The Next Two Years: How the GOP Can Prove That They Can Lead or Snatch Defeat From the Jaws of Victory
Election Day is finally here. Most polls indicate that America will see a return to power for Republicans in both chambers of Congress – the first time since 2007. The close Senate races in Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, and North Carolina each seem to increasingly lean Republican, and election forecasters are unanimous in their belief that the Republicans will pick up the six seats that they need to claim the majority. In an election defined by frustration with President Obama, Congress, and Washington in general, some upheaval in our nation’s capital was to be expected. Midterm elections are notoriously painful for the sitting president’s party during his sixth year in office – a phenomenon often referred to as the “six-year itch.”
Unfortunately, the targets of the public’s discontent and this particular six year itch are Senate Democrats, the most vulnerable of whom are in red states that President Obama failed to carry in 2012. Many of these Democratic senators came to office during the 2008 election cycle, when then-Senator Obama’s powerful appeal down the ballot swept them into office. Ironically, many of these same Democrats now need to escape the shadow of the man that catapulted many of them into office, ; a sort of political break-up that has become increasingly publicized over the past few weeks. President Obama’s perceived lack of leadership and apathy with regards to pressing issues has brought back bitter memories to those who voted for the senators now running for re-election. However, while President Obama’s sinking poll numbers, an advantageous electoral map, and a favorable electorate have set up the GOP for success this year, the story could be quite different after two years of a Republican Congress in the 2016 election cycle.
Former Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell summarized the GOP’s quandary on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “Republicans [should] be careful what they wish for, because if they win the Senate, they better do something, they better send the president some responsible pieces of legislation or they’ll get crushed in 2016.” This sentiment has been echoed throughout Washington as the realization of the Republican’s likely victory has set in. Senior Democratic House Representative Chris Van Hollen (MD-08) has gone so far as to predict that a Republican House and Senate, given free reign in Congress over the next two years, will inevitably overreach and create a “huge public backlash.”
Of course, Republicans already aren’t inheriting a Congress that America is happy with – polls gave an abysmal 14 percent approval rating earlier this month. It will take considerable effort to erase the perception that Washington is broken in only two years, and now the onus will be entirely on the Republicans to prove that Congress can work again. If they can’t, the political fodder proved by another government shutdown or a failure to take up immigration reform (as the House did in 2013 following the Senate’s passage of Immigration Modernization Act) could prove devastating to the next Republican nominee for president campaigning on bringing efficiency to Washington.
In the minority and in the 2010 wave election, the Republicans’ bomb-throwing, flamethrower rhetoric cultivated their image as crusaders against government waste and overreach; a populist image that has resonated with voters (they are easily expected to maintain their 4-years-and-running majority in the House, after all). However, if the Republicans claim the majority in the Senate and continue this behavior, they will quickly be seen as obstructionists who, even when finally given significant power to govern and lay out their agenda, are unable to follow through with their promises and too incompetent and myopic to keep in power. A narrow-minded focus on repealing Obamacare or lowering taxes for the wealthy will hit a brick wall, as President Obama will be more than willing to wield his veto to strike down bills on issues such as these, which, at the end of the day, do nothing to address the array of emergencies that the country is confronting.
No issue should worry Republican leadership like next time that the debt ceiling will have to be raised. If the standoff from 2013 is repeated (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already threatened to shut down the government) it will be an almost purposeful attempt at political suicide and a case in point for Democrats. If the GOP proves unable to govern, 2016 will be a painful year to be a Republican.
Our outlook on what is likely to be two years of a Republican-controlled House and Senate may seem grim, as their time in control of the former has not given us much of a source for optimism. But the simple fact of the matter is that we want the Republicans to succeed – we want them to prove that they can legislate and govern responsibly, because after four years of gridlock and bitter, toxic politics, America cannot afford any less. The problems that this country faces cannot wait for a new president or another election; and to paraphrase Rep. Paul Ryan, we need to tackle them before they tackle us.
- Alaina Haworth with Alex Hasapidis