Could the Democrats Lose the Senate before the Next Election?

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Mr. . Neumann, Jr., is professor of law at Hofstra University.

Democratic Senator Tim Johnson had emergency surgery in December and remains hospitalized.  For a time, he was listed in critical condition.  The governor of his state is a Republican and would appoint a replacement if the seat became vacant.

Joe Lieberman lost the Democratic senatorial primary lost summer and was reelected as an independent.  Most of the people who voted for him last November were Republicans.  He supports the White House on Iraq, and although he promised to caucus with the Democrats, he has been watched attentively by both parties for any signs of impending defection.

The Senate is now 51 Democrats and 49 Republicans.  In case of a tie, Vice President Cheney casts the deciding vote.  If the Democrats were to lose a Senate seat or two, would the Republicans be able to take over the Senate?  The answer is in the organizing resolution that the Senate adopted on January 12.

At the beginning of every Congress, each house passes a resolution organizing its committees, designating committee chairs and listing the majority and minority members of each committee.  This is boring and not reported in newspapers — except that twice a Senate organizing resolution has had dramatic consequences.

The first time was in the 83d Congress, when there were 48 states and thus 96 senators.  When the Senate organized in January 1953, the Republicans had 48 senators and the Democrats 47.  The extra was Wayne Morse of Oregon, previously a Republican.  Because he objected to a Republican drift to the right, he had resigned from the Republican party in October 1952, declared himself an independent, and in the presence of a roomful of reporters filled out an absentee ballot in which he voted for Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic presidential candidate.

Organizing resolutions normally do not provide that if the majority party loses its majority, control of Senate committees will shift to the other party, and the resolution adopted in January 1953 was a typical one and lacked such a provision.  Usually, this doesn’t matter.  The party that starts with a majority nearly always keeps it during a Congress’s two-year life.  But that was not the case in the 83d Congress.

Nine senators died in 1953 and 1954.  One of them was Robert Taft, who was at the time the Republican majority leader. In those years, the majority leader’s fate seemed cursed.  In 1950, the Democratic majority leader was defeated for reelection by his own state’s voters, an extreme way of humiliating a person who has national power.  His successor suffered the same fate in 1952, losing to Barry Goldwater and creating a vacancy as Democratic floor leader that was filled by Lyndon Johnson.  After the 1952 elections, the Republicans took over the Senate, and Robert Taft became majority leader.  A few months later, he died.

Nobody knew it at the time, but the Senate then was briefly a breeding ground for presidential candidates.  In addition to Goldwater and Johnson, the Senate included John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey.  Richard Nixon had just left the Senate to become Vice President.  George McGovern was elected to the Senate later, in 1962.  That accounts for every presidential candidate nominated by a major party in the four presidential elections from 1960 to 1972.  From 1896 to 1992, only three other presidential candidates nominated by major parties had served in the Senate (Harding, 1920; Truman,1948; Mondale,1984).

Each Senate death creates two opportunities for a seat to change hands, first when the governor of the deceased senator’s state appoints a temporary successor and again at the special election held to choose a senator to serve out the remainder of the deceased senator’s term.  Several of these elections were not held until November 1954, but the senators elected then were sworn in in time to vote when the Senate censured Joseph McCarthy on December 2, 1954.

The Republicans had a Senate plurality from January to July 1953.  Then the Democrats had a plurality until June 1954; the Republicans again until December 1954; and finally the  Democrats again until the 83d Congress ended in January 1955.  These periods were occasionally interrupted by a week or two, and in one case a month, when the parties were tied.

For nearly half of the 83d Congress, the Democrats had more Senate seats than the Republicans.  But for the entire two years, Republicans chaired the committees and ran the Senate.  Republican Senator William Knowland frequently referred to himself as a majority leader without a majority, and his Democratic counterpart, Lyndon Johnson, said, “If anyone has more problems than a majority leader with a minority, it is a minority leader with a majority.”

One of the chairs designated in the organizing resolution was McCarthy, who ran the Senate Committee on Government Operations and its Subcommittee on Investigations and used both of them to terrorize whomever he wanted to.  He was investigated by his own subcommittee and during the hearings relinquished the chair to his fellow Republican, Karl Mundt.

On the day the hearings began in April 1954, Senate committees and subcommittees were chaired by Republicans even though Democrats outnumbered them 48 to 46.  On the day Robert Welch famously rebuked McCarthy over McCarthy’s smear of a young lawyer in Welch’s firm — “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or recklessness . . . .  Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator . . . . You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” — the parties were tied at 47 senators each.  That tie was broken two days later when Democrat Sam Ervin was sworn in to replace a senator who had died.  (Two decades later Ervin chaired the Senate committee that investigated Watergate.)

Why didn’t the Democrats try to organize the Senate when they had a plurality?  Even though the organizing resolution adopted in January 1953 did not provide for changing the parties’ statuses, the Democrats might have moved to adopt a new resolution to supersede the original one.

The reasons are not entirely clear.  One theory is that the Republicans would have filibustered any new organizing resolution introduced by the Democrats, but the picture of a minority party using an undemocratic device to hold onto power would probably have been a public relations disaster for the Republicans.

Another theory, suggested by Donald Ritchie, Associate Historian in the Senate’s Historical Office, is that the Democrats preferred to let the Republicans run the Senate while McCarthy was being investigated.  If the Democrats controlled the Senate and investigated McCarthy, they could be blamed all the more for being “soft on Communism,” a standard right-wing epithet of the period.  But this theory doesn’t entirely fit the chronology.  The Democrats first gained a plurality in the summer of 1953, and the dispute that led to the McCarthy hearings — his attempted intimidation of the Army — did not erupt in public until March 1954.  In the summer of 1953, McCarthy could have been deprived of his power as committee chair in a way that would have imposed very little political risk on the Democrats.  If they had taken over the Senate then, all Republican committee chairs would have been demoted to ranking members and lost the ability to control committee business, and it would not have appeared that they were attacking McCarthy.  Moreover, the McCarthy hearings were mostly concerned with how he had abused his power as a committee chair after the summer of 1953.

The most mundane theory might be the most likely.  With such a thin margin, the Democrats would not have been able to adopt a new organizing resolution unless every Democrat voted for it.  In such an unprecedented situation, Johnson might never have been confident he had all the votes he would have needed.

Perhaps the most interesting theory concerns the one member of the Senate who was not a member of either party.  At several points during the 83d Congress, the newly indepdendent Wayne Morse held the balance of power.  But he sabotaged his own leverage, and nobody seemed to be able to figure out how to handle him.  It has been claimed that if Republican control were in jeopardy, Morse would have returned to the Republicans to produce a tie, which Vice President Richard Nixon would have broken in favor of the Republicans.  But Morse was one of the most liberal members of the Senate, and Nixon’s nomination for Vice President in 1952 was one of the reasons Morse left the Republican party.  He became a Democrat in 1955, and in 1964 he was one of the two senators who voted against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which authorized the escalation of the Viet Nam War.

When the Senate met at the start of the 83d Congress, Morse refused to sit with either party in the Senate chamber and instead sat on a folding chair in the aisle between the Republican side and the Democratic side.  When he realized this made him look silly, he resumed his seat on the Republican side even though he was no longer a Republican.  Then he wanted to sit among the Democrats because, he said, two Republican senators kept whispering insults at him.

Before the 83d Congress, Morse sat on the Armed Services Committee and the Labor Committee.  These were highly desirable assignments in an era with a big military and a strong labor movement.  In January 1953, the Republicans assigned other senators to his places on both committees on the ground that he was no longer a Republican.  Morse asked the Democrats to boot a Democrat off each committee to make room for him, which the Democrats refused to do because, among other reasons, he was not a Democrat.

Before and after the 83d Congress, independent and third-party senators negotiated deals in which they supported one of the major parties for the purpose of organizing the Senate in exchange for drawing committee assignments, often desirable ones, from that party.  Morse did not do that.   He enjoyed playing the gadfly role, and much of his behavior in the period was simply grandstanding.

The second organizing resolution with dramatic consequences was adopted in January 2001.  The newly elected Senate was tied, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats.  Vice President Dick Cheney cast the tie-breaking vote, which permitted the Republicans to organize the Senate.  The organizing resolution for this Senate was unique.  When the resolution was adopted, the most noteworthy feature seemed to be equal treatment on committees.  Although Republicans took the committee chairs, the committees were made up of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, and the parties got equal committee staff budgets.  The sleeper in the resolution was this language:  “if at any time during the 107th Congress either party attains a majority, . . . the provisions of this resolution shall have no further effect . . . except that the committee chairmanships shall be held by the party which has attained a majority.”  In the negotiations that preceded the resolution, each party had an incentive to agree on this language.  If the Republicans picked up a seat to gain a majority, they would have been able to restructure committees and committee budgets, to the Democrats’ disadvantage.  But that is not what happened.  Instead, Republican James Jeffords bolted his party in June 2001 and voted with the Democrats, producing a Democratic majority, and the Democrats took over the Senate.  Trent Lott, who was reduced to minority leader, denounced this as “a coup of one.”  He had forgotten that six months earlier the Supreme Court — by a margin of one vote — had put into the White House a Republican candidate who had lost the national popular vote.

The November 2006 elections produced a Senate with a thin Democratic majority, 51 to 49.  After Tim Johnson was hospitalized in December, there was much speculation in the media that the Republicans would insist that the new Senate’s organizing resolution contain language like the one adopted in 2001, and that they would filibuster a resolution that lacked it.  But the resolution adopted on January 12 contained no such provision, and the Republicans quietly acquiesced.  Why?

The Republicans aren’t saying.  But their position was weak for two reasons.

First, the 2001 resolution was unique because the situation was unique:  an exactly tied Senate from the first day.  Some other Senates have started with thin majorities, but the majority party would get an organizing resolution without an escape clause, which is the precedent on which the Democrats could rely.

Second, the Democrats now have an advantage that the Republicans did not have in 2000 — a popular mandate.  In the last two elections, many more Americans have voted for Democratic senatorial candidates than for Republicans.  In 2004, the Democrats got over four million more senate votes than the Republicans did.  In this year’s elections, the Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them got six and a half million more senate votes than the Republicans.  In all the elections that produced the 100 senators in the current Senate, 96 million votes were cast for Democratic senatorial candidates and 87 million for Republicans.  When the public has so clearly expressed its preference for a Democratic Senate, the Republicans would have looked awful to the public if they had used a filibuster to obstruct it from functioning.

So if the Republicans were to pick up a seat or two and gain a majority, they would get no help from the organizing resolution now in effect.  They would instead be in the position that Lyndon Johnson’s Democrats were in the 83d Congress.

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Kent Paul McNaughton - 3/1/2007

Nice article--up to the comment that Trent Lott "... had forgotten that six months earlier the Supreme Court — by a margin of one vote — had put into the White House a Republican candidate who had lost the national popular vote."

Of course, according to our electoral system, the national popular vote means nothing. One of the great concerns of the Framers was that populous States should not overwhelm the less-populous, thereby putting them into a handicapped position regarding Federal favor. The Electoral College, though out of favor by some, was the compromise that gave the less-populous States a tad more electoral power.

Likewise, your second of two reasons for the Republican's non-push of an organizing provision to re-allocate chairmanships in the event that they might take over as the Senate's majority party after the Sen. Tim Johnson hospitalization in 2006, fails to convince. You claim the Democrats had "a popular mandate" and cite national vote totals to make your case.

If "mandates" had any standing, logically those with a higher percentage of the vote should be senior as to power in office to those with a lower percentage. In fact "mandates" are artificial, used to convince others why "I should get my way" because I have one. Or, "you should not act on your vision, because you do not."

Also, national vote totals often are simply a reflection of the larger voting populations of large States and large cities, who's voting tends to be Democratic Party-leaning.

John Charles Crocker - 2/5/2007

"But one usually doesn't need to be a cow to know how much milk one will give, either."
If one refuses to look at cows and refuses to listen to dairy farmers because they are all receiving federal subsidies, then ones opinion on how much milk a cow gives is virtually worthless.

"You said by that effort, indirectly, that you detected some force behind these crinkled old orbs, and wished they were on your side."
What I see is stubborn refusal to honestly evaluate evidence. It does not require a great amount of scientific aptitude to read a review article nor does it require much aptitude to read the abstracts of the various articles. If you have trouble with any of the vocabulary, you obviously have access to a computer or your children. Barring this you should not speak on subjects on which you know virtually nothing and refuse to learn.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 2/5/2007

I dispute that Exxon scientists do not seek the truth, and also doubt they are paid more than university scientists. Figure out the time worked with strict attention to the time off, and the quasi government employees will make a killing every time. The Protestant work ethic is alive and well at Exxon, also, but the same cannot be said about the academy.

The WSJ editorial page may not be absolutely right all the time, but that's the way to bet.

Even my own children argue with me about this global warming foolishness, and I attribute it to their recent brainwashing in the Ivy League. Many years from now they will doubtless look back and laugh, "Daddy was right about that, too!"

I have no scientific aptitude, frankly, and cannot bring myself to study such such questions seriously. But one usually doesn't need to be a cow to know how much milk one will give, either. Yet I appreciate your trying so hard to get me involved. You said by that effort, indirectly, that you detected some force behind these crinkled old orbs, and wished they were on your side.

John Charles Crocker - 2/4/2007

Your above argument amounts to the same as saying their have been forest fires since long before men walked the earth therefor that forest fire could not have been caused by men.

That there is natural variation in the earth's climate is not in debate and is taken into account in all recent models. The WSJ (editorial page I am guessing) is not the place to stop looking when judging a scientific debate. Science and Nature have dozens of articles and at least a couple of review papers on global climate over the past several years. Additionally there are some more specialized journals. The abstracts are generally available on line but you will either have to pay or go somewhere with a subscription to read most of them. Any good research library will have a subscription and you can then download them as PDFs.

Exxon has been funding climate research as have other energy concerns. Do you think their researchers are trying to prove anthropogenic causation of global warming? Exxon pays better than the government agencies and the universities and there are plenty of scientists that suck at that teat. If it is indeed so easy to find evidence that debunks this why have you not provided a single peer reviewed study that debunks this?

Rather than find any solid evidence you question the honesty of all scientists as though they were in some secret cabal bent on confusing the public about how the natural world works.

Maybe some members of MADD are insincere and ill informed does that mean that drunk driving is acceptable?

Here are a few articles to start you off. I'll have seven more waiting when you come up with one.

Walther et al "Ecological responses to recent climate change." Nature 416, 389-395 (28 March 2002)

Parmesan, C. and Yohe, G. "A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems." Nature 421, 37-42 (2 January 2003)

J. Hansen et al "Efficacy of climate forcings." Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 110 2005

No more ad hominem please, just evidence.


Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 2/4/2007

From the 10th to 13th centuries the earth was 1-3 degrees F. warmer than it is today. The Vikings crossed the sea in little boats which would now be impossible. Scotland produced wine in areas where it is now impossible to grow grapes. The earth's population was so small the warming was not man-made... (This from a paper in Delaware just a few days ago). The WSJ has run dozens of anti-warming articles by reputable scientists in recent years, available at any library. You should appreciate that the herd which produces pro-warming papers is a self-interested group, often on the public teat already and salivating for more federal research dollars. Many who pose as warming scientists are not working in the field of climatology, either. Most of them are just soi-disant intellectuals climbing aboard the liberal cause du jour. They are like the mothers against drunk driving, who enjoy wearing their little badge which says, "I care more than you do."

John Charles Crocker - 2/4/2007

Leaving aside the rest. Bush is far from throwing his arms around the issue of global warming beyond a little lip service.

Why is it you feel that global warming is nonsense? Study after study shows that the earth is warming and all models indicate that the primary cause of that warming is man's addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The consensus is overwhelming amng climate scientists, modelers and the scientific community in general.

I will offer you the same wager I offer every skeptic. Give me the citation for any peer reviewed scientific study conducted since 2000 whose results refute that either global warming is happening or that it is anthropogenically caused and I will match you 10 articles. Good luck in your search if you choose to accept this challenge.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 2/4/2007

Nixon tried wage and price controls, hardly something a conservative would do. He had a lot of liberals around, like Herb Brownell, Bill Rogers, Bob Finch, Elliot Richardson, Pat Moynihan, etc. Able people, but liberals. Nixon preoccupied himself with foreign affairs, and didn't get much concerned about domestic problems. Spiro Agnew was a very liberal choice for VP... President Ford signed foot-in-the-door legislation for federal aid to urban mass transit, and federal aid to education. He also failed to decontrol wellhead prices of natural gas when he had the chance--a dreadful mistake. One of Ford's most liberal acts, and worst acts, was the appointment of Justice John Paul Stevens. (Nixon didn't do a whole not better with Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell). Ford stood in the way of Ronald Reagan in 1976, prolonging the cold war by four years and ushering in the sad cohort of Carter judges.

Finally, you want to know how to tell whether George W. Bush is or was a conservative. I think we have seen enough to say he is clearly on the conservative side of center. His control of the liberal media has been very good, and that explains why they hate him so rabidly... He has wimped, however, on affirmative action, and he seems to be throwing his arms around the global warming nonsense, too, or at least edging much too closely that way. He has embraced ethanol, despite the fact everyone (including him?) knows this is a sop to farm states, of no practical value in rationalizing energy consumption. He cannot seem to understand one must gain control of the border before one can control employment of illegals, crime by illegals, or welfare to illegals, and things kindred. He gets very low marks on that, but it's probably tied up with advice he gets about how to hold Hispanics to the GOP, even though controlling the border would be more in the interests of Hispanic Americans than anyone else. He hasn't totally cut the knot between the U.S. and the UN as he should, though he deserves high marks for outing the kleptocracy there and laying the groundwork for eventual departure. (Kofi was actually a godsend, of great help in persuading America's schoolteachers and other ignorant groups that the UN was NOT our best hope for future peace)... Let's see how much vetoing he does of the Democrats' foolish legislation over the next two years. Let's see how much more he does by executive order, by-passing the Congress. Let's see how many recess appointments he can make, and how much school choice he supports. Let's see how much more health care savings he can promote, i.e., how much more downward pressure he can put on health care prices.

John Charles Crocker - 2/3/2007

How are Nixon and Ford liberals?

"Our current president is somewhat more like Ronald Reagan, and perhaps an 80 octane conservative, but it is a little early to judge."
How long do you have to wait before you can judge whether or not you think he is conservative?
What criteria will you use to judge whether or not he was really a conservative?

DeWayne Edward Benson - 2/3/2007

I believe Richard Nixon's term of Office can be sumed up by his selection of (vice) President, a man who gave purse snatching a good name.

Andrew D. Todd - 2/1/2007

The likelihood of Senate control shifting due to the death of a senator seems much lower than the likelihood of a senator changing sides. Since the political current is running leftwards, this would involve a RINO (Republican In Name Only) senator becoming a Democrat.

Here are the eleven oldest members of the Senate, pulled out of a table. The first two dates are the date of entrance to the Senate, and the date of Expiration of term. The last date is the date of birth:

Republican Strongholds:
Alaska 1969–2009 Ted Stevens (R) (1923)
Kentucky 1999–2011 Jim Bunning (R) (1931)
Indiana 1977–2013 Richard G. Lugar (R) (1932)

Democratic Strongholds:
Hawaii 1963–2011 Daniel K. Inouye (D) (1924)
1990–2013 Daniel K. Akaka (D) (1924)
Massachusetts 1963–2013 Edward M. Kennedy (D) (1932)
West Virginia 1959–2013 Robert C. Byrd (D) (1917)
New Jersey 2003–2009 Frank R. Lautenberg (D) (1924)
[An elder statesman in a newly defined Blue State, asked in at the last minute to replace a corrupt senator,
Junior colleague is a Democrat, as is the Governor]

Transition States:

New Mexico 1973–2009 Pete V. Domenici (R) (1932)
Pennsylvania 1981–2011 Arlen Specter (R) (1930)
Virginia 1979–2009 John Warner (R) (1927)
[In these states, the junior colleague is a Democrat, as is the Governor]

By comparison:

South Dakota 1997–2009 Tim Johnson (D) (1946)*
[a much younger man, falling prey to a comparatively young workaholic's type of complaint,
from a state which is highly conflicted in its political culture.]
Information Please Almanac
2006 Midterm Elections: The Senate

The oldest members of the senate are preponderantly in the parties' respective strongholds. They have been able to hold office for thirty or forty years without serious challenge, simply because the opposing party is anathema in their states, for fundamental economic reasons. Sometimes there is a governor of the opposing party, but he is a member of that party in name only, or else he doesn't last very long. A characteristic of all the strongholds is that it would be difficult to find someone of the opposing party with the requisite experience in other offices to be minimally qualified, someone who could be seen to be something more than a carpetbagger. The relative number of aged Senators reflects the composition of the Senate, circa 1965. As a West Virginian, I might add that the West Virginia Republican Party is fundamentally incapable, and produces laughable candidates. The governor is a Democrat because in 2004, the Republican candidate's family real estate business was widely known in a discreditable connection, for slumlordism. People did not vote for Joe Manchin, so much as they voted against Monty Warner and the McCoy 6 real estate development firm. Even in the Republican primary, significant numbers of votes were cast for deceased candidates, by people who had no idea of who all these guys were, but wanted to vote for anyone except Monty Warner, the officially anointed candidate. If the West Virginia Republican Party had been halfway competent, they would have found themselves a respectable Libertarian law school professor.



(This last item is a summary of material predating the Web)

The Transition States are in the process of becoming Democratic strongholds, due to demographic change, eg. economic changes leading to an increase in the number of government pension holders and welfare recipients. The collapse of the auto industry has cause a great many people to reconsider their economic interests. In summary, if all of the eleven oldest Senators died, the Democrats would pick up two or three seats. If one of them should die, the odds are about three to one that there would be no political change, and there is essentially no chance that the Republicans would gain a seat.


A few minutes ago, I knew nothing of the constitution of Hawaii, but a few minutes of Googling put me in possession of the relevant facts. It seems that in Hawaii, the governor is required by state law to choose a successor to a U.S. Senator, of the same party. The most the governor can do is to choose a weak successor, who fails to win the subsequent primary election. The Hawaii legislature has only 8 Republicans out of about 50 seats in the House, and there are only 5 Republicans out of 25 seats in the Senate. The procedure for over-riding a gubernatorial veto or impeaching a governor is substantially the same as that in the United States Congress, so the Democrats have abundant votes to do either. Governor Lingle, although a Republican, serves effectively at the pleasure of the Democratic supermajority. It seems that they are presently engaged in formulating a new succession law against the eventuality of Inouye and/or Akaka's death.


There is a much greater likelihood that a Republican Senator might "do a Jeffords," faced with the impossibility of satisfying both his own state and the national Republican Party. It is better to "do a Jeffords," than to "be done a Chaffee."

Arizona 1987–2011 John McCain (R) (1936)
Nebraska 1997–2009 Charles Hagel (R) (1946)
[Both Vietnam Veterans, in opposition for reasons which are more personal rather than regional.]
Maine 1995–2013 Olympia J. Snowe (R) (1947)
1997–2009 Susan M. Collins (R) (1952)
Minnesota 2003–2009 Norm Coleman (R) (1949)
Oregon 1997–2009 Gordon H. Smith (R) (1952)
[a part of America which has strong affinities with Northern Europe, and votes accordingly.]
Ohio 1999–2011 George Voinovich (R) (1936)
Pennsylvania 1981–2011 Arlen Specter (R) (1930)
[The Rust Belt, coming to terms with the fact that the good jobs for high school graduates are permanently gone.]
source: the table of senators, cited above.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 1/29/2007

You say Morse resigned from the party in October 1952, "because he objected to a Republican drift to the right."
That's just not accurate. The GOP lurched to the LEFT in the summer of 1952 when it chose Eisenhower over Bob Taft. Eisenhower promptly ended the Korean War, of course, by threatening to nuke the communists. (See his book, "Mandate for Change.")

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 1/29/2007

In 1912 Theodore Roosevelt led the liberal side of the Republican Party away from William Howard Taft, enabling the election of Woodrow Wilson. (T.R. campaigned furiously for Charles Evans Hughes in 1916, trying to atone for his error, but it was too late). Harding, Coolidge and Hoover were all Taft Republicans, and gave the conservative side of the GOP control from 1920-1932. In 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948 and 1952, however, the liberal Republicans won every contest for the presidential nomination, including a final showdown between Robert A. Taft and Dwight D. Eisenhower, which many believed spelled the end of conservatives in the GOP forever, though that prediction turned out to be liberal media hogwash. Eisenhower had the help of Dewey, Lodge, Warren, and the 20-year hunger of all Republicans to win, following the FDR/Truman reign. Eisenhower was a cheerful man with a better chance to win than Taft, and that was the clinching argument. Since he had not been a politician, conservatives were able to cross their fingers and hope Eisenhower would be less liberal than they feared. And he may have been--just a tad. Nixon was unexpectedly picked by Ike for VP--and he belonged to the same liberal (Dewey) wing of the party. He was cheated out of victory in 1960, of course, which led to conservatives getting control again briefly in 1964 with the nomination of Barry Goldwater. But then Goldwater went down in flames and the Dewey people bounced back with the renomination of Nixon in 1968. Hubert Humphrey got 40% of the vote that year, and Nixon smashed McGovern, too, in 1972. Agnew resigned, then Nixon resigned. Jerry Ford was thought to be conservative when Nixon appointed him Vice President, but he proved to be just another liberal Republican when he ascended to office. Ford fought off Reagan for the nomination in 1976, in another liberal vs. conservative disaster, and one in which the world lost as well as GOP conservatives. (We still pay for it via the Carter judges, too). In 1980, however, the conservatives finally took command of the party and the nation for eight powerful years, winning the Cold War and ending inflation, etc., etc., etc. In 1988 the White House was handed over to another liberal type, the current president's father, who added more pages to the Federal Register in four years than Reagan had in eight. So he went down in flames in 1992, pushed over the abyss by Ross Perot, who has enjoyed the satisfaction of frightening the Democrats into paying lip service to balanced budgets ever since. Bob Dole was a weak choice in 1996. Our current president is somewhat more like Ronald Reagan, and perhaps an 80 octane conservative, but it is a little early to judge.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 1/29/2007

Wayne Morse did not leave the GOP because he "objected to the Republican Party's move to the right." In fact, Morse dove hard to the left all by himself, with relish. Later, you say Morse objected to the election of Vice President Nixon--but Nixon was the Republican moderate or liberal in that struggle for Eisenhower's preference; the conservative, and losing VP-Want-To-Be, widely expected to be chosen by Ike, was California's William Knowland.

If you want to further conjecture about the current Senate, both Senators from Hawaii are well over 80, and the Governor there is I think still a Republican woman.

Senator Byrd, of course, is 102, but West Virginia currently has a Democratic governor. But it will probably be somebody totally unexpected who dies first, like Tim Johnson.

Donald A. Ritchie - 1/29/2007

Richard K. Newman, Jr., should not be so quick to dismiss Joe McCarthy’s impact on the Senate’s majority status during the 83rd Congress, when the minority occasionally had more senators than the majority. It is doubtful that Democrats would have sought to claim the majority under any circumstance, given that after twenty years a Republican president had just won a popular mandate and carried his party back into the majority in Congress, and a public perception existed that Republicans should have the opportunity to prove themselves; that senior Democrats valued tradition and precedence; that the Democrats were divided between their conservative and liberal wings, with some potential Democratic chairmen standing to the right of the Republicans they would replace; and that committee staffs at that time were non-partisan and did not change significantly with party shifts. In other words, there was not that much of an advantage in claiming a technical majority in such a volatile period.

Senator McCarthy posed a problem for both parties throughout that entire Congress, not simply during the famous Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954. Initially, Republicans hoped to sideline him into investigating government contracts as chair of the Government Operations Committee and leave red-hunting to the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, but McCarthy used his committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to pursue his charges that Communists honeycombed the government. Democrats at first gave him a wide berth, but in July 1953 all of the Democratic members of the Permanent Subcommittee resigned in protest and did not rejoin the subcommittee until January 1954, after negotiations to meet their objections.

Lyndon Johnson’s biographers agree that he viewed McCarthy as “a Republican party problem,” and feared that if the Democrats took the lead in condemning McCarthy they would turn him into a partisan issue and force Republican senators to come to his defense. While the biographers credit Johnson with playing a key role behind the scenes, he was always careful to let Republicans take the lead against McCarthy publicly.

The strategy of stepping back and allowing the other side to take the heat similarly surfaced after the 1930 elections. At the onset of the Great Depression, Democrats won a three-vote majority in the House, while Republicans retained control of the Senate by a margin of 48 to 47, with one independent, and a Republican vice president ready to break a tie. President Herbert Hoover asked Senate Republicans to let Democrats organize the chamber and chair its committees, reasoning that if the opposition party controlled both houses it would have to assume a greater sense of shared responsibility for the economic crisis. Also, Democratic control would make it easier for Hoover to veto bills, and to blame them for obstructing his efforts to end the Depression. Republican senators rejected the notion of handing control of the legislative agenda to the opposition, however. Decades later, Hoover was still griping about it in his memoirs as a missed opportunity.