Welcome to the New Political Landscape

Republicans take their largest House majority in decades while Dems hold on to the Senate

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Though a few races remain undecided, the overall midterm shape is becoming clear: Republicans have taken back the House, while the Senate is set to be much more evenly divided than previously. Both parties' talking heads are hard at work. Here's your big-picture roundup on how to summarize last night's events, and what this means for Democrats, Republicans, and the American electorate going forward.

  • Easy on the 1994 Comparisons, says political scientist Russell Arben Fox at his blog. The economy was worse this time around, while, at the same time "the incumbent Democrats have been far more successful in getting legislation passed." The conclusion? "This was a year with a lot of free-floating anger and frustration, and a big target in Washington DC to attack," which "wasn't ... quite the case in 1994." Fox also adds that he "can't help but suspect that this Tea Party wave is far more reactive, negative, and oppositional, then anything which the Republicans of sixteen years ago ran on." That's going to affect "what this rush of new House and Senate seats will make possible, and what it will not." Ultimately, if the "Republican Tea Party victors" stay "mainly oppositional and leader-less ... then the anger, confusion, and resentment will only increase." They need a Gingrich, decides Fox.
  • 'This Election Didn't Change a Thing!' cry libertarian Reason's Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie. As a country, "we're still on the fast track to the poor house," they say, while "nobody's talking about foreign policy and ending the warfare state," and "the only people worse than liberal on social issues are conservatives." The lack of serious talk about cutting spending, coupled with the likely return to more restrictive social policy, is hardly a libertarian's dream come true.
  • How Things Look for the Democrats  "Of all the silver linings, perhaps the shiniest is that they'll hold onto the Senate," writes Slate's Chris Beam. "Few people ever seriously suggested they would lose the Senate ... But It's a relief nonetheless." That said, he's frank about the intense efforts of the "Democratic spin machine" where this election is concerned. At The New York Times, Peter Baker says, with this election, "President Obama must find a way to recalibrate with nothing less than his presidency on the line." He's going to need to figure out how much of this was the economy, how much was his "big-spending activist government," and how much was simply "a failure of communications."
  • The Big Message: Constant Reversal  "For the third election in a row, Americans kicked a political party out of power," marvels Karen Tumulty at The Washington Post. Historically, this is a big deal: "It took four decades of Democratic control before voters turned over the House to Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and his band of Republican revolutionaries in 1994." That means "the past three elections have created the kind of successive upheavals in Congress that haven't been seen in more than half a century."
  • Agreed: 'Political Power Is Ephemeral,' declares The American Spectator's Philip Klein
The American public didn't go from being socialists to Reaganite conservatives in the past two years, any more than their ideology radically transformed from 2004 to 2006. The lesson of recent elections, thus, may not be that the American people are right of center, or left of center, or dead center, but that many of them aren't terribly ideological. ... No matter how popular one party is, they could be only one election away from embarrassing defeat. No matter how badly one party is defeated, they could be on the verge of a historic comeback. In this environment, reports of the demise of any political party, at any time, are likely to be greatly exaggerated.
  • Thus, the Lesson for Republicans  For starters, they shouldn't nominate and elect an incompetent Republican president in 2012, or else they, too, will face a backlash, judges Philip Klein.
  • What to Expect  One "challenge for both parties," explains the Post's Karen Tumulty, "is that even as voters are demanding solutions, they are feeling a growing skepticism about the role and reach of government." Also something to watch: "there is now a stronger sense in the GOP that Obama could be more vulnerable in 2012, which means that the presidential campaign will begin in earnest almost immediately and that the parties will be more focused on drawing blood than on looking for places where they can agree." The Times' Peter Baker adds that "Mr. Obama may have to give ground and agree to at least a temporary extension of expiring tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, not just the middle class as he favors. He will be pressured to show that he is serious about reining in government spending." The Atlantic's Chris Good adds an interesting tidbit: "Republicans have taken control of 19 state legislatures." What does that mean? "Redistricting watch ... Along with wins in governor's races, this could make things tougher on Democrats for a decade to come."
  • What You Really Want to Know: Who Won, Overall  Though not all is yet decided, these midterms delivered "an amazing result for Republicans," says analyst and recent New York Times acquisition Nate Silver. Republican gains are "far more remarkable from a historical perspective than the fact that Democrats were able to leg out a couple more wins than expected in the Senate. I'm not trying to be a media critic here, but Republicans have some legitimate gripe with portrayals of the night as having been a split decision."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.