Voters shook up Congress in Tuesday's midterm election, stripping control of the House from Democrats to put Republicans in charge, and narrowing the Democratic majority in the Senate to just a few votes. There were some bright spots for Democrats — most notably, Sen. Harry Reid's narrow victory in Nevada — but the larger story, driven by Tea Party anger and record spending, was of a Republican "tsunami" very much as predicted by pundits. After picking up more than 60 seats, the GOP now has its biggest House majority since 1946. What does the GOP landslide of 2010 mean? Here are five takes:
This was a vote against Obama: "The election was first and foremost a referendum on the policies of President Obama and congressional Democrats," say the editors of The Washington Times. "That verdict was clear: The American people want change." Oh, voters want change, says Karen Tumulty at The Washington Post. But they want both Democrats and Republicans to get their acts together. This is the third election in a row in which Americans have "kicked a political party out of power." The GOP will only face the same rebuke in two years unless they see that what voters really dislike is "overreaching" by either party.
The Tea Party is for real: It looks like "Republicans and Democrats alike may have underestimated the power of the Tea Party," says Michael Cooper in The New York Times. Kentucky's senator-elect, Rand Paul, wasn't far off when he called his win — along with that of Marco Rubio in Florida and other Tea Party favorites around the nation — part of "a Tea Party tidal wave." What was once a loose-knit "coalition of grass-roots libertarians and disaffected Republicans" is now a bona fide political force. Maybe, says Rachael Larimore at Double X, but not necessarily in a good way. Scary Tea Party candidates, such as Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada, threw away Senate seats more moderate Republicans could have won easily. So the Democrats have the Tea Party to thank for their enduring Senate majority.
It really is the economy, stupid: Republicans can't claim much of a mandate, says Stephen Stromberg at The Washington Post. "Unemployment is near 10 percent," and Americans predictably took their fears about the economy into the voting booth. This was a horrible year "to be an incumbent of the ruling party," and there wasn't much Democrats could have done to change the math. Of course the economy was foremost on voters' minds, says Michael Tanner at National Review, but that doesn't make this "unprecedented electoral victory" meaningless. Voters were willing to "swallow their doubts about Republicans and give them another chance because Democratic economic policies had failed so miserably." Now the GOP must deliver jobs by cutting spending, taxes, and regulation.
The fight over health-care reform has just begun: One thing is for sure — Democrats got burned over their health care bill, says Jay Cost at The Weekly Standard. Exit polls found that 48 percent of voters want the reform law repealed. The GOP won't be able to "stop the law" outright, says Jennifer Haberkorn at Politico. But with control of House committees they can raise a stink and drag the administration to Capitol Hill to "defend the law." And with the less publicized GOP wins in statehouses throughout the country, the implementation of the law will be slowed down, and the debate will grow "even more contentious."
Voters do not know what they want: "We are a nation of swingers," says John Dickerson at Slate. Yes, voters are mad and scared and confused — about the economy, the atmosphere in Washington, and more. But remember — two years after Bill Clinton's Democrats took their drubbing in 1994 and everyone was declaring him dead, "Clinton won re-election in a rout." If the economy turns around by 2012, Obama could be saved by "the swing," too. Obama can't just sit back and wait for voters to come back, says Alex Spillius at Britain's Telegraph. It's time to reach out to the other side by replacing "some or all" of his closest advisers and moving to the center. He'd be wise to show he's listening.