Wednesday, November 5, 2014

2014 Midterm Aftermath: A Few Reality Checks

Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first, shall we?  For Democrats, the bruising outcome of Tuesday's midterm elections reflects the "six-year itch" that plagues most two-term presidents in their twilight years, as the party searches for its next standard-bearer -- and voters start yearning for a new face at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Only once since World War II has a sitting president bucked the trend, according to the National Journal. That moment came in 1998, when Democrats and Republicans essentially fought each other to a five-seat stalemate in the U.S. House and Senate, following popular backlash against Clinton's impeachment. As the old wisecrack goes, there's a reason why second-term presidents suddenly start talking up their foreign policy initiatives.

What's more, most of Tuesday's Republican victories came in solid red states that aren't Democrat-friendly, anyway. As one MSNBC commentator observed of Kay Hagan's defeat in North Carolina, no Democratic Senator has won re-election there since 1968...a reality that all her hard campaigning apparently couldn't change. Similar stories abound in states like Arkansas, where fellow one-termer Mark Pryor was the last Democrat left standing in his congressional delegation.

And it's also worth remembering that, for most voters, midterm elections are more about punishing the party in power than holding some kind of polite teatime debate. As a political science professor of mine once bluntly informed our class: "I hated Richard Nixon, and voted against him every chance I ever got." President Obama undoubtedly serves a similar purpose for his critics.

GOP stalwarts might well to ponder their prospects for 2016, when the remorseless Senate electoral math flips the opposite way, with 23 Republicans and 10 Democrats up for re-election. As GOP strategists Glenn Bolger and Neil Newhouse observe, those races include "The Big Blue Wall" of 18 states (and Washington, D.C.) that have swung Democratic for six consecutive presidential elections. And that's before we get to this, um, other elephant in the room...

After reading the above quote, a fair-minded person might well ask, "What year is this again?" Apparently, if Mr. Yelton's wishes prevailed, we'd remain stuck in World War I limbo...when poll taxes were in full effect...women's suffrage remained a dream...and the average American worked six or seven days a week for that the uber-rich could cram even more loot into their already-overstuffed money bins.

The quote cost Mr. Yelton his county precint chairmanship in 2013, but its assumptions --  bigoted and blinkered as they are -- might explain why consultants like Bolger and Newhouse worry about where their beloved GOP brand is headed in the 2016 presidential year...when turnout is higher, but not necessarily among the "Angry Old White Guy" crowd that analysts fingered as the driving force behind Tuesday's midterm results.

As Republican critics suggest, the wave of voting restrictions passed after Obama's victories seemed calculated to batten down the hatches against a younger, more diverse electorate that the party seems little interested in courting.  It's almost as if you're hearing them say: "OK, we know you don't love us.  Guess what?  Let's just make your civic duty harder to do...yeah, that's the ticket. That'll save our bacon."

However, this line of defense doesn't change the big picture, as Bolger and Newhouse's Chicago Tribune op-ed column suggests: "To win 50.1 percent of the popular vote, we estimate, Republicans will need nearly 64 percent of the white vote -- which would be a record for a non-incumbent presidential candidate."

Of course, there's a flipside to the above-mentioned argument, and that's the power of big money -- which surprisingly few contributors addressed on Tuesday night. Outside spending rocketed to new highs during this election cycle, including the $62 million that went into tipping the Iowa Senate race, or the $70 million dedicated to the Colorado Senate contest.

Even Michigan's longtime Republican Congressman, Fred Upton -- long accustomed to romping towards the finish line -- found himself sweating a little bit to victory on Tuesday due to a late-breaking $2 million negative ad blitz unleashed by the Mayday PAC on behalf of Democrat Paul Clements. (Mayday's founders have gotten a fair bit of national press by promising to eventually disband after it elects enough politicians to grease the skids for their demise -- we'll see how well that idea plays out, right?)

And that's the real story behind Tuesday's midterms, because -- in simple terms -- money buys access.  Access equals power and face in backs being scratched, chits getting cashed, and phone calls quickly returned to arrange yet another back room deal that excludes our society's most vulnerable citizens from the equation. That equation won't change in a Washington overrun by influence peddlers and lobbyists of every stripe.

Given the scenarios already being mulled over in Washington, D.C. -- a GOP-led Senate sending nonsense legislation that an unmoved Obama will veto, because he won't ever face the voters again, and the two-thirds majority for an override may or may not not exist -- another bout of gridlock for America's least fortunate might not seem so bad. Hell, it's not like anyone pays attention to their needs now, right?

I've already had progressive and Democratic friends ask, "What the hell just happened?" My response to that question is simple: let's stop wringing our hands, stop playing defense, and stop spending so much time parked at the goal line. The day of reckoning is coming, but until then, there's no plenty of work to let's get moving. -- The Reckoner
Links To Go (Here's Why You're Never On The Dark Money Radar): Congressman Fred Upton 
Declares Victory Over Democrat Paul Clements:

The Chicago Tribune: Senate Control No Cure For Republican Ills In 2016:

The National Journal: Six-Year Itch Plagues Presidents In Midterms:

The New York Times: 
Tough Tests Looming In 2016 Raise Stakes For GOP In Midterm Elections:

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