Democrats in Congress were prepared to absorb defeats last night. But there were some surprise losers who shared the honors with them:
1. Sarah Palin
An enormous GOP wave swept across the country, and it should have delivered the Senate to the Republicans. Sarah Palin interjected herself into primary races in Delaware and Nevada, however, and used her considerable popularity with the GOP base to knock off more viable candidates (Sue Lowden, Mike Castle) who might have fared better with the general electorate. Her chosen ones, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle, were just too crazy for prime time. Had the GOP won both of those races, the chance of getting Lieberman to flip were not remote — there is no way he wins in 2012 without either becoming a Republican, or getting them to stand down in Connecticut once again. The upshot: Palin’s Senate meddling probably doomed any chance she had at the nomination in 2012.
2. Democratic redistricting hopes
Democrats lost 16 state legislative chambers and numerous gubernatorial seats. Will probably mean a loss of even more seats for the Democrats when new congressional districts are drawn with 2010 census data.
3. Barack Obama and OFA
They firmly believed that they had permanently “redrawn the electoral map,” and their “risky strategy” was to spend $30 million turning out 2008 surge voters rather than traditional midterm voters. There was considerable dissent from the DCCC, the DSCC, the DGA and the unions who were also working on Democratic turnout operations. They believed that Obama’s chances of defying history and getting unlikely voters to the polls was small, though the effort was “likely to pay dividends for the president’s reelection campaign in 2012.” They were right. The entire thing was a complete flop — for Democrats in 2010, that is.
4. DNC Nevada Turnout Operation
Yes, Harry Reid got lucky that Sarah Palin meddled in his race and gave him the opportunity to run against a crazy extremist. But he also had the good sense take control of the Nevada GOTV operation out of OFA’s hands. Things got contentious when the Reid campaign refused to become fodder for Obama’s 2012 run, and demanded that the turnout operation be devoted to likely midterm voters, rather than longshot 2008 surge voters. Reid won, the DNC lost, and Harry Reid kept his seat.
5. Partisan Politics
The election results show that the bonds that tie voters to parties are getting ever weaker, and that the electorate understands the notion of empowering an opposition party to stop an agenda they do not believe is making things better. The idea that the GOP has redeemed themselves in the eyes of the public over the past two years since the rout of 2008 is ludicrous — polling shows that voters have overwhelmingly negative opinions of both parties. Independent voters continue to be the fastest growing constituency in the electorate, and they swung from Democrats in 2008 to Republicans in 2010. Just as the 2008 vote was a referendum by independents against George Bush, so this one was a referendum against Obama.
6. Republicans Who Think They’re Doing Something Right
The polls don’t indicate that there was a mandate for any specific Republican program, other than vague promises to reduce government spending. But those plans lose support quickly when they get concrete, and Republican start talking about cutting Social Security and Medicare. Republicans who think their agenda has just been given a massive public endorsement are delusional — their primary virtue is that they were an opposition party to an unpopular President whose programs aren’t making people’s lives better at a time of economic insecurity. Equally delusional are those who think Obama bears no responsibility for the defeat, or that his programs have successfully addressed two of the biggest issues affecting the economy: unemployment and the foreclosure crisis. They should be checked immediately for kool-aid stains down to the butt cheeks.
7. Democrats Running in 2012 Who Voted For the Health Care Bill
The health care vote bill was an albatross around the neck of the entire party this cycle, and those members in Swing Districts who voted for it fared worse than those who didn’t. But the impact was felt by everyone running as a Democrat up and down the ticket, and the damage is not done. Democrats wasted over a year being consumed with the passage of a bill that was perceived to be expensive and corrupt, at time when the country desperately needed a jobs program and a plan to address the foreclosure crisis. With 36 senate seats up in 2012, it will continue to be an ongoing symbol of an agenda that was out-of-step with the needs of the country and corporate control of our political system.
8. Michael Steele
May be proof of the existence of God. If he was even modestly competent, he would’ve knocked the crazies out of the primaries and the GOP would’ve taken 80 House seats. Democrats should be thanking their lucky stars for his presence at the head of the RNC, which will no doubt be truncated quite soon.
9. Republicans Who Were Robbed By Karl Rove
Rove decided to capitalize on Republican donor dissatisfaction with Steele and the Tea Party and line his own pockets doing TV advertising at the expense of the party. His White Whale was Michael Bennet: $6 million of the $21 million spent by American Crossroads was devoted to the Colorado race, and Bennet won. Another $3 million spent on the Missouri race was like carrying coals to Newcastle, because Roy Blunt defeated Robin Carnahan in a rout. And if Rove spent $21 million, where do you imagine the rest of that $56 million went? God forbid that money had been available to a competent head of the RNC who applied it where it could do the most good.
After a rout like this, the only sane response is to fire everyone in the White House (starting with Robert Gibbs) and admit that your messaging failed. What worked for the Democrats this time? Protecting Social Security, anti-NAFTA/free trade and jobs creation. What does Obama plan to do? As of this morning, double down on his plan to spend the next two years reducing the deficit, which means cuts to Social Security, and potentially exacerbating unemployment. And yesterday, the President “assured his South Korean counterpart that his administration was working hard to complete a free trade pact between the two countries.” Good luck to anyone running as a Democrat in 2012.