If, as is now probable, President Trump loses his campaign for reelection, Republicans will wish that they had paid more attention to the House.
The question that frames the election cycle for the House is this: Can Republicans pick up seats in the event of a Trump loss?
There are plenty of instances in which the presidency swung one way while the House swung the other. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson won, while Republicans picked up 19 seats. In 1960, John F. Kennedy won while Republicans picked up 20 seats. In 1988, George H.W. Bush won, while Democrats picked up two seats. In 1992, Bill Clinton won while the Republicans picked up nine seats. In 2000, George W. Bush won and the Democrats picked up two seats.
In 2016, Mr. Trump won and the Democrats picked up six seats.
This cycle is particularly susceptible to such an outcome. Take, for example, the recent special election in California’s 25th Congressional District. In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton carried that district by 9 points. In 2018, the Republican incumbent, Steve Knight, lost his reelection bid by a similar amount to Katie Hill. In the wake of a messy scandal, Ms. Hill resigned. In the special election to replace her, Republican Mike Garcia, a rookie candidate, beat a member of the California Assembly by 10 points.
There are more than 40 congressional districts in the country currently held by Democrats that are as Republican as that California district. The Republicans can and should be competitive in almost all of them: Districts such as New York’s 11th, where Mr. Trump won by 11 points, and Democrat Max Rose is trying to defend his seat against Nicole Malliotakis; or South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, where Nancy Mace is running against Democrat Joe Cunningham in a district the president won in 2016 by 13.1%; or New Mexico’s 2nd district, where Yvette Herrell is running against Xochitl Torres-Small in a district the president won by 10.2% in 2016.
It is unlikely that the Democrats will continue to hold all of these seats. In many instances, these districts had been won by Republicans for years.
What would help the House Republicans is more money (shocker). The president’s campaign has already raised $1 billion and has $300 million in the bank. Similarly, the Republican National Committee has more than $250 million in the bank. They should share some of that prize money with House Republicans, who, with appropriate resources, could pick up more seats and either seize control of the House or at least make it very difficult for the Democrats to maintain discipline at all times.
Right now, the split in the House is 232-199. The Republicans need to net 19 seats to take control of the chamber, and, more importantly, need to net as few as a dozen to be able to complicate and retard the ability of the Democrats to enact what is likely to be an aggressive and excessive agenda.
The simple reality is that it is difficult to run the House with a narrow majority, in large measure because any small group of troublemakers in the majority party can hold the House hostage. Ask former Speaker John Boehner how he feels about the Freedom Caucus.
For Democrats in the next Congress, this problem will be acute. If there is a Democratic majority in the House next year, they will be in the center ring of the ideological civil war that threatens to engulf the party of Jefferson and Jackson. Additionally, irrespective of whether they hold the majority, the Democratic caucus almost certainly will face a leadership struggle, as many House Democrats will undoubtedly expect Speaker Nancy Pelosi to honor her commitment to be a transitional leader.
At a minimum, winning House seats now will set the stage for Republicans to regain control of the House in 2022 in the wake of what will be a bumpy and contentious first two years of a Biden administration.
The monomaniacal obsession of the RNC with maintaining the president’s leaky boat of a campaign should not cause Republicans to miss opportunities to make the party stronger, grow the next generation of elected leaders, and impede the legislative and policy craziness heading straight toward us next year.
The party needs to remain focused on the House.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
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