Laughable Maddow Spin: Epic GOP House Blowout 'More Normal Than Not Normal'

Allegedly not reeling from the previous night's midterms, Rachel Maddow quickly sought to reassure her shellshocked viewers -- debacle, what debacle?!

To bolster her argument, Maddow cited a bar graph created by Steve Benen at Washington Monthly showing midterm losses -- along with a few gains -- for the party in the White House since 1934.

Here's Maddow's valiant spin on her show Wednesday (video after page break) --

Everyone today is trying to find the biggest possible adjective to describe the Republican win in one House of Congress last night. And they did in fact win one House of Congress last night and congratulations to them. Here's that result  in historical context (graph shown). What happened last night is more normal than not normal. But small adjectives are less exciting in punditry than big adjectives, so don't expect to see a lot of this from the exclamation-point machine that is my beloved news analysis business.

This from a left-wing shill more enamored of exclamation-point hyperbole than anyone else at MSNBC, with the exception of alarmingly volcanic heat miser Ed Schultz. (h/t, Laura Ingraham)

What makes Maddow's spin all the more threadbare is that it is refuted by the liberal soulmate she cites for confirmation. Here's what Steve Benen wrote in his post on Wednesday that included the bar graph --

It's not unfair for Republicans to characterize the midterms as "historic," at least as far as the House is concerned.  The GOP not only made massive gains, they'll enjoy their largest House majority next year in more than six decades. ... You'll notice, of course, that the 2010 midterms were the worst for any incumbent president's party since FDR's drubbing in 1938.

.... which, if you live in Maddowland on the other side of the rainbow, translates as "more normal than not normal."

Another problem with Maddow's take -- it was also refuted by two of the last three midterms. While Republicans lost 30 seats in the House in 2006 when George W. Bush was president, the GOP gained eight seats four years earlier and Democrats did comparably well (five seats) in 1998.

Yes, 1998 and 2002 could be considered anomalies due to backlash against Republicans during the Lewinsky scandal and voters rallying around the commander in chief a year after 9/11. But what they show nonetheless is that midterm losses for the incumbent party -- let alone substantial losses -- is hardly a given.

Better examples of precedents can be found in four previous midterms -- 1994, when not a single Republican incumbent lost; 1974, in the wake of Nixon's resignation and Watergate dominating headlines for more than a year; 1958, after GDP plunged more than 10 percent early in the year; and 1938, after New Deal policies were seen as exacerbating the Great Depression.

Even in three of those four elections, however, the party in the White House relinquished fewer seats than the 61 lost by Democrats this year -- 52 by Republicans in 1994, 48 for the GOP in 1974 (presaging Carter's victory two years later),  and 48 for Republicans in 1958 (ditto, Kennedy beating Nixon in 1960).

While Maddow prefers the fantasy that this year's midterms were no big shakes, the indisputable empirical fact here is that the most comparable precedent, both in numbers and economic distress weighing heavily on voters, occurred in 1938 when FDR-led Democrats lost 71 seats -- 72 years ago.

Benen was not alone in undercutting Maddow's premise -- so did Maddow herself earlier in the same show when she complained about Republicans obstructing Obama's agenda (second part of embedded video, starting at 0:29) --

They're not going to help the president attain political capital so they're going to try to stop any policy accomplishment whatsoever. That is what they did for the last two years and it paid off big time for them last night.

Got that? "Big time" -- and no big deal.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts