We're less than two weeks from election day, so it's time to start writing the post-mortems, just to be prepared. Here are some of tomorrow's headlines today.
2014 is some kind of geological term. The American Spectator’s Jeffrey Lord wonders whether Republican gains will be long-lasting: “The real question is whether, if the GOP wins control of the Senate, it might be interpreted as a rattle of the seismic needle indicating an earthquake down the road. Or will this be just another wave election, crashing noisily on the political beach but eventually receding once Hillary or another liberal carries the day two years later? How will this year’s victorious GOP House and Senate position the party for 2016?”
“It’ll be neither” earthquake nor wave, writes Pacific Standard’s Seth Masket—once again killing a fun concept by drowning it in an icy, unforgiving river of political science. “The concept of a re-aligning election is basically a meaningless one. Yes, party coalitions do shift, sometimes dramatically and sometimes very slowly, but particular election results can generally be explained by the ‘fundamentals’ of the political environment—the condition of the economy, the popularity of the president, international crises, etc.”
But if earthquakes and tidal waves are out of the question, we may very well get a glacier election, in which red states continue to get more Republican and blue states get just a bit more Democratic. And every election is a sinkhole election, in which a few incumbents unexpectedly disappear. Eric Cantor has already given us a head start on that one.
2016 is already over. Speaking of re-alignment (and people always will, Seth Masket be damned), there are always analysts eager to push the idea that any given election leaves a political party too crippled to win the next one. So if Republicans are elected governor and U.S. senator in Colorado, it means the Obama coalition has been smashed to pieces, and the GOP is assured the White House in 2016. And if Democrats win in Georgia, the GOP’s decades-long Southern strategy is dead, dead, dead.
Neither Either argument has a bit of truth in it, but trust excitable experts to compare one of them to the law of gravity.
Politico’s Alex Isenstadt has already raised the prospect that the battle for the House in 2016 could end next month, in a piece headlined “A Wave for House Republicans?” (Yes, there’s that word again.) “Republicans are encouraged by what they’re seeing in the homestretch of the House campaign and are determined not to let an opportunity pass,” Isenstadt reports, noting that the GOP is even targeting one of the two seats in President Barack Obama’s native Hawaii. The goal? “Republicans believe if they can maximize their House margin in 2014, it will give them a buffer going into a 2016 election expected to be much more favorable to Democrats.”
Given the unlikelihood of a landslide (sorry, Seth!) presidential election and the difficulty of unseating congressional incumbents, the prediction of a GOP lock on the House has some credibility.
The 2016 presidential primary race has been totally scrambled. There will be much effort to detect a leftward or rightward lurch in each party that renders certain candidates unelectable. Some of this will involve an imagined leftwing insurgency by Democrats against Hillary Clinton, but this will be a stretch given the lack of anyone comparable to Elizabeth Warren or Bill de Blasio on this year’s ballot. (Sen. Al Franken getting re-elected in Minnesota won’t be much of a bellwether.) The Republican side, with almost a dozen serious candidates, is a different matter.
So here’s my take. Look to New Hampshire, where former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is trying unseat current New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen. If Brown wins, it means there’s still a large number of less ideologically stringent independents who could vote in the 2016 presidential primary and give a win to an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie (or some guy from Massachusetts). But if Brown loses by a significant margin, that could indicate less interest in the GOP among New Hampshire independents—making it possible for a more conservative candidate (and presumably the winner of the Iowa caucuses) to win here.
Obama blew the election. This one’s inevitable no matter what happens. Even if Democrats do unexpectedly well, there will be grumblings about how they could have done better without the dead weight of an unpopular president. That goes with the territory of being a lame duck, but we’ll get into animal metaphors another time.