And yet….things really do feel different right now. I’m not even sure I can quite verbalize how they feel different, but I guess it’s a combination of things. First, the demographic trends that helped Democrats in 2012 will still be a big headwind working against Republicans in 2014. Second, it seems likely that the GOP is going to continue its strategy of maximal obstruction in Congress, and that’s going to wear very, very thin. Third, as Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal have demonstrated rather pointedly recently, Republicans are the ones who seem tired and out of ideas right now.
Jamelle Bouie makes a good observation that new or fresh ideas may not be necessary, at least not in the next two elections. Democrats in Congress will suffer from being the presidential party in the midterm year and from general fatigue of having the same party in power for eight years. If there’s one thing that the 2010 midterms showed, it was that the opposition party can win by a large margin simply by rejecting whatever the administration tries to do. The GOP was tired and out of ideas then, too, and it didn’t stop them from scoring a huge win.
It’s likely that Republicans will make gains in 2014 by virtue of being the party not controlling the White House, and it’s always possible that they could win 2016 because the public wants to put a different party in power. The GOP may be in danger of becoming the party that wins only in off-year elections, but the party’s electoral weaknesses are normally not as great in midterm elections. The danger for the Republicans in that scenario is that they interpret success in 2014 as proof that they can ignore their weaknesses and still win elections.
Of course, if Republicans assume that they can win by default, that could make them complacent and cause them to act in ways that needlessly lose them support. Overconfidence and complacency are two of the reasons why Republicans lost seats in the House during the sixth year of Clinton’s presidency. A lot will depend on the economic conditions in the country, the president’s approval rating, whether the U.S. has mostly extricated its forces from Afghanistan, and whether the U.S. has plunged into any new conflicts. If the presidential party isn’t being dragged down by an unpopular war or economic woes, it might not lose too many seats.
Drum strangely overlooks the Iraq war when listing the causes of Republican losses in 2006. 2006 was the worst year of the war in most respects, and it was the year when the public permanently turned against it. If it weren’t for the war, Republicans might have lost many seats but would not have lost control of both houses. Barring something similarly disastrous happening in the next two years, it seems unlikely that there will be a wave election that benefits the Republicans.