November 3, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Decision 2010: two cheers for the GOP
November is HERE!
The ominous warning to the Democratic incumbents posed by those big black signs -- "November is Coming" -- proved all too accurate in yesterday's midterm elections. It will take a while to digest and analyze all the election data and exit poll findings to derive what the voters were trying to say. For now, however, it is clear at least that most American people strongly oppose the general policy thrust of the Obama administration, and have lost confidence in their elected representatives. Whether they know what kind of alternative policies they would like to be adopted instead is very hard to say. Elitists will no doubt bemoan the fickleness, impatience, and/or gullibility of "swing" voters, but what happened in the polling booths was not just a mindless backlash stemming from fear.
In the Washington Post, Dan Balz rightly observes that the "major rebuff of President Obama and the Democrats" reflected an "electorate worried about the economy and the size of the government." (Emphasis added; President Obama would have you think it's only the former, and not the latter.)
Personally, I was happy that Republicans made such big gains in both chambers of Congress, but I have very mixed feelings about what may come over the next two years. The recent past does not reflect well on the Republicans' ability to govern effectively, and the rise of the populist element (a.k.a. "Tea Party") raises further doubts. A column in USA Today by Jonah Goldberg (hat tip to Andrew Murphy) foresees "a lot of disarray on the right." And of course, he's right. Republicans these days agree on many things in principle, but very few things in practice. Goldberg noted that much of the press coverage focused on dubious Republican candidates like Christine O'Donnell (Delaware Senate) or Carl Paladino (New York governor's race). This diverted attention from serious, worthy candidates such as Ron Johnson, who defeated incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. So, while the "GOP brand remains deeply tarnished," there are bright spots in the party yet to gain broad public attention.
House: historic reversal
The Republicans gained roughly 60 seats in the House, even more than most people (including me) expected. It was an even bigger landslide than in 1994, when the GOP gained 54 seats. They went from 178 seats to 238, whereas the Democrats dropped from 255 to about 195. Larry Sabato forecast a net GOP gain of 55 seats in the House, and 8 seats in the Senate, and that was pretty close. On his show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh talked about how the Democrats needed a very high turnout rate to have any hope at all, and suggested that the GOP might gain as many as 90 seats. Not quite.
Speaker-to-be Rep. John Boehner got uncharacteristically emotional in his victory speech, recalling the hardships he endured working his way through college. I didn't realize what a tough life he had growing up, and I bet a lot of other people didn't either. Maybe it will serve to deflect criticism that Boehner is one of those elitist "country club Republicans." (Do such people still exist?) Very little has been said by Boehner or anyone else about the vague, watered-down "Pledge to America." That's probably just as well.
For her part, Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed quite traumatized during her interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer this evening. Politics is a rough business, and the way she bullied her way through her own party's caucus to get the health care legislation passed made it inevitable that she would get her comeuppance in due course. Sincerely motivated or not, the policies she forced upon the American public will have awful consequences in the years to come, and in my opinion, she got what was coming to her.
Senate: close, but no cigar
As most analysts expected, the GOP fell short of a majority in the U.S. Senate, gaining six seats. (See the table below.) As soon as Republican candidate Linda McMahon lost in Connecticut and John Raese lost in West Virginia, it was clear that there was almost no way they were going to get to 51 seats. In these cases, the Tea Party movement obviously did more harm than good. Likewise, it appears that Sen. Lisa Murkowski will win the three-way race in Alaska with a write-in campaign. That would be a huge blow to Tea Party candidate Joe Miller, who beat Murkowski in the GOP primary, with strong support from Sarah Palin. In this case, at least, it won't matter for purposes of getting a Republican majority, because Murkowski would certainly caucus with the GOP.
Among the Republican Senate victories, the ones that really stood out were Rand Paul in Kentucky, and Marco Rubio in Florida; both are solid Tea Partiers. The GOP victories that will probably make the most difference in the Senate during the next term were those of Ron Johnson in Wisconsin (against Russ Feingold), Mark Kirk in Illinois (against Alexi Giannoulias), and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania (against Rep. Joe Sestak). The Democrats being replaced in Arkansas, North Dakota, and Indiana were relative moderates; the incumbents in the latter two states didn't even run for reelection.
As for the most notable defeats in Senate races, Tea Partier Sharron Angle finished several points behind Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He was vulnerable, and not very articulate, and there was no excuse for letting that opportunity slip through the Republicans' grasp. With a couple of exceptions, candidates endorsed by Sarah Palin did not fare well at all. I try to avoid bringing up her name, because she is such a polarizing figure, but I will say that we would all be much better off if she does not run for president in 2012.
|New Republican senators||New Democratic senators|
|Mike Lee (UT)||Richard Blumenthal (CT)|
|Rob Portman (OH)||Joe Manchin (WV)|
|Jerry Moran (KS)||Christopher Coons (DE)|
|Roy Blunt (MO)||Michael Bennet (CO)|
|Rand Paul (KY)||(BOLD FACE
denotes change of party control.)
|Kelly Ayotte (NH)|
|Marco Rubio (FL)|
|John Boozman (AR)|
|Ron Johnson (WI)|
|Mark Kirk (IL)|
|Dan Coats (IN)|
|John Hoeven (ND)|
|Pat Toomey (PA)|
Big red shift in Virginia
The Old Dominion led the way, as the GOP recouped the loss of three House seats in 2006, bringing the balance back to eight Republicans and three Democrats.
The biggest race was in the 5th District, where GOP candidate Robert Hurt beat incumbent Tom Perriello, despite a major last-minute media campaign on behalf of the incumbent, including a visit to Charlottesville by President Obama himself. Perriello did close the gap toward the end, and lost by less than four percent. Hurt played it safe throughout the campaign, almost as though he were the incumbent. The third party candidate Jeffrey Clark received only about two percent of the votes, not enough to affect the outcome. One odd concluding note: Perriello's campaign office in Charlottesville was burglarized in the early morning hours on Election Day, and some voter instruction materials were taken; see nbc29.com.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was in the 9th District, where Morgan Griffith defeated long-time Rep. Rick Boucher. The incumbent was vulnerable because of his support for Obama's cap and trade clean energy proposal, which would severely hurt the coal country of southwestern Virginia. For many weeks, nevertheless, Boucher seemed to enjoy a clear lead over Griffith, which left me puzzled. Somehow or other, Griffith closed the gap in the last couple weeks and ended up with a substantial margin of victory, 51% to 46%. Griffith is articulate and ambitious, and if he plays his cards right, he could become a leading voice in the House of Representatives some day.
In the 2nd District, the victory of Scott Rigell over incumbent Democrat Glenn Nye was no surprise. In the 11th District, Keith Fimian fell votes short of defeating incumbent Democrat Gerald Connolly. If another thousand or so voters had switched, the GOP would have picked up one more seat and would have their biggest edge ever in Virginia, 9 seats to 2. (In 1981-1982, back when the state only had ten House members, Virginia Republicans enjoyed an 8-2 edge over Democrats.) See the newly-updated Virginia politics page.
Here in the 6th District, incumbent Rep. Bob Goodlatte won reelection easily, with 76.3% of the vote. Moderate independent Jeffrey Vanke (13.0%) probably received most of the Democratic votes, while Libertarian Stuart Bain (bainforcongress.org, with 9.2%) probably siphoned off a certain proportion of votes from Goodlatte. The two minor candidates appeared at a public forum/debate in Harrisonburg last week, but Rep. Goodlatte did not participate. That's too bad.
So even though the pickup of three House seats was a great accomplishment, Republicans shouldn't pat themselves on the back too much. The party is right back where it was three years ago.
Based on his press conference this afternoon, I'd say President Obama probably does not "get it". He said many of the right words, admitting he had been "shellacked," but the lack of emotion on his face suggest to me that he remains convinced that he did "the right thing" and didn't deserve such repudiation. Whether it is his ample-sized ego or his relative youth and lack of experience on the national stage, he just doesn't seem to have the capacity to respond to negative warning signs and make the necessary adaptations. Unless he gets the White House staff reorganized with top-notch professionals in the near future, his presidency is at risk of totally losing touch with the American people.
Undoubtedly, the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court ruling from earlier this year created a big advantage for the Republicans, allowing money to be spent on advertisements virtually without limit. My only complaint is that organizations should be required to publicize who all of their individual donors are. The implication from that ruling that corporations have First Amendment rights still strikes me as bizarre.
One lesson from Decision 2010 is that rich Republicans (or Democrats) shouldn't squander the family fortune in pursuit of political glory. In the Connecticut Senate race, Linda McMahon spent about $50 million of her own money, and in the California governor's race, Meg Whitman spent about $160 million. Even so, both of them lost by several percentage points. Attorney General Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown (a former governor) will somehow lead California in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis of its history. As the pressure to raise tax revenues becomes unbearable, and as state services continue to decline, I forsee a massive exodus of upper-class Californians in the years to come. Perhaps they will migrate to Oklahoma, in a reversal of the dust-bowl exodus of the 1930s!
Facebook friend Bruce Bartlett was cited in an article at economicprincipals.com, along with Pete Peterson, a passionate advocate for fiscal sanity and co-founder of the Concord Coalition. The article described the coming war within the Republican Party as it prepares to assume power in the House of Representatives. It's the conservatives pitted against the radicals: "Conservatives are those in both parties searching for a durable agreement on levels of spending, taxing and borrowing; radicals are those who have no use for compromise." On that count, I am clearly a conservative. But then they write: "Radical Republicans think that they can roll back the welfare state." In that sense, I am quite radical. Go figure.
As the battles within the Republican Party rage on, it is unlikely that a clear consensus on priorities will emerge during the next two years. While the populist rabble-rousers and the "establishment" insiders duke it out, public policy will remain subject to arbitrary whims, creating confusion for investors as well as consumers. The United States is in peril both in terms of the economy and national security, and this is no time for partisan squabbling, or intra-partisan squabbling, to drag us all down. The process of defining the Republican Party's identity is bound to drag on and on and on, until some new articulate leader surges to the forefront. What potential leader could fulfill such a vital role? I suppose we will find out during the 2012 primary campaign.