For the long stretch of time when Hillary Clinton had a robust lead over Donald Trump in the presidential polls, the big secondary question was whether Democrats could win the net four Senate seats to flip that chamber, making SCOTUS nominations more secure. On those occasions when it looked like Clinton might blow out to a landslide victory, Democrats began to hope for a “wave” election that could give them the net gain of 30 House seats necessary to take back that chamber, putting at least two years of progressive legislation on the table for the first time since 2010.
Now, five days from November 8, the dynamic has suddenly changed. As Philip Bump put it in a headline at the Washington Post: “Donald Trump has never been closer to the presidency than he is at this moment.”
If the polls closed right at this moment (which they won’t) and if the results in each state perfectly mirrored the current RealClearPolitics average of polls in each state (which they won’t), Hillary Clinton would be elected president by an electoral college margin of 8 votes. From her high in the polls a week or two ago, Clinton’s leads in a number of critical battleground states have collapsed or evaporated entirely. The election could come down to one state with four electoral college votes that flips from Clinton to Donald Trump and, boom: A 269-269 electoral college tie, and a vote by the House of Representatives to decide on the next president — who, given the composition of the House, would almost certainly be Donald Trump.
As Bump points out, the “one state with four electoral college votes that flips from Clinton to Donald Trump” could be New Hampshire, where a batch of polls coming out today showed Clinton’s long-standing and once enormous lead vanishing.
In any event, even if this is all a mirage, the Trump boomlet in state polls has created a new possibility that virtually no one has publicly discussed: The mogul could be elected president even as Republicans lose control of the Senate.
Before you laugh, consider this: In the same RealClearPolitics polling averages that Bump is talking about, four Democratic Senate candidates in competitive races are running ahead of Hillary Clinton in terms of the margins by which they lead or trail their Republican challengers: Evan Bayh of Indiana, Jason Kander of Missouri, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Katie McGinty of Pennsylvania. All but Cortez Masto are currently ahead, and she’s within two points. Along with the almost certain takeaway of a Republican seat in Illinois, and a probable Democratic win in Wisconsin, these four would be enough to flip the Senate even if Trump wins and makes Mike Pence the Senate tiebreaker. Both presidential and Senate races in New Hampshire and North Carolina are close enough that it’s possible a split decision would favor Maggie Hassan or Deborah Ross rather than Hillary Clinton.
The Democratic candidates have their own problems, of course, but none of them arguably is as big a problem as Clinton’s email problem. And while we have heard for months about Republican ticket-splitters leaving the top of the ticket blank or voting for Clinton, it’s also possible a few of those “discouraged” or lefty Democratic voters we keep hearing about could vote for a donkey-party Senate candidate while giving a pass to HRC.
The Senate going blue while the White House turns an orangish-red would not be the strangest thing that has happened this year. But it would have profound consequences. A Democratic Senate could absolutely keep a wacko bird Supreme Court nominee from being confirmed. And it could also potentially throw a monkey wrench into Paul Ryan’s plans to enact a comprehensive conservative agenda (including an upper-end and corporate tax cut, big reductions in low-income assistance, defunding of Obamacare and Planned Parenthood, the virtual abolition of Medicaid, a big Pentagon expansion, and plenty of other long-dreamed-of sugar plums for the right that Trump has indicated he supports) through a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bill.
At a minimum, a Democratic Senate could ensure that a Trump presidency is not just a matter of intra-GOP negotiation between congressional conservatives who know exactly what they want and a president whose main interests lie in executive action — or frequent TV appearances from the Oval Office.