Republicans Won't Shake Up Washington
Last night was a political tsunami, but don't expect things to change overnight in Washington. The GOP ran a brilliant campaign that channeled voter anger. But now the hard part begins. Republicans talked about cutting spending but found it easier to identify the programs they wanted to protect than those they would cut. They railed against growing budget red ink but want to blow a $700 billion hole in the budget by extending the Bush tax cuts and reversing Medicare cuts. They ran on fixing the economy and creating jobs, but by taking government spending off the table have left practically no tools at their disposal to achieve this goal. Finally, by winning the House but losing the Senate, there are few ways for them to force President Barack Obama's hand, except of course shutting down the government. And we all remember how well that worked out for Republicans in 1995.
Of course, if Republicans choose to compromise with the president (which seems to be the preference of a strong majority of voters), they run the very real political risk of alienating their most fervent supporters.
Other than that, congrats on the win!
President Obama Won't Benefit From Divided Government
Last night's results were hardly a ringing endorsement for the president. And no matter what sort of showdown he has with Republicans, he is still seen as the man ultimately responsible for a jobless recovery, minimal economic growth and 9.5 percent unemployment. If Obama wants to be a two-term president, he needs to find some way to grow the economy. But with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, good luck with that.
Of course, the alternative might be to do what Bill Clinton did in 1995 and demagogue his opponents ... which bring us to ...
There's a Limit to What Voters Will Buy
Six months ago, there was not a more vulnerable Democrat in the country than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and yet on a night in which Democrats got crushed, he handily defeated tea party darling Sharron Angle. And all that with a favorability rating below 50 percent! How did he do it?
Well, he got lucky in facing off against an opponent who could easily be defined as an extremist, and then he spent millions of dollars defining her as just that. Exit polls showed that nearly half the Nevada voters viewed Angle as too conservative. It goes to show that even in an era of topsy-turvy political change, there are limits to how far the electorate will go.
There's Less to the Tea Party Than Meets the Eye
Sure the tea partiers performed well in House races, and Rand Paul was victorious in conservative Kentucky, but elsewhere the harsh klieg lights of public scrutiny badly hurt tea party candidates.
In Delaware and Nevada, tea party insurgents Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle cost the Republicans two seats that should have been easy pick-ups. In Alaska, Joe Miller is trailing the incumbent Lisa Murkowski, whom he had defeated in the GOP primary. And in Colorado, Ken Buck appears to have lost to political neophyte Michael Bennet.
In a year in which Republicans dominated, it should be a wake-up call that in a number of statewide races, their most conservative and extreme candidates fared the worst.
The Rust Belt Was a Slaughterhouse for Democrats
If Pennsylvania and Ohio are swing states in 2012, the White House should be very worried. Nowhere in the country did Democrats see a mightier fall than in these states, where 12 Democratic incumbents lost. Republicans also took the governor's mansion and two open races. In Illinois, the Democrats lost three House seats and Obama's old Senate seat -- and still might lost the State House. It was a brutal loss, and the implications could be severe.
The Most Important Under-Reported Story of the Night
In crucial swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana, Republicans now control both houses of the state legislature as well as the governor's mansion. That means that as the states re-draw their legislative maps to reflect the most recent census, Republicans can make sure they favor GOP incumbents and disadvantage Democrats, which means that re-taking the House will be that much more difficult for the Democrats.
The Democrats Lost Because ...
Get ready for dozens of stories about why the Dems fared so badly last night. Obama was too liberal. No, he was too conservative. He failed to connect with voters; actually he was too articulate. He needed to be more of a populist; no, he was too partisan. It's hard to take any of these arguments seriously, because they are generally based more on the prejudices of the individual making them than any actual empirical evidence. It's worth noting, for example, that many Democrats who voted for the health care bill lost ... and so did many Democrats who voted against the bill.
The simple fact is that incumbent parties dealing with nearly 10 percent unemployment, an under-performing economy and facing off against an opposition party engaged in a historic level of anti-government obstructionism are generally going to lose badly in midterm elections. Throw in having a lot of House Democratic candidates protecting seats in vulnerable districts and, well, that adds up to a blood bath, which is exactly what we got.
Voters Are Incoherent
The other problem that no one wants to mention or talk about is that what voters want from Washington is fundamentally contradictory, incoherent and ill-informed. "Fix the economy and create jobs but don't spend any money to do it." "Extend the Bush tax cuts, but cut the deficit." "Stop raising my taxes, even though I got a tax cut last year." "No to socialized medicine, but protect my Medicare." "Govern in a post-partisan style, but don't mind us as we reward obstructionism." I could go on.
Your guess is as good as mine as to how you govern a country that is so unclear about what it wants from its elected leaders.
If you're looking for help from Washington in fixing the economy and creating jobs; if you're worried about America's declining education system and crumbling infrastructure; if you're worried about climate change and you want to see America wean itself off foreign oil by developing clean energy alternatives; in short, if you want to see Congress and the president tackle the serious national challenges facing the country, well don't hold your breath. The next two years are going to be defined by gridlock in D.C. and political jockeying by both parties for 2012.
So if you want to know who lost Tuesday: You did.