I hate to say “I told you so,” but, well, I told you so. On November 5, 2008, immediately after the American voters elected then Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) to the presidency and gave the Democratic Party strong majorities in the House and Senate, I warned them to “not characterize this Democratic blowout as a stinging rebuke of conservative principles,” and to “refrain from interpreting his comfortable win as a mandate for big-government spending programs or liberal social principles.”
You see, the 2008 election was a reflection of an electorate angry with the mad deficit spending and misguided economic policies in the waning days of George W. Bush’s (R) presidency. The last thing they wanted was an acceleration of the bailouts and spending, but that’s what they got. The last thing they wanted was more government intrusion in their personal economic decisions, but that’s what they got. The last thing they wanted in the middle of a recession was a six-month debate on how to inject the destabilizing hand of the federal government into our health care system, but that’s what they got.
The Democratic Party leadership did exactly what I (and many other political observers) helpfully tried to warn them not to do with their new-found executive and legislative juggernaut, and by January 2010—after only one full year in power—it was painfully clear that they had made a terrible political miscalculation. In record time, the Democrats had squandered the huge political capital they had earned in the 2008 election. In the off-year 2009 general elections and special elections around the country, Republicans made surprising gains by taking the governors’ offices in Virginia and New Jersey, and even the U.S. Senate seat held for decades by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA).
As we quickly approach the 2010 mid-term elections—to be held on November 2, one week from Tuesday—Republicans seem poised for incredible (possibly record-setting) gains in the House of Representatives and Senate. This is a remarkable turnaround from only two short years ago, but it is not surprising. A careful, honest read of the 2008 electorate would have lead Democratic strategists to realize that people were more voting against the Republicans and their party leadership at the time (Bush). They were not, by in large, voting for the Democrats or for Democratic Party policy positions. This is an important distinction; while either can lead to equally impressive electoral wins, a candidate or party that makes gains primarily on the ‘stick-it to the other guys’ vote is a candidate or party that probably doesn’t have a mandate for their own policy goals and must tread very, very carefully.
It is almost a given at this point that the Republican Party will make significant gains in the U.S. House of Representatives. Based on the current aggregate polling information and trends, I expect Republicans will gain at least 54 seats, matching or exceeding their gains in 1994 and handing them a solid majority. At this point, there is almost no possibility of the Democratic Party maintaining a majority in the House. In fact, there is an increasing possibility that Republicans will see an incredible record-breaking blowout with a gain of even 60 or 70 seats. I’m not yet confident in projecting an exact number, but I would be very surprised if Republicans get fewer than a total of 230 seats in the House (218 is a majority, and this would mark a gain of about 50 seats). More likely, Republicans are looking at a total of 240 seats or more. If I were forced to make a guess, I’d guess somewhere right around 245.
The Senate is a bit more difficult to call. My gut tells me that it will remain narrowly in Democratic hands. Republicans are certain to make gains, but will likely fall short of the magic 51 number. If things go well for Republicans, they may manage a 50/50 tie . . . though Vice President Joe Biden (D) would be the tie breaker, so this is effectively still a Democratic majority. More likely, Republicans are looking at 48 or 49 seats when all is said and done. This would still be a notable gain, as Republicans currently hold only 41 seats, but would leave the body under Democratic control. A Republican takeover of the Senate is possible, but I consider it unlikely.
A Warning for Republicans
People are very, very mad at the Democratic Party and its current leadership, and are making their opinions known with a vote for the opposition. Assuming the Republicans make the gains I expect them to, they can rightfully interpret their win as a mandate for slamming on the spending/bailout brakes. However, the same warning I gave to Democrats in 2008 is worth repeating. The upcoming Republican blowout is less a vote for Republican policies and more a vote against the Democratic ones. Republicans should refrain from interpreting it as a vote for conservative social principals, especially, and should be cautious as they pursue conservative economic principles (which do enjoy at least a fair amount of voter support).
As such, the upcoming Republican House should refuse any further bailout/stimulus/etc., spending and try, as much as it can against an opposition Senate and president, to rein in federal spending. However, Republicans should avoid getting dragged into any significant, controversial social issues as they will not have a mandate for approaching these. If Republicans embark on a psychotic ideological crusade after making their huge electoral gains, they will meet the same fate as so many of their Democratic brethren who are soon to be out of a job.