A second-term president’s party often loses a large number of seats in the mid-term elections. Republicans who fear being banished from the corridors of power and Democrats who think that this year’s elections represent some unprecedented dissatisfaction with a president would do well to consider the history. A second-term president’s party loses on average 6 seats in the Senate and 25 seats in the House in the mid-terms.
But in 1958, the Democrats gained 15 seats in the Senate: 13 which they won from Republicans and 2 more in the new state of Alaska. New Senators included Robert Byrd of WV and Chris Dodd’s daddy, Thomas, in CT. The Democrats additionally gained 48 seats in the House.
If you are having trouble remembering what it was that created such enormous pressure to throw the bums out, it is because there wasn’t much. There was a worldwide recession in 1957-58, which was blamed on Eisenhower. The effect in the US was a one-year spike in unemployment, which went from 4% to 7%, then back down to 5% in 1959, and an inflation rate that jumped from 2 to 3%. There was a scandal involving Sherman Adams of NH, who was Eisenhower’s Chief Of Staff, and was forced to resign because of accepting the gifts of an oriental rug and a vicuna coat. As is often the case with such scandals, what angered people at the time turned out to be small potatoes, while the corruption we didn’t know about was much worse.
The USSR had also just launched Sputnik, which made Americans nervous that we had lost our technological edge over our enemies. We hankered for someone new to come rescue us. Eisenhower, who had proved himself an excellent military mind, was resented by the Democrats as a dolt who had somehow defeated the intellectual Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson had proved himself an excellent, um, give me a minute here, intellectual. Because he was an academic and Eisenhower, er, wasn’t.
That’s it. Those were the reasons. An economic blip, a petty scandal, irritation, and falling back to a close second place in the space race. We were at peace, and extreme poverty was dropping quickly. The Republicans got creamed.
The French hated us even then, by the way.