SO, THAT HAPPENED…. After several hundred House, Senate, gubernatorial, and down-ballot races yesterday, the search for What It All Means is a fool’s errand. The evident trends have counter-trends; prominent examples have counter-examples. What I suspect will be one of the day’s more entertaining parlor games is various political contingents insisting that they know exactly how to interpret all of these results — and wouldn’t you know it, the results prove how right they are.
That’s not to say, however, there weren’t important developments last night. There obviously were.
There was, as expected, a fairly intense Republican wave — strong enough to deliver a net gain of 60 House seats (and counting) to the incoming GOP majority, but not strong enough to give Republicans the Senate. Given expectations going into yesterday, Dems who fully expected to lose the House may even wake up this morning feeling a little relieved that the results weren’t worse.
Indeed, just below the surface of Republicans’ hard-earned jubilation is likely some widespread teeth-gnashing — specifically directed at Tea Party zealots and their boosters. Had it not been for their ideological rigidity and propensity for nominating extremist candidates, the Senate would very likely be in GOP hands next year — Tea Partiers cost Republicans Senate seats in Delaware, Nevada, and probably Colorado, while making the GOP invest heavily in states like Kentucky that would have otherwise been won easily.
And at this point, let’s also pause to note the marvel of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D) re-election in Nevada. A year ago, he was the electoral Dead Man Walking, but thanks to the GOP’s far-right base, Reid arguably faced the only candidate in Nevada he could defeat — and ended up winning fairly easily.
And what of the House? For Dems, it was obviously ugly. Conservative Blue Dog Democrats, in particular, took it on the chin, seeing their 54-member caucus shrink to just 22. The result leaves Dems about where there were before their own wave of 2006 — the party made big House gains in the last two cycles, only to see them entirely washed away last night.
Can all of this be chalked up to a bad economy? I think a lot of it can, but not entirely. You’re going to hear quite a bit today about the “structural” reasons Dems fared poorly, and there’s clearly something to this — when the economy stinks, the majority party suffers; when the economy suffers a generational trauma, the majority party suffers a lot.
But at this point, that’s probably not enough to explain the entirety of the Dems’ House drubbing. Some of what we saw can also be chalked up to “red” districts returning to their natural, post-Bush conditions, not to mention the apparent the enthusiasm gap that gave Republican a real edge.
We’ll have plenty more on the elections throughout the day, but for now, I thought it best to note an observation a friend of mine made a few months ago: the lesson of the GOP’s 2010 comeback is that if you’re going to fail, fail so spectacularly that your successors can’t possibly fix anything in time.
For some reason, that point has resonated with me from the moment I saw it. You can probably imagine why.