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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

With or without Trump, Congress remains the GOP’s to lose

House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during the 1st

House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during the 1st Congressional District Republican Party of Wisconsin's annual Fall Fest event held in Elkhorn, Wis., on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Photo Credit: AP / Anthony Wahl

Depending on your politics, you can take it as either an assurance or a warning that a major party has been known to keep both houses of Congress even when its presidential nominee falls far short.

That’s worth remembering as Republican Party bigs, who profess alarm about the chances of upstart Donald Trump, purportedly shift focus and resources from helping beat Hillary Clinton toward keeping GOP majorities in the Senate and House.

As far back as August, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), spoke of how his caucus lost eight seats in 2012 with Mitt Romney’s 4 percentage-point loss and 21 seats in 2008 with Sen. John McCain’s 7-point loss.

“If you’re speaker of the House, it’s your job to worry about the Republican majority, no matter what the circumstances are,” Ryan told The Washington Post.

Perhaps. But the landmark election of 1972 provides cause to suspect that Ryan may be playing up his problems.

That year, Democrats held on to both houses even as their top candidate was buried in a landslide. The Democrats ran Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota against Republican President Richard Nixon, who won an amazing 49 states.

Powerful establishment players on the Democratic side had shunned McGovern — much the way top Republicans now turn from Trump. AFL-CIO president George Meany hurt McGovern by staying neutral as a national coalition of mayors, governors and businesspeople formed Democrats for Nixon.

Still, on Election Day that year, the Democrats retained majority control of both congressional houses. They even gained two seats in the Senate for a 56-42 edge while losing just 13 seats in the House — which still left Democrats holding a 242-192 majority.

Regardless of whether Trump loses by a little, loses by a lot, or suddenly wins in an upset, the GOP seems to be in a good position to keep power in the Capitol.

Even as Democrat Bill Clinton won re-election in 1996, the Republicans retained control of both houses, which they’d captured two years earlier.

Currently, Republicans have a big 246-186 advantage in the House and hold 54 of the 100 Senate seats.

That could be enough of a cushion to overcome any down-ballot setbacks from the presidential contest if you assume, as many insiders do, that Trump topping the ballot poses a burden.

Should Hillary Clinton lose, it seems especially unlikely that Democrats would capture either house.

Bottom line: Whatever happens at the White House, the Congress remains the GOP’s to lose.


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