After any drubbing in an election, a political party usually looks within and does a post-mortem analysis on what went wrong. Call it what you will, but the Republican victories in November were a drubbing of the Democrats and their message. The GOP won in places where they had no right winning- liberal strongholds like Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois in gubernatorial races- and replacing hardcore liberals like [mc_name name=’Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’H000206′ ] in Iowa with a Republican conservative. Of course, the Republicans should not get too high on these victories either as political success can be fleeting in the manner of two short years.
While the mainstream media was focusing on the alleged feud within the GOP between “the establishment” and the Tea Party factions, they were ignorant of the growing feud in the Democratic Party. Regarding the GOP, in case anyone did not notice this year, unless your name was Dave Brat in Virginia, Tea Party backed candidates performed miserably this year. Even in that Virginia race, it was not so much the message and ideology of Brat as it was the absolutely horrible campaign run by [mc_name name=’Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C001046′ ].
So what does the future hold for the Democratic Party? At least through 2016, things do not look great. Building from the ground up, let’s look at the state of politics today. There are now 31 Republican Governors. In addition, there are very few states whose legislatures are Democratic majorities. Republicans also dominate in other statewide elected offices where they exist like attorney general, state secretary of state and state treasurer. Republicans in 2014 made gains not only at the national level, but at the local levels as well. Assuming they maintain these leads in 2016 until 2020, they will direct redistricting efforts and political power structures until at least 2030.
In House races, the Republican Party made gains also. This gives the GOP an even larger buffer against potential losses come 2016. With an increased majority naturally comes more seats to defend and the Democrats are already mulling over potential targets. Even though Republicans are likely to lose seats in the House in 2016 (simple probability theory dictates such), there is enough of a cushion to absorb those losses and still maintain majority status.
In the Senate, many pundits note that of the 34 races in 2016, the GOP needs to defend 24 seats to the Democrat’s ten. There are very few legitimate Republican targets for the Democrats. If they could not pull out a victory in an open race in Georgia this year, it is unlikely they will unseat incumbent Republicans in traditionally red states. Instead, they likely have three legitimate targets- [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’K000360′ ] in Illinois, [mc_name name=’Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’A000368′ ] in New Hampshire and [mc_name name=’Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’J000293′ ] in Wisconsin. Considering that these same pundits list [mc_name name=’Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000146′ ] as the most vulnerable candidate regardless of party in 2016, the Senate map is not as daunting as it was for the Democrats in 2012 or 2014 when they had to defend just as many seats. The only real potential for Democrats beyond those seats listed above would be in open seats which may occur along the line. That would broaden the field, but even the list of potential retiring Republicans is not long. At worst, the GOP may lose some members in the Senate in 2016, but probably not enough at this point to lose control.
Moving up the chain is the presidential election and potential candidates. For the GOP, the list of potential candidates is long and varied. There are congressmen, current and ex-Governors and Senators (current and former) mentioned. With the exception of the west coast, they are geographically diverse. And what do the Democrats have to offer? There are basically three names- Hillary Clinton, [mc_name name=’Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’W000817′ ] and Joe Biden. More ominously, neither of them are spring chickens while the GOP potentials are relatively young with some in their 40s. More importantly, many of the GOP potentials have actual executive experience unlike Warren or Clinton. Looked at objectively, even a potential Republican vice presidential possibility is better than the best the Democrats have to offer for President.
Then there is ideology. What the Democrats failed to understand is that at heart, this country is center/right in terms of ideology. While there may be that trend towards social liberalism coupled with fiscal conservatism, it is the fiscal problems that most worry Americans and will likely worry them in 2016. Candidates like Thom Tillis, Joni Ernst and especially Corey Gardner ran almost perfect campaigns by focusing on the fiscal issues and downplaying the social issues. Furthermore, the Democratic assertions of a “war on women” rang hollow against female candidates and even male candidates. [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’U000038′ ] in Colorado proved that this one alleged tool in the Democratic arsenal was an impotent tool and fell on deaf ears.
Most importantly, this writer believes that the electorate wants a smaller, more efficient government that concentrates on the larger issues like national defense and security, and behaves like a functional family that can reach commonsense solutions to other problems. Ideological entrenchment is not a winning strategy to the bulk of independent voters and the ideologically entrenched may find themselves on the outside looking in. And while that goes for both sides, it is the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party that creates the greatest stress.
Their battle is totally one of ideology at this point while that of the GOP is process. For the Democrats, you have the alleged more centrist wing exemplified by Hillary Clinton versus the more liberal wing exemplified by [mc_name name=’Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’W000817′ ] who dresses her ideology in one of populism. Looking at the Democratic field, one can see very few potential, if any, candidates who can say with a straight face that they can bridge the gap between the ideological factions within that party except possible Jim Webb but even that is doubtful.
All of this leads to the belief that if the Republican-controlled 114th Congress can pass some commonsense legislation like tax reform, the Keystone pipeline, an actual working budget, and limited immigration reform measures (they do not need 1,000+ pages to do this), they can almost guarantee electoral success in 2016 at all levels. At the very least, they can force Democrats into some very uncomfortable votes and situations. Take, for example, the Keystone pipeline which a majority of Americans support. Even forcing Obama to veto such a measure places the Democrats outside the mainstream. Sure- there are not enough votes to override that veto, but at least Democrats are placed on record as is Obama and it forces potential Democratic presidential candidates to justify their positions to a suspect electorate.
And yes, most Americans favor immigration reform, but left out of those proclamations is that most Americans also favor a secure border. Most Americans want a fair, efficient, and easy taxation system and the current system satisfies none of those criteria. This is an area that cries out for reform. [mc_name name=’Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000146′ ] can still wreak havoc as Minority Leader, but he cannot hold back House legislation from Senate votes any more. This is a unique two-year period to demonstrate that the Republican Party is NOT one of obstruction and it can shed the obstructionist spotlight on [mc_name name=’Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000146′ ] and company for the dysfunction of the past six years in Congress. Even their examples of “getting things done-” the stimulus, auto bailout and Obamacare- remain highly unpopular even today.
There are also the demographic considerations, but Republicans should not fall for the “pander to interest groups” strategy to curry the favor of Hispanics or blacks or women or gays or young voters. A simple message of accomplishments which raises all boats is a winning message. It is commonsense and something the Democratic Party needs to discover the hard way- a few more years in the political wilderness as they rip each other apart.