In looking at the impending struggles over immigration policy and health care policy and Lord knows what else directly on the horizon as Congress returns for its lame-duck session, it’s important to keep in mind that we are now in a presidential election cycle. That’s true not just because events in Washington will affect the presidential nominating process (especially on the Republican side, given the GOP’s vast field and the conservative-activist-base-dominated early contests), but because the relevant “public opinion” in terms of the battle between the parties will be the expanded universe of a presidential election.
In every cycle (especially low-turnout midterms) there’s a moment often called the “switchover” where polls stop measuring the opinions of “registered voters” or “adults” and begin deploying likely-voter screens which usually push the numbers a few points to the right. It’s a good idea to assume the reverse phenomenon the day after a midterm election. The “audience” for whatever antics the GOP pulls won’t just be the early Caucus-and-primary voters who all pretty much regard Obama as the Antichrist, and not just the shrunken older-and-whiter midterm electorate, but something more closely approximating the country as a whole. Remember that next time you hear a conservative media type talk about how “America” repudiated Obama and the Democrats in November. Even if you ignore the existence of a minority of Republican general election voters who don’t gnaw on political red meat all day long, Democrats were “repudiated” at most by 52% of the 37% of American who voted. A larger audience is forming as we speak.