Taken together, all these maps show a Democratic Party shrinking back to its bicoastal base and a Republican Party expanding to take in most of the vast expanse of the continent. ~Michael Barone
If that is what the election results are, it might be worth talking about, but this seems to be another installment in Barone’s year-long series of columns overhyping Republican chances in order to maximize disappointment with the actual outcome. I honestly don’t understand the need to make declarations about the “vast expanse” supposedly dominated by the GOP or predict the “single greatest pushback in American history” (Rubio), especially when the people making these declarations have fundamentally misunderstood the public mood. Barone remains convinced that the election represents a coherent ideological repudiation of specific pieces of legislation. As he says:
Moreover, as the political turnaround of the last 22 months has shown, voters stand ready to punish a party that passes bills they hate or fails to stay true to stands they love.
As troubling as it may be for political pundits and activists to hear, most voters aren’t terribly interested in any of that, and that is definitely not the main thing that concerns most of them this year. Weigel gets this right:
Basically all horse race columns could be replaced by the phrase “voters want jobs and are angry that they can’t get them.”
Barone exaggerates the extent of Republican revival in an important way when he contrasts the current political map as he sees it with the presidential election results in 2008. If the “vast expanse” seems to be hospitable to the GOP, this is partly a result of the smaller electorate during the midterms that would be more inclined to vote Republican than the much larger electorate during presidential years. Over the last year Barone has practically made an artform out of ignoring structural and demographic changes in the country while fixating on ephemera.
Earlier this month, Peter Beinart reminded us of the demographic problem the GOP faces in the future:
Similarly, the Tea Party is today garnering all the headlines, but the rising demographic force in today’s politics is not aging white conservatives, but Hispanics and Millennials, two rapidly growing portions of the electorate that are uncomfortable with any right-leaning ideology at all, let alone the right-wing purism of Palin and company.
One doesn’t have to believe that Palin represents “right-wing purism” to acknowledge that she and her party are disliked by large majorities in both of the groups Beinart mentions.
The new estimates on House apportionment derived from early Census numbers do show that core Republican states are gaining a net of six seats and Electoral College votes, but what this masks is the effect new migration will have on voting patterns in these states. Northeastern and Rust Belt states continue to lose population, and mostly Southern and Sun Belt states keep gaining. While this gives traditionally Republican areas more weight in the coming decade, it is also changing the composition of state electorates that can make reliably Republican states less reliable. Colorado used to be a fairly reliable state for the GOP in presidential elections, but it has become more competitive and went for Obama by nine points last time. New Mexico used to be classed among “swing states,” but gave Obama a fourteen-point margin of victory and turned the traditionally Republican NM-01 House seat centered around Albuquerque into a likely Democratic one. It now appears that even in a bad year for Democrats NM-01 will remain in their column, and this was a seat that had never been Democratic until it flipped in 2008. Even if the Republicans win the House, which I still doubt will happen, that is one of the seats that they have lost for a long period of time, and should they gain the majority thanks mainly to economic discontent they will represent fewer states and districts in Congress than they did at the start of the decade. Over time, it is the GOP that has been losing ground, and Barone is doing them no favors by telling them flattering stories about how they are once again dominant.