“I think it’s going to be another Democratic President” after Obama, Ginsburg told The Washington Post. “The Democrats do fine in presidential elections; their problem is they can’t get out the vote in the midterm elections.”
Professor Seth Masket questions her prescience since Democrats have historically won the presidency only about 50% of the time, but more recent history is more instructive. Since 1988, the Democrats have only lost the Electoral College twice, and the score should really only show one defeat since the 2000 election was a fluke based on a flawed ballot design in Palm Beach County and an aborted recount. Let’s look at the numbers by year:
1992: Democrats 370, Republicans 168
1996: Democrats 379, Republicans 159
2000: Republicans 271, Democrats 266
2004: Republicans 286, Democrats 251
2008: Democrats 365, Republicans 173
2012: Democrats 332, Republicans 206
You can see that the Republicans haven’t cracked 300 votes in 25 years. In that same stretch of time, they have cracked 48% of the popular vote exactly once, in 2004. As I’ve written before, the Electoral College becomes almost unwinnable for Republicans if they can’t win Virginia, which they may not be able to do again anytime soon. Demographic changes in states like Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada are moving those states out of the purple and into the blue.
Things can certainly change, and it’s never a safe bet to just assume that a political party is going to win the next presidential election, but the country has become polarized in a way that strongly benefits the Democratic Party in presidential elections. In the six presidential elections since 1988, there are 18 states plus the District of Columbia that have voted for the Democrats every single time. Collectively, that’s 238 out of the 270 votes needed to win the presidency that the Republicans have basically no chance of getting. In order to win, a Republican candidate has to either completely run the table in competitive states (which will give them the narrowest of victories) or they must overcome a quarter-century of futility and win some truly blue states.
Justice Ginsburg isn’t stupid. She understands these trends and this history. The Democrats have a far better chance of winning the 2016 presidential elections than the Republicans, and that’s irrespective of the eventual candidates. If you’re asking her to step down because of the risk that she might die during a Republican presidency, she has the right to ask you why the hell you think she’ll live to see another Republican presidency.
The internal debate within the Republican Party about immigration reform and social issues is really just a recognition by the monied interests and political consultants that the GOP as it is presently constituted cannot win a national election. Of course, “cannot” is a bit too strong. We can never be certain what constellation of events might come together in 2016 to change our analysis, but it seems extremely unlikely that the Republicans will win. And when you begin to think about the likely candidates, it looks even bleaker for the them.