simply because they are “norms”? Thanks to the leanings of this commentariat the conversations tend to focus on what the left sees as unfair,
and an awful lot of your recent commentary can be boiled down to being uncomfortable with change. But what is out there in our government that the right thinks is unfair? Do you support change in those circumstances?
I think being respectful of norms is actually a very valuable point. The question then becomes how do we, as a society and body politic, deal with a group that no longer seems interested in following those norms unless it is to their own advantage? You seem to think we should just lie back and think of the Constitution and…the left isn’t going to do that any more.
I have very little hope left for the US, to be honest. Barring an unexpected miracle landslide by one candidate on election day itself, I see no way we aren’t going to see mass violence after this election. An article at the Atlantic this morning (The Election That Could Break America) is grim, and no one WANTS to think that forecast will happen, but I see little that can stop it at this point (it’s also a bit eye-opening of how some sorts of ratt-uckery are out there, and how they wouldn’t be totally new in this country except in scope). I hope I’m wrong.
One thing to point out is that the GOP Platform explicitly supports PR’s inclusion as a state:
Given the 2020 Platform just claimed to support whatever was in the platform in 2016, it seems a bit off to claim that actually following through and making PR a state is somehow nefarious or improper.
One thing about ancient history, is that it’s far less politicized than more recent histories (with exceptions in both cases). National histories, though, tend to become mythological with a mix of plausible history. It pays to examine the national myths more closely, using skeptical, revisionist, or outside historians to do so.
@James Joyner: @James Joyner:
On another thread this week, James, I asked you where the line was for you. In that case, it was about changes to the Supreme Court and the nomination process. Here, I guess, I’m asking you when structural changes of any sort are necessary. I feel as though you are trying to be a small-c conservative, treating any proposed change skeptically until there is overwhelming evidence that it’s needed. But it is needed, on some occasions.
Benjamin Wittes made an argument that Trump and the Republicans have abused powers that already exist, instead of inventing new powers. Using the power of the executive, we have seen Trump, without Republican opposition, rule by presidential order, gut the inspectors general in executive branch departments, re-allocate money that Congress allocated, ignore the Emoluments Clause, fast-track security clearances for his family members, bypassing channels for declassifying national security secrets, carried out campaign activities on public property, politicize and gut the State Department…I could go on, but you know the list.
Does this not indicate the need for structural change? Especially since one of the structural problems, the unrepresentative tilt of our supposedly representative institutions, is interfering with electoral remedies? If not now, when?
Remember in politics it’s wrong when the other party does it. If Biden proposes making Puerto Rico a state, the GOP will oppose him.
I must have been hit in the head recently. I thought the point of advice and consent was to give the Senate, the more deliberative, careful, and collaborative part of the legislature, the responsibility for giving approval in the least partisan way possible. Who was in the White House, and who dominated the Senate, were not supposed to be considerations. If someone were to nix a Supreme Court candidate purely on ideological or partisan grounds, that was supposed to be a highly un-Senatorial transgression.
But apparently I’m wrong. I’d better do a cognition check. Person, woman…Dammit.
@EddieInCA: I’m not surprised that Republicans have convinced themselves that the “Paired States to Maintain Balance” is a thing. It’s human nature to latch onto something that sounds true and results in exactly the outcome you were hoping for. This is a case where “Democrats do it too” is correct, because all people do it. That said, I think it’s pretty obvious given what has been demonstrated by Steven and others that states were brought in for reasons that were relevant at the time, but have little relevance outside their unique circumstances.
This times a thousand. And you didn’t even include his impeachable offense which should not have ended in acquittal had Country won over Party. If Trumpism isn’t the furthest degree of dysfunction that would compel structural remedies, how deep does the country have to descend? I’m shudder to think what that would look like.
The country is so far off track that proposals to restore balance can be characterized as beyond the pale. This says so much more about how bad things are now than it does about the correctives being considered.
Another place where Republicans have convinced themselves of a non-existent history wrt PR is that “they have consistently voted against statehood”. That was true unambiguously in 1967. But in the next referendum (1998) anti-statehood people got a joker choice inserted (“None of the Above”) which won, just barely. But Statehood got 46.6% of the vote. The other viable choices got virtually nothing.
In 2012, there was another referenda and once again the PR Independence people tried to confuse the issue. But this time the results were unambiguously for statehood. From Wiki:
Finally, in 2017 there was another referendum. When the Independence movement and the “Continue Current Status” movement realized they were going to lose, they campaigned for everyone to boycott the elections, resulting in a win for statehood by 97% of the vote.
To me, this is clearly an indication that sometime after 1967 the majority of the PR population wanted statehood but the opposition was committed and powerful enough to pull shenanigans. You could perhaps make an argument that those shenanigans were enough to cloud the issue. But it is absolutely false to claim that PR’s have voted against statehood. The fact that this is “common knowledge” among learned Republicans says a lot more about them than it does about reality.
THIS. Why is the assumption that any new state would be Dem and tip the favor liberal-ward? For instance, PR has a good sized presence in the military, a traditionally conservative bastion. The majority of it’s residents are Catholic, another constituency heavily associated with conservatism. If the GOP reliably gave them the time of day after hurricanes and knocked of the racist crap (I know, I know), PR would be a red state. Ditto the islands with a heavy military presence.
That’s not to mention that if a sparely populated red state like ND breaks up into two smaller states – the chances of them both being red are REALLY damn high unless it’s literally just a city peacing out and leaving the rest of the state behind. There is NOTHING saying a new state would push the balance towards the Dems and in fact has the distinct possibility of exacerbating the issue if red states played this right. I think it’s very telling that conservatives see this as a way to turn the nation blue instead of an opportunity to consolidate power even further; they have no intention to govern or change their ways.
I’m always a little wary of assigning “liberal” and “conservative” labels on historic actors. Modern definitions don’t always seem to fit well. Heck, half the time in these threads I put “conservative” in quotes when referring to current actors because I’m not sure the word means anything right now. But the Dakotas were admitted in 1889, by which time I believe Republicans were heavily into representing the rich and powerful of the Gilded Age, which is to say they were very much like current Republican’s.
Catholics: 37% lean Republican, 44% lean Democrat
so maybe not so heavily conservative.
My only advice is for Democrats to choose what they want to do carefully, because chances are good that the window for change/court packing/any other corrections they want is about 2 years.
2019 update on Catholics (via Pew Research):
Roughly equal shares of Catholic registered voters have identified with or leaned toward the Democratic and Republican parties in recent years (47% vs. 46%, respectively).
Well, here’s the thing. I didn’t say “don’t feel resentment”. I feel resentment. I’m not surprised by the resentment y’all feel. How could anyone not feel any resentment now?
I didn’t say “don’t fight back”. Stand up. Fight back. Strive for justice. We feel it. We need it.
I’m saying that when it comes to decisions of governance or policy, revenge and resentment aren’t the best. And when I say “not the best” I assert that they are not the best for us. I speak from my own experience. Letting those things run off the leash was not good for me. I didn’t like what happened.
We can choose which of our feelings to run with. Run with the hunger and thirst for justice, not revenge.
It’s the same as what they say of minorities, and immigrants, and Dreamers, etc.
For some reason, those inferior, depraved ingrates won’t vote for the party that’s out to actively hurt their interests!
If I may do a quick take here, not thought through yet: America was set up as a white Christian nation dominated by the wealthy, but it’s not stated so explicitly in either the Constitution nor the Declaration of Independence. IMO, the Founders and Framers assumed implicit meanings under the guise of the universalist intelectual fashion of the time.
And that’s what Conservatives want to conserve, even though that model is just about 90% dead and dying a little more every day.
I always find it interesting that the latecomer states (and their geographically near neighbors) were leaders in direct election of Senators, women voting, and institution of ballot initiatives. Even today, and largely independent of red/blue status, they lead the way in vote-by-mail and nonpartisan/bipartisan redistricting commissions.
In the event of a Democratic federal trifecta come January, I expect that there will be more friction about priorities between the geographic “wings” of the Democrats than you would think if all you read was the NYTimes and WaPost.
In fairness, I think this is the more romantic view of the body that I am not sure existed–and really didn’t once parties formed.
I will say, however, that one of the reasons I did not like the Garland move was that not advice was given, nor a chance to provide consent.
And in the current moment, I don’t see how any substantive advice can be given, just a lot of down-and-dirty consent.
@Steven L. Taylor: Yes. From memory, so suspect, Mitch McConnell all by his lonesome controlled whether the Senate got to vote on Garland.
One of the things that I like about my state legislature — and as a permanent non-partisan budget staffer I got to see stuff up close and personal — is that leadership has little power to completely block things. We can debate separately whether putting things like detailed requirements on the procedures of the legislature into the state constitution* is better or worse overall than letting the legislature set its own rules.
* Some of it directly, some of it indirectly when the state supreme court has ruled that, eg, “every bill gets a vote” means an honest hearing, with public comment, and at least a committee vote and has ruled out every way both parties have figured out (so far) for cheating on it.
I think this is an interesting point.
A few days ago, I expressed reservations about the potential political consequences of adding SCOTUS seats.
One of the responses was along the lines of Dems want significant changes to the way the country is run. Six months ago, the argument was we should nominate a safe choice so we can beat Trump.
Give us hell, Quimby!
@Kathy: Certainly the case, in my view. The founders had no idea at all that a person like me–immigrant parents, not a property owner, from working class foundations (not even a member of Jefferson’s vaunted “yeomanry”)–was ever going to have the vote. I expect that quite a few of the founders never would have even imagined that I would end up here at all, considering that one of my parents is from Mediterranean stock.
@Michael Cain: I’d rather have the veneer of bipartisanship than having this weird “rule” about who’s in the White House and who is in the Senate majority. At least in the first case, there’s a little pressure for Senators to behave a little better. The other is some sad partisan fatalism.
@Jay L Gischer:
Unlike you, I liked the results too much. Which is why I don’t play those games anymore.
James, I have some questions. How would you feel if the Democrats had chosen a buffoon, a cruel bully, a clear wanna be authoritarian, 7 deadly sins walking for their nominee and they won? It makes me think that almost anything goes to prevent that from happening again.
Another question, what do you want, and what do your Trump supporting friends want? Suppose you were dictator, what would you change and what would your Trump supporting friends want you to change? You’ve mentioned how the country is trending liberal. On social issues I would agree with you. Do you want to turn the clock back to 1980?
I argued at the time and continue to believe that denying Garland at least a hearing and a vote when the vacancy occurred so early was dirty pool. But politicization along those lines is actually rather normal.
Court packing has been verboten since the 1830s.
In terms of personal preferences, I agree. The combo of a Dem pres and Rep Senate in 2016 should have, under that notion, resulted in a compromise Justice.
But the reality of legislative politics is that the party with the most votes wins. I am sure that is fatalism as much as it is reality.
Did you mean 1930’s? Because it changed numerous times until 1869.
And even if you did mean 1930s and the “Change in time that saved nine”, how often since then has the Court been materially out of step ideologically from a Congress + White House that might want to change the number of seats? Ever?
The “controversial” civil rights decisions and now-criticized Griswold/Ro privacy decisions had (and still have) majority support. How often since the 1930s has SCOTUS consistently thwarted the will of Congress or been publicly seen as governed by partisanship and ideology?
Most importantly, you keep ignoring the numerous questions posed to you about actual solutions to the problems facing us as a country. The pages of this blog, including your own posts, have done well to catalogue the serious structural issues we face, particularly those caused by minority rule. You acknowledge these problems but oppose any and all solutions because “it hasn’t been done before”. What would you do to avert catastrophe?
@Steven L. Taylor:
The Vox piece I cited upthread lays out the case pretty well that admittance has always been highly politicized and that it has usually been done along the lines of pairwise admittance.
I’ve proposed all manner of reforms that are both Constitutional and within the spirit of the existing system: increasing the size of the House (which, unlike the courts, is a democratic institution) and election reforms to make voter suppression and gerrymandering harder. I think that there are even reforms to the Supreme Court that would de-escalate rather than escalate the tit-for-tat that’s been going on for decades.
@James Joyner: Would still love to hear where your line is.
A few comments/observations:
1. “Chicanery” is one way to describe Congress using Constitutional powers to react to a corrupt impeached President. Another would be “responsible”. It also provides a very clear historical exemplar for the current situation.
2. Handwaving away that period as “chicanery” is not helpful to your argument.
3. Your argument also ignores the earlier period where the size changed as the number of federal circuits changed.
4. Your argument seems to be fact and reality-independent. It seems to boil down to stating that it doesn’t matter what the problem is, because we haven’t changed the size in the modern era, we shouldn’t change the size now – even if the specific issues and problems are different now than they were in the past.
To play offKingdaddy‘s question, what if Trump has a Justice killed and the GOP Senate also confirms the replacement before the election. Would that suffice to take unprecedented action with respect to the Court?
At what point does James think that the current situation may require different actions than have been required in the past century?
How do those reforms solve the problem of a polarized ideological Supreme Court and overall Judiciary that is not seen as honest or trustworthy? That is seen as partisan and ideological?
While Roberts clearly is trying hard to maintain the public view of the Court, it is also clear that the rest of the conservative wing often doesn’t care about stare decisis or being seen as impartial.
If they do strike down the ACA in November in grounds that are truly risible from a legal perspective, their ability to command any sense of national trust or respect will be gone.
If they keep putting their thumbs on the scale to interfere in citizen’s ability to vote to benefit their preferred political party, they aren’t neutral arbiters and if not, what role do they have in a democratic society?
Theese days the Right is far more radical than their counterparts on the Left.
What the Right has done to norms, is what they feared Obama would do.
Wa! That’s almost exactly the argument that’s made about the electoral college, too. I guess it really is only about whose ox was gored. 🙁
@James Joyner: “increasing the size of the House (which, unlike the courts, is a democratic institution)”
I know you’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t see how it does any good. You could expand the House to three hundred million people and they could conceivably pass legislation 299.999.999-1. And then it would go to the Senate and Mitch McConnel would refuse to let it come to a vote.
So how is anyone better off?
@al Ameda: “What the Right has done to norms, is what they feared Obama would do.”
…is what they CLAIMED TO fear Obama would do…”