Last night, America witnessed one of the biggest partisan turnarounds in Congressional History. The GOP was able to capture 61 House seats and (so far) 6 Senate seats, making for a divided Congress come January when the new Congress convenes. Numerous factors contributed to this landslide, one of the biggest since World War II. On the House side, it was a repudiation of Nancy Pelosi’s agenda as well as President Obama’s decidedly liberal agenda that alienated independents and led to sharp divisions in Congress. The GOP, with the assistance of the Tea Party and their massive get-out-the-vote rallies, was able to capitalize on this anger and turn it into big House gains, knocking off long-standing incumbents like Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Missouri), and Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-South Carolina). Also, powerful Democrats such as Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), Jim Oberstarr (D-Minnesota), and Progressive Caucus chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), were forced into close races for the first time in their long House careers (Grijalva’s race is still too close to call at this point). While today Republicans across the country are celebrated their remarkable turnaround, it is worth noting that the Republican party is still not very well liked nationwide, and this was more anti-Obama than pro-GOP.
It is this universal negative attitude towards Congress that makes this election different from 1994, which this is often compared to. In 1994, Republicans were held in high-esteem across the country, Newt Gingrich especially. This popularity for conservative policy, as well as the failures of the Clinton administration, led to the GOP takeover of Congress, including the House, which it hadn’t held in 40 years. While the gains last night were more than the ones in 1994, the GOP must now work on both setting their policies out for Americans to see as well as building up popularity for them. This will be challenging, especially since the Democrats still have the Senate (albeit by a greatly reduced margain). While the House is the chamber that rules on spending and tax policies first, it will be difficult for John Boehner (the expected Speaker of the House) to push conservative spending proposals through a hostile Senate. The upside is that Congress will be more bipartisan, and better policies may be carved out, but if the climate remains as hostile two years from now, “compromise” may not be good enough.
It is important that John Boehner and the GOP leadership has a full understanding of what is expected of them. They campaigned on a promise of transparent governing, lower taxes, lower spending, and a scaling back of many of Obama’s legislative goals, specifically the health care law and the stimulus package. While it is possible such things are not out of the question, they must be done. The GOP rode into the majority on the back of the Tea Party, and should know very well that this is a conservative, not Republican, wave (yes, there is a difference). The Tea Party, assuming it will still be around, will hold Boehner to his word, as it should. We saw this year that when it comes to the Tea Party, they have no qualms with ousting Republicans as well as Democrats.
The media is now beginning to spin last night’s results as the fall of the Democratic Party: saying things like the Dems are now going to be more liberal, which is going to turn off the independents, the psychological blow is tough to come back from, and how the GOP is now full of promising politicians on the state and federal level that are going on to greater things. I laugh reading these pieces because it was only last year that they were writing the same things, except replace “Democrats” with “Republicans” and “liberal” with “conservative”. The reason the Democrats got crushed this year is because of self-inflicted wounds because of arrogance, massive spending, and blaming the American people for not knowing what they’re doing. Those things drove people back to the Republican camp out of anger, not out of love for the GOP. If Speaker Boehner commits the same sins, the same thing will happen, and 2012 will be yet another wave election. If Boehner wants to be the Speaker for a long time, and have a Republican house for a long time, then he must not repeat the mistakes the Democrats made. It’s smart policy and sticking to what you campaigned on that wins over voters.
It was a great night to be a conservative in America. Many good conservative candidates performed well (Rand Paul and Marco Rubio especially). We won the battle to control the House, the goal of 2010, and there will be some people trying to predict the outcomes of 2012, specifically the White House. That will be the pundits job, but as for this new government, it’s time to change the direction of the nation, and restore fiscal sanity in Washington.