Meet the anti-Republican, anti-Obama electorate
Voters are angry. They are blisteringly, face-purplingly, unbearably mad. They're sore at President Obama. Frustrated with the Republicans in Congress. Wary of the candidates. Fed up with the system. Angry at the media.
But there are plenty more takeaways from the midterms. And they offer hints about the tenor of our politics to come.
First, the electorate was not overwhelmingly Republican or conservative, even though it was relatively more conservative than the country as a whole. In fact, from the national exit poll: 58 percent of those surveyed believe that undocumented immigrants should receive a legal pathway to citizenship. Fifty-three percent say that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances. A majority support a rise in the minimum wage for hourly workers.
The big numbers show the economy is improving as a whole. But real wages and personal income aren't growing while wealth inequality is. We may put too much faith in predicting elections based on the gross domestic product or unemployment rate, especially in the hangover (Ben White's phrase) from the Great Recession.
I'm looking for hard figures to back this up, but the combination of anti-government sentiment, a sense that when government does intervene, it intervenes in ways that mess things up, and a sense that the economy is not improving adds up to an electorate that does not believe that the administration is competent enough to handle the big problems of the day. That's a referendum on President Obama's governing.
In Florida, as of this writing, it seems like Rick Scott, a governor who voters don't like, who doesn't play well with Washington, and who has little chance of helping the state return to the Republican presidential column in 2016, will win by a very small margin. Even if he loses, the following analysis holds, I think.
Democrat Charlie Crist supported President Obama's health care policies to the letter. And of those voters who believed that health care was the most important issue, three-fourths supported Crist. I don't doubt that the word "ObamaCare" helps keep some GOPers motivated. It remains unpopular in reliably Republican states.
But results in Florida (and elsewhere) suggest that ObamaCare in reality is not a sinker issue, which, if you think about it a second, is probably the biggest underreported political development of the cycle, given how universally loathed it was just a year ago. The enormous bugbear of ObamaCare is no longer an albatross. Democrats in 2016 can run on ObamaCare in places they thought they could not in 2014. Also, and more meaningfully, these results could convince some recalcitrant Republican governors to change their policies on ObamaCare in the next two years, which might increase the program's efficacy.
Now, Crist may have run too closely to President Obama for the number of independents who voted. He spent $70 million to "nuke" Crist as an Obama clone, as GOP strategist Rick Wilson says. And voters blame D.C. for the economic insecurity they feel.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren didn't help Democrats win elections. As popular as she is among progressive activists, her effect on campaigns seems to have been temporary.
This supposedly arch-conservative midterm electorate also showed a libertarian bent, with a medical marijuana initiative in Florida getting more than 50 percent and the margins exceeding those of the Republican gubernatorial candidate. (It needed 60 percent to pass.) Still, there's a pronounced political cleavage on the issue: 60 percent of Democratic voters support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. Two-thirds of Republicans do not. Nationally, the exit polls show an even 50/50 split.
The successful campaign of Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) shows that Democratic incumbents can win in really tough years if they're disciplined and run good campaigns.
In the Senate, at this writing, it looks like Republicans will prevail. That said, we do know that Sen. Harry Reid will probably not face an open challenge as party leader from Sen. Chuck Schumer ahead of 2016 unless Reid steps aside. Democrats are loyal to Reid, but they want their best face forward ahead of 2016, and Schumer shows that face. If Democrats lose badly, pressure on Reid to step down will increase. Either way, Mitch McConnell will face a rebellion from conservatives in the Senate.
No matter how much power Sen. Ted Cruz actually has, his megaphone ensures that his imparted power will remain quite an annoyance to McConnell. The addition of Harvard-grad-turned-soldier-turned-politician Tom Cotton, who beat Democrat Mark Pryor in Arkansas, means that the neoconservative wing of the GOP has energy in the Senate. More importantly, if McConnell remains the leader, as I think is likely, he has to figure out how to lift the GOP's brand ahead of the 2016 election. He might actually be open to governing; having used obstruction to regain control of the Senate, he can use cooperation to win back respect for the party's governing wing. He told ABC News that he looked forward to being the leader of a "responsible governing majority." I think he means it, if in his own way.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney reminded television viewers that he campaigned in 27 states. Yes, the Mitt-in-2016 possibility is real. The attention MSNBC gave to John Kasich in Ohio should not obscure Kasich's potential as the most conservative acceptable alternative in the GOP primary, which would make him the de facto frontrunner once primary voters start to pay attention.