In 1994, Republicans won 54 House seats and their first majority in 40 years. Bill Clinton was reelected two years later. In 2010, Republicans added 63 seats. Barack Obama was reelected two years later.
On the one hand, that shows there is little connection between the midterm elections and the next presidential race. But the link hasn’t been nonexistent: Republicans make big gains at the expense of a hobbled Democratic president. Then that president runs against the excesses of the new GOP majorities to rebound politically and win a second term.
Tuesday night’s results may at least interrupt that pattern. Biden was the big Democratic winner. He was able to hold together the anti-Trump coalition enough to stave off defeat in a number of competitive races. His campaign travel schedule, anti-MAGA messaging, and predictions that the race would swing back toward the Democrats in the end appear to be vindicated. He looks stronger than Clinton or Obama did the day after their first midterm elections, and they both won a second term.
Trump was the big Republican loser, even though he was not on the ballot. He has possibly cost the GOP the Senate for the second time in as many election cycles. The only Trump-endorsed Georgia statewide Republican primary winner was the only loser. His acolytes lost a series of winnable House races.
It is possible that Democrats delay the generational change in leadership their own voters tell pollsters they want while Republicans move on from Trump. Instead of a Clinton-style course correction, Democrats may run the first octogenarian face.
Yet there is no guarantee. Republicans may still win the House, but with such a small majority it amplifies the voices of the types of lawmakers who cost them in so many races on Tuesday. That would enable Biden to run much the same playbook that worked for him this year, worked for him in 2020, and worked for both Clinton and Obama in their reelection races.
Trump is planning an announcement on Nov. 15. It is almost universally presumed that this will be a third bid for president. He told ABC News we would learn of his vice presidential pick “soon,” which all but confirms a 2024 campaign.
The former president has survived two impeachments, the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, a 2020 defeat, the Access Hollywood tape, the Mar-a-Lago raid, his businesses being investigated, and myriad other scandals. His political ambitions could therefore make it through endorsing Dr. Oz for Senate. He is unlikely to go quietly into the night.
Biden could decide that after beating Trump and defying expectations in the midterm elections, his legacy is secure and he does not need to try to be a president who is closer to 90 than 80. He could cede the stage to a younger Democrat, making the race about the future rather than a replay of 2020.
Finally, the entire point of the ultra mega MAGA messaging was to be able to run against other Republicans as if they are Trump. DeSantis has many of the qualities Republicans liked about Trump. For Democrats and independents, the question becomes whether DeSantis can be associated with the Trump characteristics they dislike.
So 2024 could easily be more of the same for Republicans. It took Democrats 12 years to learn the lessons that cost them three straight presidential elections in the 1980s. The Trump-era GOP would be trying to learn them in two.
But Biden looking stronger while Trump looks weaker might not be as bad a thing for Republicans as it was two years ago. Stay tuned.