But Silver did not “predict” that outcome (in fact, he gave a quite broad range of possible outcomes). He provided a snapshot as of last Sunday. It is an accurate snapshot—but we have a whole photo album ahead for the next seven-plus months.
Let’s put the caveats aside and explore what the policy process would look like if Republicans do win a majority in the Senate and hold their majority in the House. The bottom line is that the prospects for significant advances in solving problems in key areas would be bleak. But it is more complicated, and more interesting, than that.
First, the real downside. Start by imagining what the GOP zeitgeist will be if the party picks off six, seven, or eight seats. My guess, the same as after the 2010 midterms: “Man, did that politics of obstruction work like a charm! Let’s double down on it and take the whole enchilada in 2016!” If there is no public backlash against an utterly dysfunctional Congress and a near-complete lack of productivity, why rock the boat?
That attitude would combine with a common reaction of lawmakers outside the president’s party in the final two years of a two-term president: Why do anything now that involves compromise when we have a chance to do what we want after the next election? And there would be another factor moving toward a radical-right dominance: an explosion of interest from Republican candidates for the presidency, and a jolt of confidence on the right that things are going their way and there is no need to compromise on a nominee. More candidates would emerge from the right, joining the Ted Cruz/Marco Rubio/Rand Paul/Mike Huckabee contingent. Watching the putative presidential candidates all vote against the budget compromise pulled together by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray—and then watching Ryan join them and vote against the debt-ceiling bill that basically ratified his spending deal—made it clear to me that the energy on the presidential nominating side is all on the bedrock right edge.
But it is more complicated than that. While Americans tend to look at the president as the symbol of government in Washington—giving him and his party more blame if things are not going well in Washington—the perception would be altered if Republicans took full control of Congress. It would be much harder to diffuse blame for a “Do-Nothing Congress.” The pressure to act, to pass legislation to deal with major problems in the country, would be enhanced, and the conspicuous failure to act could, in the memorable words of Mitch McConnell, “damage the Republican brand.” The president would undoubtedly use his platform to push hard for immigration reform, maybe tax reform, a serious jobs program, and an infrastructure plan, among others. Spurning action on all of those would have its costs.
Second, there would be a strong impetus for Republicans to pass legislation that had some political appeal but would draw presidential vetoes—something Democrats would have done regularly in the final two years of the George W. Bush Administration but for GOP filibusters in the Senate. So we might get a passel of bills that provide money for popular programs by cutting the heart out of things Democrats love—such as the recent bill that added funds for pediatric-health research by cutting the public financing of party conventions.