Although there are, at time of writing, two states which have yet to be called either way (and Louisiana, where there will be a December run-off) it’s now clear that the Republican Party managed to pull off an impressive victory in the mid-term elections. They held on in the two closest Senate races where they had been on the back foot – Georgia and Kansas – and with the exception of New Hampshire, picked up all of the key target seats which have been called. At the very least, they will have a two-seat majority in the Senate, retaking the upper chamber and breaking eight years of Democratic control. They also not only held onto their House majority, but increased it by over ten seats, giving them their largest post-WWII majority in the lower chamber. Tight gubernatorial races in Florida and Wisconsin also went the GOP’s way, rounding off a solid night.
There was an anti-incumbent mood in the United States which, yesterday, propelled the GOP to victory. While they ran a number of excellent campaigns, they mustn’t lose sight of that fact. Voters chose them, in many cases, because of a deep-seated disappointment with Barack Obama’s Presidency – quite a turnaround considering that a mere six years ago last night, Obama was celebrating his election to the nation’s highest office. Several Senators elected on his coattails in 2008 lost their seats last night. In 2010, voters expressed extreme dissatisfaction with Obama’s as-yet unimplemented ideas. They took away his majority in the House, but the damage had already been done. In 2012, the Democrats’ ground game and motivated voters managed to defeat a divided and disenchanted Republican campaign, but it was not really an endorsement of the President or his policies, as they still returned a GOP-controlled House. Last night, however, after seeing first-hand Obama’s ideas in action, voters chose to send the President their strongest sign yet of disapproval. By stripping him of his last allies on Capitol Hill, the American people showed their support for a different, smaller, idea of government than that expounded by the President. Obamacare, his weak foreign policy, and the tepid economic recovery were among the top issues for voters, and on issue after issue, independent voters broke against the President. His policies were, in his own words, “on the ballot”, and voters chose to reject those policies. He has two years left to rebuild his tattered legacy – but he lacks the maturity and willingness to compromise to do so.
There will be a lot of work to do once the new Congress meets – GOP priorities could include approving the perpetually-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, and working on tax reform, both of which could be areas for compromise with the White House. Passing a repeal or defunding of Obamacare, tempting though it may be, would be a mistake. It would look petty, and for the next two years, Republicans at the Capitol will have to work with Obama where possible. If they want to present the image of a party ready to govern, they must avoid being too divisive. After all, their victories in races last night, if played correctly over the next couple of years, could be the perfect sales pitch to get a Republican President elected in 2016.
After the Democrats get over the shock of losing control of the Senate, they will begin to coalesce around their presumptive nominee, Mrs Clinton, and Obama will find himself increasingly isolated and unimportant as a lame duck President. The GOP must do the same – put aside the infighting and start planning for 2016. The actions of their newly-elected Senators and Congressmen will play a huge role in setting the stage for whoever wins that nomination. So what’s my message to the GOP today? It’s simply this: Congratulations! Now don’t mess it up!