Democrats and Republicans each have their problems. On the Democratic side, the head of the party cannot fathom that there is a link between his statist agenda (and the red ink and anemic growth that accompanies it) and the voters’ insistence on dumping those responsible for the agenda’s passage. As the Washington Post‘s editors delicately put it:
[W]e would have preferred to see more in the way of a presidential acknowledgement that voters’ reaction might be more than simple misperception on their part or failure to communicate adequately on his. Certainly, Mr. Obama’s description of his new administration coping with a flurry of emergencies does not extend to his decision to launch an ambitious health-reform agenda in the midst of the maelstrom. Mr. Obama said voters were understandably disappointed that the change in atmosphere he had promised had failed to materialize. But the examples he cited — the “ugly mess” of getting health reform passed, or the fact that he, “in the rush to get things done, had to sign a bunch of bills that had earmarks in them” — involved hard-headed decisions on the part of administration strategists to do what it took to achieve their ends.
Or, if you prefer the bluntness of Charles Krauthammer:
The Republicans won by default. And their prize is nothing more than a two-year lease on the House. The building was available because the previous occupant had been evicted for arrogant misbehavior and, by rule, alas, the House cannot be left vacant.
The president, however, remains clueless. In his next-day news conference, he had the right demeanor — subdued, his closest approximation of humility — but was uncomprehending about what just happened. The “folks” are apparently just “frustrated” that “progress” is just too slow. Asked three times whether popular rejection of his policy agenda might have had something to do with the shellacking he took, he looked as if he’d been asked whether the sun had risen in the West. Why, no, he said.
In short, the Democrats are in denial, the worst culprits responsible for the leftist jag remain in the House (the lucky possessors of the Bluest districts one could gerrymander), and the country is in no mood to see them defend the Obama agenda that voters just rejected en masse.
As for the Republicans, their problem is in recognizing that two component parts of the GOP — the Tea Partiers and the establishment (i.e., professional pols) — are dependent on one another. It might satisfy some would-be leaders of the Tea Party contingent to attack Karl Rove or Ed Gillespie, but is that what building a governing majority is all about? The Tea Party brought energy, ideological firmness, and grassroots organization to a moribund Republican Party. But the Republican Party provided many of the most electable, sober conservatives (e.g., Rob Portman, Dan Coats, John Boozman) who can translate the Tea Party agenda into legislation. If the party had run only Sharron Angles and Christine O’Donnells, there would have been no “shellacking”; without the Tea Party, there would have been no unifying theme and no electoral wave to put those seasoned conservatives into office.
The GOP, therefore, could use some unifiers — namely those who understand that the name of the game is not to spend time poking their fingers in the eye of half of the conservative coalition. The challenge now is to devise a strategy that first stops the Obama onslaught and then offers a thoughtful conservative alternative. The GOP is badly in need of such unifying figures — both to navigate the next two years and to lead the party in 2012. Those who find it personally satisfying to bicker with their allies do damage to their cause — and ultimately their own career objectives.