An incredible election night by any measure. The obvious question that pundits will be concentrating on is “what does it mean”?
Well I think there is consensus on both sides that it doesn’t mean that the voters love Republicans. Even establishment Republicans are acknowledging that fact. And Marco Rubio made that clear in his acceptance speech where he called this a “second chance” not an embrace of the GOP.
So that leaves us with a number of other options to consider. What needs to be kept in mind is this is the third consecutive wave election and in each case the party holding the White House suffered losses. That’s unprecedented. And this particular midterm is the largest shift of seats since 1936 (update: House numbers now have a projected 242 seats on the GOP side, a net of +64 – historic or as one Democrat strategist said, a defeat for Democrats of “biblical proportion”). So one meme that isn’t going to fly is this election is “no big deal”. Democrats got spanked and got spanked hard. They have a lot of work to do to win back voters.
Another thing that seems to be a developing narrative is that this is a repudiation of the Obama agenda. I think that’s true to an extent. The biggest driver of the dissatisfaction with Democrats is the health care law as indicated by polls. And they are certainly mad about the deficit spending. But as Charles Krauthammer said last night, “this isn’t a failure of communication by the Democrats, this is a failure of policy”. So it would seem that at least part of the vote was a repudiation of the president despite claims by some on the left that its only about the economy.
That said, part of it is also about the economy. Historically the party in power doesn’t do well in a down economy. So that too must be factored in to the formula. While much of that is beyond government’s control, that which it could impact was perceived as poorly done. Very poorly done. That exacerbated the loss. And, with the focus on health care reform, most Americans thought that the legislative priorities were wrong as well. Voters have historically turned to the GOP to handle economic matters. But this is still no mandate for the GOP.
Finally voter anger hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just taking a breather. Again, watch the direction of the country polls over the coming two years. It’s an interesting set up in DC now. Democrats actually would have been better off if the Senate had gone to the Republicans. They still control it and the Presidency and that leaves the onus on them as we head toward 2012. It also gives the GOP a free hand to pass whatever it wants in the House, regardless of where it goes, if anywhere, and make the case that they tried to reform what the people wanted reformed and Democrats (in the Senate and the President) stood in their way (reverse the “obstructionists” claim).
I think, after last night, that 2012 is definitely in play. It will be interesting to see how both parties react. I’m eagerly awaiting the Obama presser at 1 pm today when we’ll hear the first reaction from the President. But as always with him, judge him by his actions, not his words. His words have become empty rhetoric that many times doesn’t support what he ends up doing.