The votes are in! The people have spoken! Boy, have they ever…
Riding a massive wave of repudiation against the president and his policies Republicans took control of the Senate, increased their majority in the House and took ownership of the governor’s mansion in states they never dreamed possible. If this were a Little League game they would have invoked the mercy rule.
Republicans won in red states, blue states and purple states. Needing six seats to gain a majority in the Senate Republicans quickly won seven with Virginia, Louisiana, and Alaska still in play at this writing.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man who turned obstruction and gridlock into an art form, was rewarded for his efforts with a sixth term and presumably the most powerful post in the Senate chamber.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the man who busted the public worker unions, squashed efforts to raise the minimum wage and lowered taxes for millionaires and billionaires; won his third state election in four years. Two years ago Walker was facing a recall vote. Today he is the hero of the Republican Party and a serious contender for a place on the 2016 ticket.
Maryland, the bluest of the blue states, elected a Republican governor. And in a direct slap at the president, his home state of Illinois did the same.
The talking heads called this a “wave” election. A “tsunami” would be a more appropriate term. For Democrats last night’s results were far worse than the self acclaimed “shellacking” the president bemoaned in 2010. Today he will wake up facing the very real prospect of having to deal with both Boehner and McConnell from a far more weakened position.
So what happened?
The way I see it McConnell and the Republicans gambled that obstructionism would halt the president’s agenda and that the voters would lay at least half the blame for the gridlock on the president. At the same time Republicans understood that while the economy was improving the vast majority of Americans were not feeling it. So Republicans worked hard to attach Democratic candidates to the perceived failed policies of the Obama administration.
Democrats could have promoted any number of successful Obama policies that are popular with the masses. Instead they sought to distance themselves from a president and an agenda that they had publically supported for the past six years. Voters saw through the hypocrisy. Tired of the games and fully believing that Washington is disconnected from their daily lives; voters decided to shake things up by laying their frustration at the feet of the president and his party.
In my estimation this was not a mandate for Republicans but rather a repudiation of the president’s inability to find a way through the gridlock.
Now that the votes are in and Republicans are in control the question remains…can they govern?
In his victory speech Mitch McConnell was more eloquent and conciliatory than I ever believed possible. He graciously complimented his opponent on a well run race saying: “she has earned my respect.” He spoke of compromise saying that he and the president “have an obligation to work together….In the past I have shown willingness to compromise at critical times. I hope the president will give me the opportunity to demonstrate that once again.”
But while McConnell was talking about compromise Senator Cruz was on FOXNEWS singing a different song. When asked if he would support McConnell as Senate Majority Leader he refused to answer the question. When asked what he impact this election would have in the future Cruz said he was looking forward to Republican led hearings on Benghazi, the IRS, the NSA and thorough investigation “on the abuse of power by this lawless administration.”
Cruz, Rubio and Paul all have presidential aspirations. All have very different views of what the Republican Party should look like and stand for going forward. Before McConnell can find any common ground with the president he is going to have to reconcile the differences within his own caucus; a far tougher task than defeating his Democratic opponent.
Republicans should be wary and not get too full of themselves over this resounding victory. The battle ground this time was primarily in conservative leaning red states. Yesterday the electorate was older and whiter. In 2016 the war will be waged in predominantly liberal blue states. The electorate will look far different. If Republicans are to ride this victory to a win in the 2016 general election they are going to have to prove they can get things done. If the internal bickering continues to get in the way of progress the only way Republicans will see the inside of the White House is by invitation.
Last night was a huge night for the Republican Party. Will they make the most of it...or will they squander it? Can they govern...or is political gridlock their only political plank? The electorate will be watching.
The 2016 campaign starts today.