Majorities are not lasting long as they used to and as of Saturday night’s elections, Barack Obama has just surpassed Harry S. Truman as the U.S. president who presided over the most midterm election defeats in his own party over two terms. Historically, midterms are usually unkind to the President’s own party and gains tend not to be massive.
Truman’s Democratic Party racked up a total of 74 seats lost during both of his presidential terms, while the Democratic Party lost 75 seats by 2014—63 in 2010 and 12 this year. This number has the potential to grow by one if Republican Martha McSally defeats Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ) in an election recount she currently leads by less than 200 votes.
Following the failure of Hillarycare and the passage of the Assault Weapons Ban, President Bill Clinton watched helplessly when Republicans took the House in 1994 after being in the chamber’s minority for four decades. Known as the “Republican Revolution” and led by then-Rep. Newt Gingrich, the GOP won 54 House seats and 8 Senate seats, giving them majorities in both. The GOP would hold these majorities until 2006 when Democrats took back the House and Senate Republicans lost enough seats to be on the edge of losing their majority by the next election cycle.
The Democratic Party started with majorities in both chambers at the beginning of 2009, when Obama first took office. Obama’s tails were long and Democrats were guaranteed to be running on his campaign agenda.
By April of 2009, Democrats held a 60-vote majority with the defection of then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to the Democratic Party, guaranteeing the GOP could not put forth a filibuster. House Democrats expanded their 2006 majority win in 2008, when Obama was first elected, giving their party a 79-seat majority over Republicans.
However, the victory was short-lived. The passage of Obamacare sparked outrage among the Republican Party base, and Tea Party activists emerged in each state and began to take action to help put House Democrats back in the minority by 2010.
Republicans regained the lower chamber that year picking up a net sum of 64 seats and becoming the majority party, with 49 more seats than the Democrats. The 2012 elections trimmed that majority some, leaving Republicans with a 33-seat edge.
On the Senate side in 2010, Republicans won four seats previously held by retiring Democrats as well as picked up two seats occupied by Democratic incumbents. The six-seat change still left the upper chamber in Democratic hands but by only 4 members, as opposed to 16 from the previous election. However, in the 2012 election, the GOP lost 2 seats, putting them behind the Democratic majority by at least 8 votes, considering two independent members of the Senate caucused with the majority.
The setbacks for Republicans in 2012 led one prominent election analyst to believe that Democrats were in position to gain huge Senate wins in four years. After Democrats won 25 of the 33 Senate seats in 2012, Roll Call’s Stuart Rothenberg predicted Democrats could very well regain their 60-seat supermajority by 2016. And while the GOP could take advantage of the 20 seats the Democrats had to defend to their 13 GOP seats, Rothenberg had little confidence Republicans could pull it off.
Although Republicans have a new 9-seat edge majority in the Senate come January, the GOP will be on the defensive in 2016. Twenty-four Republican Senate seats will be up for re-election compared to only 10 Democratic seats. The 10 Democrats are mostly senior members from solid blue states with incredible fundraising ability.