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Why Democrats Will Almost Certainly Hold the House in 2020

Nancy Pelosi’s gavel is probably safe until her planned retirement in 2022. Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

For worry-wart Democrats who fret about the political future, these are tough times. Thanks to a growing economy, Donald Trump isn’t the toasted lame duck he might have appeared to be as his party was getting crushed in the 2018 midterms. And Democratic prospects for taking back the Senate aren’t getting any better either, as at least three of Chuck Schumer’s prize 2020 prospects — Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams and Cindy Axne (an Iowa congresswoman) — have taken a pass on running for the upper chamber.

But at least there’s relatively little reason for Democrats to fear another Republican trifecta like the one they woke up to in November of 2016. As Charlie Cook explains, a flip of the House in 2020 would break all sorts of historical precedents:

Cook Political Report House Editor David Wasserman points out that control of the House has not flipped in consecutive elections since 1954, and the last time the House changed control in a presidential election year was 1952. The House rarely flips — five times (1954, 1994, 2006, 2010, 2018) in the last 65 years — but when it does, it is almost always in midterm years, which tend to be more explosive.

Wasserman also points out that Democrats have gained House seats in five of the past six presidential election years, with newly redrawn maps in Texas making 2004 the lone exception.

Cook also points out that members of a party that has lost its House majority tend to retire in relatively high numbers, which should produce some open seats ripe for the plucking by Democrats. The only thing the Donkey Party should probably worry about is overexposure in Trump Country: the 2018 midterms left only three Republican incumbents standing in districts carried by Clinton in 2016, while 31 Democrats will defend seats in districts carried by Trump. But then again, even if Trump is reelected, it will likely be with a far-from-a-majority popular vote (Republican strategies are privately conceding that Trump’s chances of even winning the popular vote are very limited) and few, if any, coattails. With Republicans needing a net gain of roughly 20 seats (they currently have 197 of the 218 needed for a majority, with three vacancies), they’d need more help than Trump is likely to give them while he concentrates on saving his own orange hide.

So modest GOP House gains are entirely possible, unless Trump gets beaten badly, in which case it could go the other way (just as Democrats gained 21 House seats in 2008 after gaining 32 and flipping the House in 2006).

Things could change, but all in all, it looks like Nancy Pelosi will get to keep her Speaker’s gavel until 2022, when she is expected to retire subsequent to a term-limit deal she cut to head off a 2018 challenge (a deal which will probably protect her in 2020 as well). If Trump’s still in office, she’ll have a couple more State of the Union Address to look down on him with amusement and disdain.

Why Democrats Will Almost Certainly Hold the House in 2020