It is hard to find anyone outside of the White House or the New Republic who denies that President Obama and the Democrats took a thumping on November 4. A likely Senate pick-up of nine seats; the greatest Republican House majority since Herbert Hoover; three more governorships in Blue states; fully two thirds of the state legislative chambers - a wave by any standard. The question is whether it is more than that - a rising Republican tide which will last for awhile. It is easy to think so.
Much more will be written about how the incompetence of the Obama administration has scarred the reputation of "big government" - the Obamacare rollout; Snowden's NSA; the Veterans Administration; the events leading to ISIS; the Ukraine; the open southern border; even the inability of the Secret Service to protect the president. Some of these have an ideological underlay, but the average voter has come to the conclusion that government is trying to do more than it is capable of. Each issue stands on its own, but the collective impact on the public mirrors President Reagan's observation that "government cannot solve the problem; government is the problem." For the middle ground voters, it is not just about what it would be nice to do, it is about what the government is capable of doing. That bodes well for Republicans.
The Republican National Committee seems to have gotten its act together under Chairman Reince Priebus. During his prior stint in Wisconsin he shepherded the normally Democratic state to a Republican goveror, a Republican Assembly and Senate, a majority Republican congressional delegation, and a Republican US Senator. Arriving at the RNC in 2011, he was unable to save the 2012 presidential election, but he was a good listener and has done much to restore confidence among the donor base. In this cycle, the RNC (the "Washington establishment" ) did great opposition research to support defeat of problematic candidates in the primaries, and to highlight Democratic shortcomings in November. The cavalry was sent to rescue Pat Roberts in Kansas. Contributions by outside PACs were targeted - within the campaign finance laws, of course - to provide timely support to Senate and governor candidates. Where the Obama machine's superior GOTV capability helped win the 2012 election, this time Republicans did a superior job of turning out voters in greater numbers than predicted by the polls.
Perhaps the largest lasting advantage is the bench that the Republicans are building. With the majority of state legislators, some 30 governors, and 70 more Congress members, there are just many more future leaders to choose from. Want a Midwest governor to run for President - there are five to choose from. Want a state Senator or a Congress member to run for a Senate seat - there is a Joni Ernst or a Cory Gardner available. While the number of Republican presidential aspirants will require some winnowing, it is far better than having only one realistic competitor who got her start in politics with Saul Alinsky in the 60s.
Finally, Republicans have a structural advantage in the way that our leaders are elected.
- Democrats explain the Republican dominance in the House as the result of gerrymandering when district boundaries were drawn after the 2010 census and Republicans controlled a disproportionate number of redistricting commissions as a result of the 2010 wave election. That may account for a dozen or two of the new 70 seat majority. A much bigger structural problem for the Democrats is that their voters are highly concentrated in big cities. The general guideline for drawing district lines is to not divide communities of interest - thus from a partisan electoral perspective at a Congressional level, the areas of New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles that vote 90+% Democrat are wasted while the suburban or rural areas that vote 55% Republican are much more vote cost effective. Most concede Republican House dominance through at least 2020; even then, it will take much reverse gerrymandering or a massive shift in public attitudes to deliver a Democratic House.
- Each state gets two senators, and the District of Columbia none. Because there are more heavily populated Blue states (California, New York, Illinois, Michigan) and more rural thinly populated Red states (mountain states; plains states; Southern states) there are slightly more Red states than Blue states even though there are narrowly more Democrats than Republicans. Everything being equal, the Senate should be Republican by a couple of states. In 2016 the Republicans need to defend 24 seats while the Democrats need to defend 10 - largely as a result of the 2010 Tea Party landslide. Starting with 54 will be much better than 51, but it will be a challenge.
- The Republican advantage is greatly diminished in presidential elections where electoral college votes are allocated to the states with one for each Representative and Senator. Still, since there are more Red states than Blue states the Senator component of the equation favors Republicans. Democrats would like direct election without the electoral college, not because of the clunkiness of the process or the risk of a rogue elector, but because it gives Republicans a small advantage.
Maybe this is too optimistic. It is true that the mid-term elections draw an older, more conservative electorate. Maybe Hillary will turn out to be a great campaigner with a great message. Maybe the Republicans will find a way to self-destruct. But in this lovely week in November 2014, it is more than reasonable for Republicans to celebrate success and to believe that the door is open to the party of liberty, opportunity, and self-reliance to secure ascendency for a long time.
bill bowen - 11/6/14