Despite Democratic Gains, Two More Years of Gridlock Likely

A tiny Republican majority in the House of Representatives could still block much-needed reforms.

The United States Capitol building in Washington DC, January 20, 2009
The United States Capitol building in Washington DC, January 20, 2009 (Wikicommons/Bgwwlm)

Democrats in the United States are likely to keep the presidency and take control of the Senate, but a majority in the House of Representatives is still a way off.

That could mean two more years of divided government and more of the same gridlock that has kept the parties from reforming entitlements, gun laws, immigration and the tax code, despite broad bipartisan agreement about the seriousness of these issues.

Down with Trump

Hillary Clinton is almost certain to defeat her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, in November and succeed Barack Obama as president next year.

Trump could drag Republican senators running for reelection in centrist or Democratic-leaning states, such as Illinois, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, down with him.

FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 68-percent chance of winning back the Senate majority they lost in 2014.

Even contests in some Republican-leaning states, such as Indiana, Missouri and North Carolina, are too close for comfort for Republicans.

Paul Ryan’s Pyrrhic victory

The picture is different in the House of Representatives.

Poll averages collected by RealClearPolitics suggest that 224 Republican seats are more or less safe. That is a majority of six.

Many Republicans in the lower chamber are shielded from the damage Trump is doing to their party by gerrymandering: the practice of drawing district boundaries in such a way that it is almost impossible for the incumbent party to lose control of it.

A narrow victory could still mean trouble for House speaker Paul Ryan and his supporters, however, who have to battle fanatics in their own party as much as Democrats. A few dozen insurgents could hold the whole caucus hostage, as they have tried to do in the past.

Compromises unlikely

Otherwise sensible Republicans may be disinclined to do deals with a President Clinton, even if they agree with her that America needs to invest more in infrastructure, reverse cuts in defense spending, reform a hopelessly complicated tax code and shift the immigration system’s emphasis away from family reunification and toward attracting high-skilled labor. Their political instinct will be to find common cause with the extremists in their party instead in order to stave off a full-blown Republican civil war.

That leaves basically zero prospect of compromise on entitlements and guns, two issues on which the parties are actually far apart.