Republicans in the Senate faced a brutal task in retaining the Senate majority in 2016 before the Democrats went to work recruiting candidates. Republicans will be defending seats in a bevy of blue and purple states, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. The Democrats, on the other hand, are only defending two purple seats, both of which are in states that are trending blue: Colorado (where the Democrats have a relatively strong incumbent) and Nevada (where Reid’s hand-picked successor will run in his place).
Complicating the picture for the Republicans is the fact that the DSCC has done an outstanding job of recruiting candidates with general election appeal. The Democrats have recruited probably their best-chance candidates in Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Missouri, and have recruited a candidate in Arizona who could even give [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] a run for his money.
Obviously, the Presidential election will have a major role to play in how these Senate candidates come out, but with Republican facing Democrat challengers who have strong personalities and who will likely be running under the banner of an ideological blank slate in Hillary Clinton, even if Clinton gets destroyed in the general they will likely not be dragged down to a significant degree. The 90s showed us that the country regards the Clintons as apart from the rest of the Democrat party. The Clintons can apparently do well while the rest of the Democrats suffer, and it stands to reason that the reverse is likely also true.
In this kind of environment, the Republican caucus in the Senate desperately needs some enthusiasm on their side. Some reason for anyone to be excited about the prospect of a continuing Republican majority. The problem is that the Republicans in the Senate have given absolutely no one in the coalition absolutely anything in exchange for the hard work and money that was poured into the victory in 2014. Even the people who want to defend the last year of McConnell’s tenure as “not as bad as the conservatives make it seem” are forced to concede that the best that can be said about McConnell is that he hasn’t accomplished anything because he can’t.
Immigration hawks who worked for a Republican majority in 2014 were betrayed when McConnell refused to stand and fight over Obama’s executive amnesty.
Pro-lifers who worked for a Republican majority in 2014 have been repeatedly betrayed at McConnell’s pre-emptive surrender on funding for Planned Parenthood and his refusal to include defunding language in must-pass bills.
Spending hawks who worked for a Republican majority in 2014 have been betrayed by McConnell’s constant work to undo even the modest cuts wrought by the sequester and his capitulation on the debt ceiling.
Even if you think each of these actions was defensible or excusable, the ease with which McConnell and the rest of the GOP conference rolled over and showed their bellies on these issues has to be deflating even to the biggest leadership booster.
And while there might be some folks who are resigned to the fact that a GOP-led Senate as the lesser of two evils, there’s almost no one I’ve talked to who is in any way excited about the prospect of what Republicans will do if they keep the majority – whether a Republican is elected President or not. Too many of us remember the bloating budgets and repeated failures of these same Senators under President Bush to have too much naive joy at the prospect of knocking on doors for [mc_name name=’Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000449′ ] or [mc_name name=’Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B000575′ ].
And given the electoral landscape, that presents a problem. It feels like the GOP is recycling the playbook from 2006, in which they tried to keep their heads down and “play defense” with a lot of money in the grim hope of holding just enough seats to keep their committee chairmanships. If the past is any indication, this tactic is a recipe for failure.