In October, I wrote the following in the Los Angeles Times, in the wake of a government shutdown that now seems like a tempest in a teapot:
The first step is the most basic and most urgent: to prove to the country that Republicans are capable of governing …
There is plenty of other important business to attend to … Topping the list is the so-called farm bill—a grab bag of agricultural support programs that hung fire last summer because of the tea party’s insistence on steeper cuts to food stamps than Democrats could stomach. Since both sides agree that spending on food assistance should decline as the economy recovers, a deal on precisely how much shouldn’t be impossible to reach.
With a good farm bill, Republicans have a chance to show the country they are serious about government reform—if they can muster the courage of their convictions. To do so, the party must demonstrate that it is as serious about weaning agribusiness off federal subsidies as it as about controlling spending on the needy.
Also on Republicans’ radar are bills to overhaul federal transportation and water infrastructure programs. These aren’t headline grabbers, but they are an opportunity to demonstrate that the party can function legislatively.
Needless to say, absolutely none of this happened. (A farm bill was passed and signed into law, but there was nothing in it to cheer reformers.) Nothing of any significance made its way out of Congress. The GOP hewed to an ultrasafe, I’m-not-him strategy, and it payed off.
And Republicans are, as I write, poised to take control of the Senate. If anything, results are even better for the GOP than analysts had anticipated as of yesterday. Rep. Cory Gardner trounced Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado, a state carried twice by Obama. The Georgia Senate race will not require a runoff. Florida Gov. Rick Scott held off Charlie Crist, and Gov. Scott Walker did the same, comfortably, in Wisconsin. Sen. Pat Roberts relatively easily handled the independent Greg Orman. Iowa, too, looks to flip to the GOP. For the second consecutive statewide race in my adopted home state of Virginia (also carried twice by Obama), pollsters undercounted Republican support: It seems Sen. Mark Warner will just barely squeak past challenger Ed Gillespie. (N.B.: Can there be any doubt, with Gillespie’s employment by the Bush White House, that the establishment is back?)
Nationally, things broke sharply for the Republicans.
Only poor Scott Brown, lately of New Hampshire, was left on the outside looking in.
What does it all mean?
I still think, though perhaps somewhat more tepidly, the conventional wisdom—that is, don’t overinterpret these midterms, with their whiter electorate and their overwhelmingly red battlegrounds—is sound. Hillary Clinton cannot possibly do as poorly among whites as President Obama. The electorate will look vastly more like 2012’s electorate than 2014’s. And so on. …
What does it mean for the short term?
Washington Post Wonkblogger Zachary Goldfarb writes:
The president apparently has grand ambitions for the final two years of his presidency—even if Republicans control the Senate. Here’s an interesting line from Politico last week: “Aides are discussing potential areas for agreement: tax reform, infrastructure, sentencing reform, renewing unemployment insurance, raising the minimum wage and expanding early childhood education.”
It’s cute of the president’s aides to think any of this is in the cards. For “areas of agreement” to translate into actionable legislation, House conservatives will need to make concessions to Democrats. They’ve given no indication of a willingness to do so. Will tonight’s results soften their resolve? I strongly doubt it.
You’re living in two countries, locked in mortal combat.
The red one won handily tonight.