Divided Government

Last night Americans cast a vote for divided government. As of this writing Republicans gained an additional 60 seats to take control of the House of Representatives while gaining six seats in the Senate, fewer than the ten seats that would have been needed to take control of that house of the Congress. Seats remain undecided in both houses of the Congress and, while it is possible that the number of newly minted Republican seats in the House and Senate might grow, the number of freshman Republican House seats may go over 65 and the number of freshman Senate seats could conceivably be as high as eight. In my view the latter is extremely unlikely.

Clearly, I underestimated the number of Republican gains in the House while overestimating very slightly the number of Republican gains in the Senate.

Democratic partisans will undoubtedly try to minimize the significance of this election. That’s claptrap. This is an extremely significant election. The Republican freshman class in the House is the largest in more than 60 years. If it rises over 65 it will be the largest in 80 years. Not only will that have reversed the gains in the House that Democrats achieved in 2006 (many of the Democratic House losses this year were those same new Congressmen), it has bettered the Republican gains of 1994 and, if when the final tally is taken there are more than 65 new Republican seats, it will have reversed the gains of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Republicans should not overestimate their victory. As North Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint warns in this morning’s Wall Street Journal:

Tea party Republicans were elected to go to Washington and save the country—not be co-opted by the club. So put on your boxing gloves. The fight begins today.

Democrats should not underestimate their loss and their peril. As noted above if the final tally shows a gain of more than 65 seats by the Republicans, the clock will have been turned back to 1930. If the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, regardless of other economic growth President Obama will be a one-term president and will become the Democrats’ equivalent of Herbert Hoover.

To my eye there were two gains of immediate and significant importance and a larger development that may ultimately assume more significance than the gains in the House and Senate.

The two races I have in mind are the victories of Marco Rubio in Florida and Mark Kirk in Illinois. In the case of Rubio, the Republican Party now has a young, attractive, extremely conservative Hispanic spokesman. Clearly a rising star. In the case of Kirk, he was not only elected to become Illinois’s junior senator, a role formerly filled by the sitting president, he was elected to serve that president’s remaining term. He should be seated immediately and his Republican vote will alter Senate dynamics in the lame duck session. His election is a personal blow to President Obama who pulled out all stops to get his friend Alexi Giannoulias elected to little avail.

The larger development is the election of Republicans at the state and local level, in some cases to seats that have not been held by Republicans in living memory. This will undoubtedly influence the redistricting efforts soon to take place. As the late Mayor Daley once put it, one map drawer is worth 1,000 precinct workers.

10 comments… add one
  • john personna Link

    I am a moderate and independent who has been asking for pragmatism all along. I was a Republican until I tired of waiting for moderation from them. That’s actually the source of my frustration with Republicans. At one point I thought they could do it. Instead I had to suffer neocon foreign policy and Nordquist style “cut my taxes and ignore the rest” domestic policy.

    So. The big question is whether this divided government will give me what I want. Will it be good government or gridlock?

  • PD Shaw Link

    Independents prefer divided government.

    In 2010, 41% of them thought the country would be better if Republicans controlled Congress (11% if Democrats)

    In 2006, 34% of them preferred a Democaratic-controlled Congress (19% Republican)

    In 2002, 25% of them preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress (17% Republican)


    To me this indicates that the swing is partly about Obama because independents appear to have a more intense desire to balance against him, or have judged him a failure at checking the excesses of Congress.

  • steve Link

    It’s the economy. Most people are not political junkies, they just vote out the part in power when things dont go well. Mid-terms also nearly always go against the incumbents. The only surprise here was Republicans not taking the Senate (at least they should have if they could have avoided the O’donnells and Angles).


  • Icepick Link

    In the case of Rubio, the Republican Party now has a young, attractive, extremely conservative Hispanic spokesman.

    Rubio is also a party hack/apparatchik. He’s been a professional pol since he got out of school. He would never have risen to his new position so quickly if Charlie Crist hadn’t been such an incompetent. What we had in Florida was a choice between the most flexible career pol in the country (Crist), a member of the arostocracy serving in his mother’s former positions (Kendrick Meek), and a guy that rose to the top of the Tallahasse sewers at a young age (Rubio). I doubt one Rubio voter in 1000 can tell you something substantive he accomplished in his career to date, despite having been Speaker of the House in Florida. He certainly didn’t RUN on his record – he ran as NOT Charlie Crist and later as NOT Barack Obama. We’ll see if he’s actually got anything on the ball in the next couple of years, but so far he’s a just a good-looking lawyer in a suit. Sound familiar?

    In the corrections department, DeMint is a Senator representing South Carolina.

  • Sound familiar?

    I had entertained characterizing him as the Republican answer to Barack Obama but decided against it as unnecessary.

    I am not endorsing anyone merely calling it as I see it. I am not a conservative, at least not what goes by the name of conservative these days, nor am I a Republican.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Icepick, sounds like Rubio was in the leadership, unlike he who must not be named.

  • Icepick Link

    Dave, I understand you weren’t endorsing him, I just thought I’d add some local perspective.

    PD, the Speaker position in Florida is choosen years ahead of time. Frankly it isn’t clear where the actual power is in the Florida legislature. I suspect it lies with people in the shadows. But holding the Speaker title means you’ve got connections a few years before you serve your term, so I guess that’s something.

  • Clearly, I underestimated the number of Republican gains in the House while overestimating very slightly the number of Republican gains in the Senate.

    I seem to recall that some of your colleagues at OTB were very definitive in their declarations while you didn’t stake out such a know it all attitude.

  • Brett Link

    The gridlock actually works for Democrats, since it means the Republican-controlled House won’t be able to do anything except try and cut off funding for health care reform. That’s two years for the bill to sit there, building up political inertia and institutional support in the way that Medicare reforms have.

    And in 2012? It’s a Presidential election year, and turn-out overall will be higher (which helps Democrats).

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