The GOP and History

Robert Novak explains why it may get worse for the Republicans before it gets better:

Private House Democratic polls of the 50 most competitive congressional districts project a gain of 9 to 11 seats in the 2008 elections that would be an unprecedented further surge by the party following its 2006 gain of 30 seats that won control of the House. All previous major surges of House seats have been followed by losses in the next election. The 54-seat Republican gain in 1994 that produced GOP House control was followed by an eight-seat loss in 1996. However, the current Republican political slump, fueled by President Bush’s unpopularity, would reverse that pattern if the election were held today, according to the Democratic polls.

Maybe Novak means all previous recent surges, since after their landslide victory in 1932, the Democrats increased their House majority in 1934 as well, from 310 to 319 seats. (Now that was a majority!) Still, he's right that Dem gains in '08 would be a historically unusual result - but then again, as Daniel Larison notes, so is the current foreign-policy situation:

There has never been a President elected twice in his own right who presided over a war this long. Normally, Presidents either get re-elected before they get us into wars (Wilson), the wars are relatively brief (Tripoli, War of 1812, Mexico, Spain, Gulf War, Kosovo), or the wars are concluded successfully shortly after the President’s latest re-election (War of Secession, WWII). The unpopular, less successful and/or unconstitutional wars of the modern era normally end up forcing Presidents into early retirement (Truman, Johnson). Bush’s victory in 2004 has really thrown a wrench into the punditry works, because by all rights and according to the relevant precedents it should not have happened.

The closest parallel to how the Iraq War has intersected with U.S. politics, to my mind, is actually the Civil War, where Lincoln faced re-election with the outcome of the war decidedly in doubt, and indeed might not have defeated McClellan without some timely battlefield successes in the summer of 1864. Michael Barone, among others, drew exactly this parallel during the '04 race. The difference, of course, is that the Civil War was over about six months after Lincoln was re-elected, whereas here we are more than two years on in Iraq with no end in sight. Perhaps in David Petraeus, Bush has found his U.S. Grant, but Grant assumed command of the Union armies in March of 1864, six months before Lincoln stood for re-election, whereas both the '04 race and the '06 midterms came and went before Petraeus was given the command. Which is one of the many reasons why there's less public patience for waiting nine months to see if a new military strategy works than there was during, say, Grant's Wilderness campaign.