The election is over. Many around the country are thrilled beyond belief, thinking finally there will be a magical coming together of the Congress, while many others are pulling non-perishable items into their doomsday shelters to prepare for the socialist revolution coming to take their guns, religion and freedom of speech away. Both sides are somewhat deluded, yet the people who are waking up with the biggest political hangover this morning are the Republican elite. I wrote back in 2009 that enveloping the Tea Party into their tent and using them for their brash, outlandish form of enthusiasm was going to bite them in the end and it certainly did.
The Tea Party was the main engine of the 2010 red wave into the Congress and across various state-bound races, but while it looked great on a local level, the Tea Party extremism failed to capture the Senate in 2010 and caused the Republicans to fail once again in 2012. Not only that, but some of the main firebrands in the Tea Party caucus woke up the day after the election without a job, kicked to the curb by voters as quickly as they were voted in:
Allen West, Joe Walsh – Gone.
Richard Murdock, Todd Akin – Denied.
These were some key races and should have helped the Republicans take the Senate in a year when most people had completely written off the chance of the Democrats retaining control. Not only did it stay blue, but the Dems picked up seats. The Republicans can try to navigate the waters of blame and convince themselves it was everything from hurricane Sandy to not being able to connect with Latino voters (both of which were certainly factors), but in the end, the control of the Senate was lost to them because they were unable and unwilling to stand up to the extreme wings of the Tea Party, which is now forever linked to their own so-called Big Tent.
The country has always been and will continue to be a fiscally conservative, socially liberal base. It might not look like it all the time, but that is where the center of the population really is. The trick is to figure out how far you can push the voter away from either side. The Democrats need to justify to their side the spending that is continually beyond our means, while the Republicans have to defend extreme and unheard-of social restrictions. Once you push that line too far for either topic, no matter what party that voter is affiliated with, they will not cast their vote your way.
This time around the Republicans had the momentum in terms of the economy. We are still slowly recovering from the terrible collapse in 2008 and it truly has not been as fast as many would like, although most economists agree there are very limited ways to blame the limited recovery on Obama. Yet, instead of sticking to the economy in the last two years, they pressed some of the most restrictive and denigrating social legislation all over the country, thinking the 2010 wave gave them a social mandate to rewrite the country according to their social-religious code.
That was a serious mistake and they paid the price this time around.
Will we see a more moderate Republican party in the coming months and years? Likely some will tone it down. I doubt the anti-abortion voting block will shift too much, but the anti-gay marriage group will likely admit the writing on the wall: all four ballot measures going towards equality; the first time that has ever happened. If they can pull the plug on that social issue, they might just pull back some of the people who were turned off by their social agenda, but I think we’ll just have to wait until 2014. These things happen in waves and a blue wave might be hovering over the political horizon.