I know we're all supposed to be throwing on our hair shirts and wandering around the streets begging for forgiveness for being losers but I just don't have the stomach for it this time out. I expected this loss, everything pointed toward it and I don't think it says much new about the Democrats or the Republicans or the state of our politics. Four of the last five elections have been "wave" elections so it's hard to get too worked up one way or the other particularly when the policy agenda is so narrow regardless of which party wins.
The punditocracy is Claud Rainsing itself into a frenzy pretending that nobody saw this coming when they've been relentlessly informing us for months that the mid-term turnout is always older, whiter and more Republican than presidential years and that the field was very unfriendly to Democrats this year anyway. It makes for good TV, I guess. But nobody should be any more depressed about the state of our politics this morning than they were yesterday. This "wave" is status quo, not change.
I think The Onion said it best:
WASHINGTON—With precincts reporting GOP victories in key midterm election races nationwide, Beltway sources confirmed Tuesday that the Republican Party is poised to retain its complete control of the U.S. Senate. “If current polling projections are accurate, it appears as if Republican lawmakers will hold on to power in the Senate chamber and will continue to steer the legislative agenda with little resistance,” political analyst Michael Barone told reporters, noting that the likely election results will preserve the GOP’s singular authority over the direction of the Senate, allowing Republicans to go on stymieing judicial appointments, derailing or neutering any legislation they oppose, and obstructing President Obama at every turn. “With the Senate still firmly under their control, Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues will persist in refusing to cede an inch of political leverage to their Democratic rivals and will continue blocking Democratic initiatives just as they have been. Yet again, the GOP is in prime position to carry on dictating the course of the upper house of Congress.” Barone went on to say that Republicans would finally relinquish control of the Senate only when Democrats captured the 100 seats they require to govern.
None of that is to say that the Democrats don't need to re-evaluate their strategy. All over the country yesterday voters approved liberal policies on economics and social issues --- and inexplicably voted for Republicans. Something is not computing there. Perhaps the Democrats might want to inquire as to why the people don't associate them with the liberal policies they prefer.
I don't know how much National Security and "law and order" played into these campaigns. Nobody seems to be talking about it today but ISIS and Ebola and the Border and Ferguson were all huge stories in this campaign and I have to think these stories may have inspired the GOP turnout more than they're being given credit for. They are classic fear motivators for the conservatives and the timing was very good. I would not be surprised if they played a part in making the GOP victory as substantial as it was. And this could be a factor in 2016, so stay tuned.
I wrote about what I thought the Republicans have in mind when they talk about how they plan to prove they can "govern" in this piece for Salon last week. I still think I'm right:
[T]here might be good reason to hope that Kevin McCarthy was putting some of his extremist colleagues on notice that their more outlandish shenanigans were not going to be tolerated any longer. No more government shutdowns, no more indiscriminate budget slashing, no more ludicrous investigations into Benghazi! or the IRS. Now is the time for the Republicans to show they are indeed the grown-ups in the room and start working across the aisle with Democrats to get things done for the good of the nation. Unfortunately, McCarthy doesn’t live in Republican Bizarro world and neither do we so the chances of that happening are about as good as the chance that Jerry Brown is going down to defeat next week. No, McCarthy is doing something a little bit different and if you parse his words carefully you’ll see what it is.
Jake Sherman at Politico broke this story on Monday with this opening line:
HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy landed here from Los Angeles with a bang: He bluntly warned that Republicans will blow the presidency in 2016 if they don’t make some radical changes — and quick.
McCarthy, speaking without a working microphone, told a group of Long Island donors that Republicans’ gains in the House will amount to little if they can’t govern over the next two years.
He goes on to lay out an agenda that is short on precipitous “cliffs” and long on “big picture” legislating. He claims they will introduce energy and infrastructure projects and business-focused tax programs. He expects to try to get more highway spending funded by more drilling. And he wants to set up “a congressional mechanism” that will completely overhaul the federal bureaucracy so that it works better. Why, if one didn’t know better, one might assume this fellow thinks he won the presidency instead of the office of House majority leader.
All of this has the villagers very excited. If the Republicans can pass legislation in both houses then surely the president will be obliged to sign it and then everyone can have drinks like Tip ‘n’ Ronnie and we’ll all live happily ever after. This is the best of all possible worlds to the political establishment — a GOP Congress passing GOP legislation and a Democratic president happily signing it.
But that’s not the plan. If you look more closely at what McCarthy is saying, he is putting Washington on notice that the Congress may pass a few bills the president can sign on to. But what he’s really signaling is an intention to pass legislation in both houses that the president will veto.
McCarthy chooses his words carefully and this is what he is quoted as saying:
“I do know this,” McCarthy said. “If we don’t capture the House stronger, and the Senate, and prove we could govern, there won’t be a Republican president in 2016.”
Note that he doesn’t say “prove we can govern,” he says “prove we could govern,” which implies that they will prove they can pass legislation but they need a Republican in the White House to get the job done.
The Republicans just elected a new class of very hard core Tea Partiers who were co-opted and groomed by the GOP establishment to smooth out some of the rough edges. Ernst, Cotton, Tillis (and probably even Gardner at times) are part of the Cruz faction. And Cruz has been all over TV with Ernst the face of the new GOP. Any idea that McConnell has a nice working majority of good old moderate Republicans is a Villager illusion. (And judging from my sporadic cable news viewing last night, a fairly prevalent one.)
Anyway, in my view this is a status quo election. The next one probably will be too barring something major shaking up the dynamic, which is certainly possible considering the instability in so much of the world. Right now we are in a state of polarization where the two parties are unable to move beyond the bare minimum they need to keep the government open (and even that is up for grabs.) And this suits the plutocrats and the national security establishment just fine.
Meanwhile, a little bit of good news on the personal front. My good friend Adam Wool won his seat to the Alaska State House last night defying the odds. He said that when he was out canvassing he talked to many more Republicans than Democrats. (It's a red state after all.) But when he sat down in living rooms a lot of them would listen with interest and come away with a more open mind. It appears some of those Republicans voted for him. Maybe they just hadn't heard a Democrat who made any sense before.
Anyway, the Republicans have a right to savor their victory. The Democrats certainly ostentatiously savor theirs whenever they win one. But not a lot has changed except that the hard right of the GOP is still ascendant. Which makes the 2016 election very interesting indeed.