Commentary Magazine


Topic: Wisconsin

The Twilight of the Unions

Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

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Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic in the BLS report is union membership broken down by age. Of workers 55-64 years of age, 14.9 percent are union members. For those 16-24, a mere 4.2 percent are unionized. That, to put it mildly, does not bode well for the future of the union movement.

The basic reason for this now-60-year-long decline, of course, is that unions are economic dinosaurs. They arose in the late 19th century at the same time as unprecedentedly large industrial and transportation corporations came into being. The corporations had enormous economic and political power and the unorganized workers had virtually none. Unions helped to redress the balance.

With the Wagner Act of 1935, which put the power of the federal government behind the union movement, the golden age of unions began. It didn’t last long. Greatly increased educational opportunities after World War II and the digital revolution that began around 1970 have eroded the number of workers who need unions to bargain for them and the number of jobs available to unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

But the laws governing corporate-union relations had their last major overhaul in 1947 with the Taft-Hartley Act in a completely different economic universe. The unions’ power with the Democratic Party (they are the No. 1 funder of the party and its candidates) has prevented any modernization, giving them disproportionate political clout. But even that is fading. The unions were unable to get “card check,” which would have ended secret elections in union organizing drives, through Congress when the Democrats had a lock on both houses of Congress in the first two years of the Obama administration.

So while unions, like dinosaurs, are still very powerful, like dinosaurs, they are going extinct.

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Labor Unions, Violence, and America’s Political Religion

When he was only 28 years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

The speech included Lincoln’s plea to avoid what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” He warned about an “ill-omen amongst us”–which he identified as, among other things, the “growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” 

In fact, the Young Men’s Lyceum speech deals in large part with the issue of passion vs. reason. Lincoln, like the Founders, had a deep insight into human nature, acknowledging that “jealousy, envy, and avarice” are “incident to our nature.” The basest principles of our nature, he said, “were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty” (meaning they were directed exclusively against the British nation). But at the end of his speech, Lincoln issues this warning:

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When he was only 28 years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

The speech included Lincoln’s plea to avoid what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” He warned about an “ill-omen amongst us”–which he identified as, among other things, the “growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” 

In fact, the Young Men’s Lyceum speech deals in large part with the issue of passion vs. reason. Lincoln, like the Founders, had a deep insight into human nature, acknowledging that “jealousy, envy, and avarice” are “incident to our nature.” The basest principles of our nature, he said, “were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty” (meaning they were directed exclusively against the British nation). But at the end of his speech, Lincoln issues this warning:

Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence. Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality and, in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws. This must become America’s “political religion.”

Which brings us to Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder signed a law declaring that workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

National Review offers a summary of the reaction to the new Michigan law: “Democratic legislator Douglas Geiss declared on the floor of the state house: ‘There will be blood. There will be repercussions.’ And indeed there were: Knife-wielding partisans brought down a tent on representatives from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity — women and children among them — and roughed up bystanders. Fox News contributor Steven Crowder was beaten by the same mob, punched repeatedly in the face.” In addition, Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa declared there would be a “civil war” in Michigan. (A video of some of this can be seen here, courtesy of HotAir.com. And on the left, it’s being said that “getting hit in the face is a hazard of inserting yourself in the middle of an argument between billionaire-funded know-nothing ideologues and people whose livelihoods and stability are being threatened by the insatiable greed of the super-rich and the blind extremism of their wooden-headed political allies.”) 

Conservative commentators have pointed out that Michigan is merely the most recent link in a chain of events, from the response to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s decision to end collective bargaining rights for public sector unions (where Walker was often compared to Hitler, Mubarak, and Mussolini) to the Occupy Wall Street protests (which were characterized by sexual assault, arson, and vandalism, among other things).

My point isn’t that what’s happening today is anything like the scale of what Lincoln was referring to (which included murders committed by pro-slavery mobs). But the confrontations and rage, the acts of intimidation and violence we’ve seen in places from Lansing to Zuccotti Park and several other cities are troubling enough.

We all know passions can be inflamed in political disputes. What’s crucial is to respect the rights of others even when we disagree with them. Those who don’t–those who substitute wild and furious passion for cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason–are engaged in something destructive.

We are nowhere close to a pre-civil war situation. We’re even a long distance removed from the violent protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But our divisions are deep enough. And when differences in policies lead to screaming matches, shoving matches, provocations and fist fights, it’s not a sign of civic health. (Liberals might be somewhat more attuned to this point if the actions we’re seeing at union rallies had happened at Tea Party gatherings.)

A “mobocratic spirit” is at odds with America’s political religion. And it would be nice, and perhaps even helpful, if the president reminded his supporters and allies of that from time to time.

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CNN Moves Wisconsin to “Toss Up”

Following several polls that show the race tightening in Wisconsin, CNN has moved the state from “lean Obama” to “toss up” on its electoral map:

CNN Thursday turned the important battleground state of Wisconsin from “lean Obama” to true “toss up” on its electoral map, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s naming of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a seven term congressman from the Badger state, as his running mate. One contributing factor behind CNN’s move was a new poll that matched two others from last week that indicate that the presidential contest in Wisconsin is close. …

With Wisconsin’s move to true “toss up,” the CNN Electoral Map now suggests Obama leading in states with a combined 237 electoral votes, Romney ahead in states with a combined 206 electoral votes, and states with 95 electoral votes up for grabs. 270 electoral votes are needed with win the White House.

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Following several polls that show the race tightening in Wisconsin, CNN has moved the state from “lean Obama” to “toss up” on its electoral map:

CNN Thursday turned the important battleground state of Wisconsin from “lean Obama” to true “toss up” on its electoral map, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s naming of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a seven term congressman from the Badger state, as his running mate. One contributing factor behind CNN’s move was a new poll that matched two others from last week that indicate that the presidential contest in Wisconsin is close. …

With Wisconsin’s move to true “toss up,” the CNN Electoral Map now suggests Obama leading in states with a combined 237 electoral votes, Romney ahead in states with a combined 206 electoral votes, and states with 95 electoral votes up for grabs. 270 electoral votes are needed with win the White House.

It’s a great sign for Republicans, who haven’t won Wisconsin in a presidential race since Ronald Reagan. But Nate Silver warns against putting too much stock in CNN’s decision:

Adjust the Rasmussen numbers upward for Mr. Obama, and the CNN poll downward for him, and it looks as though Mr. Obama might win by about two percentage points if an election were held in Wisconsin today. I wouldn’t quite use the term “tossup” to describe the state — particularly if Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are in the midst of a modest but temporary bounce — but it has become much more essential to the electoral math, and now rates as the fourth most important state in our tipping-point calculus, behind Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

Whether it’s a temporary bounce or not, Paul Ryan does have high favorables in Wisconsin and his addition to the ticket puts an important state in play.

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Romney Now Leading in Wisconsin

Some analysts were skeptical that Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan would make much of a difference in Wisconsin, particularly since the state hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. But Romney has actually opened up a small lead in Wisconsin, according to the latest Rasmussen poll:

The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Romney with 48% support to President Obama’s 47%. Three percent (3%) prefer some other candidate, and two percent (2%) are undecided.

In late July, it was Obama 49%, Romney 46%. This is the Republican’s largest level of support yet in the Badger State. Prior to this survey, the president has earned 45% to 52% of the vote, while Romney has picked up 41% to 46% of the vote.

A one-point lead isn’t much in a poll with a 4.5 percent margin of error, but Rasmussen’s findings on voter sentiment in the state are a good sign for Republicans:

Ryan, who has been a congressman from Wisconsin since 1999, is viewed favorably by 57% of the state’s voters. This finding includes 39% who view Ryan Very Favorably. Thirty-six percent (36%) share an unfavorable view of Ryan, with 23% who view him Very Unfavorably. Five percent (5%) are not familiar with the congressman.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of Wisconsin voters believe Romney made the right choice in tapping Ryan as his running mate, while 30% disagree. A plurality (46%) says they are more likely to vote for Romney now that Ryan is on the ticket, while 31% are less likely to do so. Twenty-two percent (22%) say the Ryan choice has no impact on their support for Romney.

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Some analysts were skeptical that Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan would make much of a difference in Wisconsin, particularly since the state hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. But Romney has actually opened up a small lead in Wisconsin, according to the latest Rasmussen poll:

The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Romney with 48% support to President Obama’s 47%. Three percent (3%) prefer some other candidate, and two percent (2%) are undecided.

In late July, it was Obama 49%, Romney 46%. This is the Republican’s largest level of support yet in the Badger State. Prior to this survey, the president has earned 45% to 52% of the vote, while Romney has picked up 41% to 46% of the vote.

A one-point lead isn’t much in a poll with a 4.5 percent margin of error, but Rasmussen’s findings on voter sentiment in the state are a good sign for Republicans:

Ryan, who has been a congressman from Wisconsin since 1999, is viewed favorably by 57% of the state’s voters. This finding includes 39% who view Ryan Very Favorably. Thirty-six percent (36%) share an unfavorable view of Ryan, with 23% who view him Very Unfavorably. Five percent (5%) are not familiar with the congressman.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of Wisconsin voters believe Romney made the right choice in tapping Ryan as his running mate, while 30% disagree. A plurality (46%) says they are more likely to vote for Romney now that Ryan is on the ticket, while 31% are less likely to do so. Twenty-two percent (22%) say the Ryan choice has no impact on their support for Romney.

Those numbers are actually far more positive for Ryan than the previous favorable/unfavorable ratings in Wisconsin that we’ve seen from polls like PPP (which could be partially due to the fact that Rasmussen polls likely voters, not registered voters).

Obama still leads Romney in the RealClearPolitics Wisconsin polling average, but this is the first poll since Paul Ryan joined the ticket, and it shows encouraging momentum for the Romney campaign.

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GOP’s in a Wisconsin State of Mind

When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

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When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

Paul Ryan has taken the reins on budget issues for the GOP, but his public persona is inextricably tied to his proposed entitlement reforms, especially Medicare. Ryan’s ideas became the Republican Party’s budget. He became a standard-bearer at a level usually reserved for presidential nominees. (When Gingrich slammed Ryan’s proposal as “right-wing social engineering,” he was practically booed and hissed out of the race.) Ryan’s reforms became their own litmus test to see if conservative presidential candidates were “serious” about the country’s fiscal future.

And no one will soon forget the liberal reaction to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s public union reforms–the deepest in the country. To avoid even voting on legislation, Democratic members of the state’s Senate fled Wisconsin to live in a hotel in Illinois. It didn’t exactly do wonders for the Democratic Party’s credibility, but neither did the DNC-organized protests; the nicest protesters compared Walker to Hosni Mubarak, the less generous compared him to–who else–Hitler. In fact, Walker’s reforms were tough but smart, and have provided a much-needed boost to the state’s economy. Fearing the effect of fiscal restraint on their taxpayer-financed largesse, the unions helped organize recall elections for state senators and Walker himself. The GOP survived, and so did the reforms.

And today at National Review Online, Katrina Trinko profiles Reince Priebus, the first-term Republican National Committee chair who has improved the party’s fundraising, kept a lower profile, and stayed more on-message than his predecessor. Priebus is also from Wisconsin.

So what is it about the Badger State? At first glance, Wisconsin might seem an unlikely laboratory for conservative reforms. It hasn’t thrown its electoral votes into the Republican column since 1984–though George W. Bush nearly nabbed the state in 2004. And though it has become more competitive in recent years, that should only make it less given to producing politicians willing to take the political risks Ryan and Walker have. Washington, D.C., isn’t exactly famous for political courage, so reformers take the risk of being demagogued into the ground–having their voters and their caucus scared off. But Wisconsin’s voters aren’t so easily bullied by unions either.

Wisconsin, then, is a peculiar kind of potential swing state. Wisconsin’s conservatives are not only enacting serious reforms, but are encouraging the national party to follow suit. (Compare this with Florida, where politicians walk a very careful line with regard to entitlement reform in an election year.) Is creative conservative reform the path to a Wisconsinite’s heart? Perhaps its liberal leanings have helped. Thompson’s reforms came just as the state was beginning to vote Democratic in presidential elections, and voters seemed to seek some kind of balance–the state hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since Thompson became governor, but it has also only had one Democratic governor in that same time (Walker’s predecessor).

Whatever the reason, the success of Wisconsin’s reform-minded politicians suggests the country isn’t as resigned to a welfare state future as many fear. Even without a candidate in a presidential election year, the state remains at the center–and often sets the terms–of the debate.

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Romney Now Leading Obama in Wisconsin

That was fast. Exit polling from last week’s Wisconsin recall election had already showed the state shifting from Obama’s column into toss-up territory, and now Rasmussen’s latest poll actually has Romney with a slight lead:

Mitt Romney now leads President Obama for the first time in Wisconsin where the president’s support has fallen to its lowest level to date.

The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Romney with 47 percent of the vote to Obama’s 44 percent. Five percent prefer some other candidate, and four percent are undecided.

That lead is still within the poll’s 4.5 percent margin of error, but it is the latest sign that Wisconsin — a must-win state for Obama — is in play for November.

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That was fast. Exit polling from last week’s Wisconsin recall election had already showed the state shifting from Obama’s column into toss-up territory, and now Rasmussen’s latest poll actually has Romney with a slight lead:

Mitt Romney now leads President Obama for the first time in Wisconsin where the president’s support has fallen to its lowest level to date.

The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Romney with 47 percent of the vote to Obama’s 44 percent. Five percent prefer some other candidate, and four percent are undecided.

That lead is still within the poll’s 4.5 percent margin of error, but it is the latest sign that Wisconsin — a must-win state for Obama — is in play for November.

At the National Journal, Josh Kraushaar paints a gloomy electoral picture for the Obama campaign if it loses the Rust Belt. The campaign’s focus on winning the Hispanic vote was designed with Florida and the southwest states in mind. But that strategy assumed that Obama would hold on to Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania:

For much of the presidential campaign, President Obama’s top strategists have outlined their numerous paths to 270 electoral votes: win Florida, sweep the Southwest, or pick off a Southern state or two. But they didn’t prepare for the possibility that working-class white voters in the Rust Belt could abandon the president en masse, throwing his well-laid plans into disarray.

With the economy struggling to pick up steam, three must-win “blue-wall” states are looking increasingly winnable for the Romney campaign: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Both election results (from the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall) and reputable polling show that all three states are shaping up to be highly competitive, and that both campaigns will be devoting significant resources there.

Now that the campaign will have to devote more resources to the Rust Belt, that limits the impact it can have in Florida and the southwest. The Obama campaign increasingly looks like the crew on a sinking boat, trying to patch one leak as two more spring up behind their backs.

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Wisconsin’s Reforms Are Working

The bruising battle in Wisconsin a year ago to curb the powers of public service unions was finally won by Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature. But, as a result, a judge of the Wisconsin Supreme Court faced a determined attempt to oust him from his seat (he survived), six state senators faced recall elections (four survived and the two losers had issues that would probably have cost them their seats regardless) and, this year, the governor himself faces a recall election.

I wouldn’t bet against him. The reforms have kicked in and the results are dramatic.

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The bruising battle in Wisconsin a year ago to curb the powers of public service unions was finally won by Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature. But, as a result, a judge of the Wisconsin Supreme Court faced a determined attempt to oust him from his seat (he survived), six state senators faced recall elections (four survived and the two losers had issues that would probably have cost them their seats regardless) and, this year, the governor himself faces a recall election.

I wouldn’t bet against him. The reforms have kicked in and the results are dramatic.

The reforms did a number of things. They ended the automatic collection of union dues by the state, causing an immediate drop in union income and the laying off of numerous union employees. They required that state employees kick in 5.8 percent of their salaries towards their own pensions and to pick up 12.6 percent of their health insurance premiums, bringing public employees more in line with private employee realities. Most important, it limited collective bargaining to salaries (and even that bargaining is limited by the rate of inflation).

For the first time in decades, school administrations are now actually able to administer their districts without union interference, and the savings have been huge. The MacIver Institute, a Wisconsin think tank, reports that of the 108 school districts that completed contracts with employees, 74 of them, with 319,000 students, have reported savings of no less than $162 million. If this is extrapolated out to all districts, it would amount to savings of nearly $448 million.

The biggest area of savings have been in health insurance. The teachers union insisted that districts use the union’s own health insurance company to provide coverage. No longer forced to use a monopoly provider, districts have either switched providers or used the threat of switching to force the union health insurance company to dramatically lower premiums. Savings have averaged $730,000 in districts that have switched providers or forced competitive bidding.

As a result of these dramatic savings, districts that have been able to benefit immediately from the reforms (some districts are locked into long-term contracts and cannot) have been able to avoid laying off teachers despite a significant drop in state aid and to avoid raising school taxes. Indeed, school tax bills that went out last December had an average increase of only 0.3 percent.

It is hard to imagine that with results like this, Governor Walker has anything to worry about.

 

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GOP Has Lessons to Learn from its “Victory” in Wisconsin

The results of last night’s recall elections in Wisconsin left the Republican governing authority intact, but the fact remains the GOP immediately lost two seats and came within a few thousand votes from losing its majority, while the Republican governor’s approval ratings continue to tank. The rallying cry of “hey–it could have been (and almost was) much worse” is not the best justification to celebrate.

That the state GOP was not completely steamrolled in recall elections is good for the party’s fight against public unions. But if this is celebrated as an unqualified “win,” the national Republican party will fail to learn important lessons from the public’s response to Scott Walker’s policies.

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The results of last night’s recall elections in Wisconsin left the Republican governing authority intact, but the fact remains the GOP immediately lost two seats and came within a few thousand votes from losing its majority, while the Republican governor’s approval ratings continue to tank. The rallying cry of “hey–it could have been (and almost was) much worse” is not the best justification to celebrate.

That the state GOP was not completely steamrolled in recall elections is good for the party’s fight against public unions. But if this is celebrated as an unqualified “win,” the national Republican party will fail to learn important lessons from the public’s response to Scott Walker’s policies.

It’s absolutely true if the results stand, Republicans in Wisconsin will have survived a ferocious union ground game and a challenge to their governing power. And it’s possible, as Alana suggests, Walker’s plans will gain popularity as time marches on. But so far that isn’t the case. Alana quotes a Washington Post report in which Republicans defend their losses last night: “Republicans acknowledge that they were essentially caught flat-footed by the whole thing.” That’s their defense? Republican state officials admit they were caught off-guard by the recall efforts Democrats had promised. So who will be fired over this? Someone surely ought to be. This issue has been on the national political radar for months, and the Wisconsin GOP leadership admits they took a nap at the wheel.

But the most important takeaway here is one the GOP seems utterly unwilling to process. It wasn’t all about the demand public employees pay into their benefit accounts. Sure, the unions didn’t like it, but it wasn’t what enraged them and made them think they were in a battle for their survival. It was the proposed limits to their collective-bargaining abilities that both Walker and the unions saw as essential to eroding the unions’ true source of power.

In New Jersey–a bluer state than Wisconsin–Chris Christie passed similar legislation that forced employees to pay into their very generous benefits, but left untouched the collective-bargaining facet of the unions’ power. And Christie had a compelling explanation for why he didn’t seek to limit the collective-bargaining process, even though the practice has destroyed so much of the state’s municipal balance sheets:

I love collective bargaining…. I’ve said let’s get rid of civil service and let everything be collectively bargained, as long as collective bargaining is fair, tough, adversarial and there’s someone in that room representing you.

Christie, in other words, won the public relations battle by showing he truly represents the taxpayers. It was such a landslide PR victory, in fact, that the state’s heavily Democratic legislature went along with the bills. Last night, the Wisconsin GOP barely held on. If they don’t learn the right lessons from this battle, they might not be so lucky next time.

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LIVE BLOG: Paul Ryan

The Republican response — indeed, the opposition-party response — to the State of the Union is usually the graveyard of upward ambitions. Not tonight. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, is giving what is certainly the best such response in memory, and will — and should — spark serious talk about him as the Republican nominee next year. He has said flatly he’s not running. Maybe it would be wiser for a 41-year-old like Ryan to wait until 2016. But this speech reminds us that the deep bench of younger politicians — with Ryan and Marco Rubio and Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, among many others — really belongs to the GOP.

The Republican response — indeed, the opposition-party response — to the State of the Union is usually the graveyard of upward ambitions. Not tonight. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, is giving what is certainly the best such response in memory, and will — and should — spark serious talk about him as the Republican nominee next year. He has said flatly he’s not running. Maybe it would be wiser for a 41-year-old like Ryan to wait until 2016. But this speech reminds us that the deep bench of younger politicians — with Ryan and Marco Rubio and Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, among many others — really belongs to the GOP.

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Morning Commentary

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

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Students Launch Public Relations Campaign for North Korea

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website. Read More

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website.

“The DMZ was my favorite. Mass Games, local restaurants were wonderful, Mt Myohyang was beautiful, USS Pueblo, Korean War Museum, Metro. All of it was fantastic. I commend the two of you for putting together such an action-packed, well-rounded program,” wrote Amy C., a 2009 Fulbright scholar.

Another participant was apparently honored to have been given a museum tour by the same woman who guided President Kim Il-Sung. “[W]e went to an agricultural museum where both leaders had been to several times, and were guided by the same lady that guided President Kim II Sung; on the very same night when we were back to our hotel, we turned on the TV and the TV was showing President Kim II Sung visiting the exact same museum guided by the lady we just saw in in afternoon. What de ja vu!” wrote Ji G.

And in a ringing endorsement, Neil E., a Bowling Green State University professor, wrote that the “highlights” of his trip were “the kids playing in the street in front of the Children’s Palace, followed by the glitzy, absolutely perfect performance inside, the crowd streaming out of the Kaesong rally interrupted by a fight, the audiences clapping in unison. I would definitely recommend the experience to others — in fact, I already have.”

Well, I suppose we can at least we can be thankful that the unpleasant sight of emaciated North Koreans didn’t get in the way of their thrilling vacation.

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Waiting for Cream to Rise to the Top

Fred Barnes writes:

Why do the potential Republican presidential candidates (with one exception) seem so old, dull, and uninteresting? There are a few simple answers. Most of the candidates are a generation older than most of the new Republican luminaries, compared with whom they are indeed duller and less interesting. At the moment they’re not where the political action is either. They’re not quite irrelevant, but close.

He argues, quite correctly, that at least for the next few months, all eyes will be on Congress:

At this time four years ago, the presidential race was about to take off. But the center of gravity in politics and government has shifted. The big play is now in Congress with Republicans in control of the House and in the statehouses with governors like Jindal, Christie, Perry, and a slew of newcomers like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Rick Scott in Florida. The presidential contest will have to wait.

But implicit in his analysis is the conclusion that the likely contenders don’t match up all that well against the non-candidate Republicans. Part of the issue is generational, as Barnes points out. But there are other problems with the batch of commonly mentioned candidates.

For one thing, they all seem to have been around forever. Yes, in most cases, they’ve been on the national stage for only a couple of years. Mickey Kaus has called it the Feiler Faster Thesis – the omnipresence of media has sped up the pace of coverage and the pace of politics. A year on the national stage is now like five years in the 1990s. We’ve seen so much of many of the likely contenders (e.g., Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee) that they seem tired and old hat. Is there anything either of them could say that would surprise us? Most likely, only a gaffe.

And of course, each of the likely contenders has not simply small flaws but jumbo problems. Republicans are far more self-aware than the mainstream media give them credit for being. A majority of Republican activists and primary voters know that RomneyCare is quite possibly a debilitating issue for Romney. Many Republicans — Tea Partiers included — understand that Sarah Palin has serious issues with independents and is increasingly obsessed with how the media cover her. (One dig against John McCain was that he was thin-skinned; Palin is quickly developing the same reputation.)

The focus of the country will turn both to Congress and to a slew of new governors. And after a few months, Republicans might discover that one or more of the congressional standouts or one of the governors seems fresher and more capable than the retreads currently mulling a race. So I’d suggest that you ignore the likely candidates and watch the performance of people like Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal — the best of the lot may wind up at the top of the presidential contender list.

Fred Barnes writes:

Why do the potential Republican presidential candidates (with one exception) seem so old, dull, and uninteresting? There are a few simple answers. Most of the candidates are a generation older than most of the new Republican luminaries, compared with whom they are indeed duller and less interesting. At the moment they’re not where the political action is either. They’re not quite irrelevant, but close.

He argues, quite correctly, that at least for the next few months, all eyes will be on Congress:

At this time four years ago, the presidential race was about to take off. But the center of gravity in politics and government has shifted. The big play is now in Congress with Republicans in control of the House and in the statehouses with governors like Jindal, Christie, Perry, and a slew of newcomers like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Rick Scott in Florida. The presidential contest will have to wait.

But implicit in his analysis is the conclusion that the likely contenders don’t match up all that well against the non-candidate Republicans. Part of the issue is generational, as Barnes points out. But there are other problems with the batch of commonly mentioned candidates.

For one thing, they all seem to have been around forever. Yes, in most cases, they’ve been on the national stage for only a couple of years. Mickey Kaus has called it the Feiler Faster Thesis – the omnipresence of media has sped up the pace of coverage and the pace of politics. A year on the national stage is now like five years in the 1990s. We’ve seen so much of many of the likely contenders (e.g., Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee) that they seem tired and old hat. Is there anything either of them could say that would surprise us? Most likely, only a gaffe.

And of course, each of the likely contenders has not simply small flaws but jumbo problems. Republicans are far more self-aware than the mainstream media give them credit for being. A majority of Republican activists and primary voters know that RomneyCare is quite possibly a debilitating issue for Romney. Many Republicans — Tea Partiers included — understand that Sarah Palin has serious issues with independents and is increasingly obsessed with how the media cover her. (One dig against John McCain was that he was thin-skinned; Palin is quickly developing the same reputation.)

The focus of the country will turn both to Congress and to a slew of new governors. And after a few months, Republicans might discover that one or more of the congressional standouts or one of the governors seems fresher and more capable than the retreads currently mulling a race. So I’d suggest that you ignore the likely candidates and watch the performance of people like Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal — the best of the lot may wind up at the top of the presidential contender list.

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Could 2012 Be Worse?

As we’ve noted, 2012 may be another perilous outing for Democratic incumbent congressmen and senators. The number of Democratic senators on the ballot in the next cycle (23, including the two independents who caucus with the Dems) and their location in many Red States that in a presidential year will likely have some help from the top of the ticket suggests some opportunities for the GOP. Public Policy Polling zeroes in on one example:

One of the most interesting findings on our Montana poll was Max Baucus’ extremely low level of popularity in the state. Only 38% of voters expressed support for his job performance while 53% disapproved. At this point pretty much all of his support from Republicans has evaporated with only 13% approving of him and although his numbers with Democrats aren’t bad at 70/21, they’re not nearly as strong as Jon Tester’s which are 87/6.

Baucus’ plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end.

That is a nice way of saying that while they posed as “moderate” Democrats, they voted like liberals. Baucus isn’t up for re-election until 2014, but there are a batch like him who face the voters in 2012: Jon Tester, Bill Nelson, Jim Webb, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Sherrod Brown, and Kent Conrad, for starters. That’s a total of seven Democrats who voted for (were all the 60th vote for) ObamaCare, supported the stimulus plan, and come from states (Montana, Florida, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and North Dakota) that are quite likely to vote for a Republican for president. And the way things are going, you might add Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Herb Kohl (Wisconsin), who may have gone too far left in their states.

That’s an awful lot of states in the mix. The most immediate impact of this may be a higher degree of independence from the White House and the Obama agenda than these Democrats demonstrated in the first two years of Obama’s term. That suggests some openings for bipartisan action by the Republicans and the vulnerable Democrats. Bush tax cuts? Spending restraint? Yes, these issues and much more.

As we’ve noted, 2012 may be another perilous outing for Democratic incumbent congressmen and senators. The number of Democratic senators on the ballot in the next cycle (23, including the two independents who caucus with the Dems) and their location in many Red States that in a presidential year will likely have some help from the top of the ticket suggests some opportunities for the GOP. Public Policy Polling zeroes in on one example:

One of the most interesting findings on our Montana poll was Max Baucus’ extremely low level of popularity in the state. Only 38% of voters expressed support for his job performance while 53% disapproved. At this point pretty much all of his support from Republicans has evaporated with only 13% approving of him and although his numbers with Democrats aren’t bad at 70/21, they’re not nearly as strong as Jon Tester’s which are 87/6.

Baucus’ plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end.

That is a nice way of saying that while they posed as “moderate” Democrats, they voted like liberals. Baucus isn’t up for re-election until 2014, but there are a batch like him who face the voters in 2012: Jon Tester, Bill Nelson, Jim Webb, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Sherrod Brown, and Kent Conrad, for starters. That’s a total of seven Democrats who voted for (were all the 60th vote for) ObamaCare, supported the stimulus plan, and come from states (Montana, Florida, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and North Dakota) that are quite likely to vote for a Republican for president. And the way things are going, you might add Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Herb Kohl (Wisconsin), who may have gone too far left in their states.

That’s an awful lot of states in the mix. The most immediate impact of this may be a higher degree of independence from the White House and the Obama agenda than these Democrats demonstrated in the first two years of Obama’s term. That suggests some openings for bipartisan action by the Republicans and the vulnerable Democrats. Bush tax cuts? Spending restraint? Yes, these issues and much more.

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Follow the States, But Only the Right Ones

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

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The 2010 Midterm Election in Perspective

In shifting through the fine analysis that emerged in the aftermath of last week’s midterm elections, a few data points are particularly noteworthy:

  • Republicans picked up more House seats than in any election since 1938. Republicans now control the most House seats, and Democrats now have the smallest number of House seats, since 1946.
  • Fifty incumbent Democratic congressmen were defeated, while only two incumbent House Republicans lost.
  • Independents comprised 28 percent of the electorate and supported Republican congressional candidates by a margin of 56 to 38 percent. That represents a 36-point turnaround from the last midterm election, in 2006, when independents supported Democratic congressional candidates by 57 to 39 percent. In addition, independents trust Republicans to do a better job than Democrats by a margin of 23 points on jobs and employment, 23 points on the economy, 27 points on government spending, and 31 points on taxes.
  • Voters support repealing/replacing ObamaCare by 51 to 42 percent. Democrats oppose repeal by 80 to 16 percent — but both independents (by 57 to 31 percent) and Republicans (by 87 to 7 percent) want to repeal and replace it.
  • Sixty-five percent of voters said that the stimulus bill either hurt the economy or did no good — and those voters overwhelmingly favored the GOP.
  • Fifty-four percent of those voting said they were dissatisfied with the performance of Barack Obama — and they broke 85-11 for the Republicans. Read More

In shifting through the fine analysis that emerged in the aftermath of last week’s midterm elections, a few data points are particularly noteworthy:

  • Republicans picked up more House seats than in any election since 1938. Republicans now control the most House seats, and Democrats now have the smallest number of House seats, since 1946.
  • Fifty incumbent Democratic congressmen were defeated, while only two incumbent House Republicans lost.
  • Independents comprised 28 percent of the electorate and supported Republican congressional candidates by a margin of 56 to 38 percent. That represents a 36-point turnaround from the last midterm election, in 2006, when independents supported Democratic congressional candidates by 57 to 39 percent. In addition, independents trust Republicans to do a better job than Democrats by a margin of 23 points on jobs and employment, 23 points on the economy, 27 points on government spending, and 31 points on taxes.
  • Voters support repealing/replacing ObamaCare by 51 to 42 percent. Democrats oppose repeal by 80 to 16 percent — but both independents (by 57 to 31 percent) and Republicans (by 87 to 7 percent) want to repeal and replace it.
  • Sixty-five percent of voters said that the stimulus bill either hurt the economy or did no good — and those voters overwhelmingly favored the GOP.
  • Fifty-four percent of those voting said they were dissatisfied with the performance of Barack Obama — and they broke 85-11 for the Republicans.
  • Republicans have captured the seats in at least 57 of the 83 Democratic-held districts in which Obama won less than 55 percent of the vote.
  • Democrats hold a majority of the congressional delegation in only three states — Iowa, New Mexico, and Vermont — that don’t directly touch an ocean. Republicans similarly routed Democrats in gubernatorial races across the Midwest and the border states, from Ohio and Tennessee to Wisconsin and Iowa.
  • Republicans picked up 680 seats in state legislatures, the most in the modern era. In the 1994 GOP wave, Republicans picked up 472 seats. The previous record was in the post-Watergate election of 1974, when Democrats picked up 628 seats. The GOP gained majorities in at least 19 state house chambers. They now have unified control — meaning both chambers — of 26 state legislatures. And across the country, Republicans now control 55 chambers, Democrats have 38, and two are tied. (The Nebraska legislature is unicameral.)
  • Republicans have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s.
  • Voters who identified as ideologically conservative accounted for 41 percent of the turnout, an increase from the 34 percent figure in 2008 and the highest level recorded for any election since 1976.

Politico called the midterm elections a “bloodbath of a night for Democrats.” National Journal’s Ron Brownstein wrote, “If the U.S. genuinely used a parliamentary system, Tuesday’s result … would have represented a vote of no confidence in the president and the governing party.” And the Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone says that “you could argue that this is the best Republican showing ever.”

Apart from all that, it was a splendid midterm election for President Obama and his party.

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Thanks, but I’d Rather Not

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

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Searching

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories. Read More

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who on paper might seem well-suited to the times (businessman, successful governor), is hobbled, maybe fatally, by his authorship of a health-care plan that bears a striking resemblance to the one which both Republican insiders and Tea Party activists are determined to obliterate. This is no small handicap.

So what’s the formula for success? Republicans supported and emerged victorious with serious-minded conservative candidates – Rob Portman in Ohio, Dan Coats in Indiana, and John Boozman in Arkansas – while finding new faces (Rubio, Ron Johnson) who avoided the hot-button rhetoric that derailed a number of the Tea Party candidates. Although ideologically not all that different from the Tea Party–preferred candidates, the GOP victors demonstrated how to meld fiscal conservatism with a more accessible brand of populism. They hardly disappointed the Tea Party crowd; but neither did they alienate independent voters.

Are there GOP hopefuls in 2012 who can fuse Tea Party populism with sober conservative governance? Many in the conservative intelligentsia pine for Gov. Chris Christie, who has become a rock star on YouTube; he won in a Blue State and now is battling against the Trenton insiders. And he’s doing it with showmanship that only Palin can top. But he joked that apparently only “suicide” would convince us that he wasn’t interested. I’m thinking he might be serious about not running.

Then there is Rep. Paul Ryan, soon to take over the chair of the Budget Committee. He excites many conservatives in and outside the Beltway. He’s brainy and articulate, with a shake-up-the-status-quo approach to entitlement and budget reform. He already matched up well against Obama, arguably winning a TKO in the health-care summit. And he will be front and center in the key legislative battles, in some ways the face of the GOP House majority, for the next two years. While he’s said he’s not interested in a 2012 run, he’s not been Christie-esque in his denials. As for the “rule” that House members can’t make viable presidential candidates, I think the rulebook was shredded in the last few years.

Of course, there is Marco Rubio, the party’s genuine superstar (with an immigrant story and deep belief in American exceptionalism), who proved to be an especially effective messenger of conservative principles. However, both he and his most fervent supporters seem to agree: it’s too soon.

So the search goes on. The good news for the GOP is that they have a slew of new governors (e.g., John Kasich) and senators and some retiring ones (Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels) who understand how to forge the center-right coalition needed to get elected. A few faces familiar to political junkies (Mike Pence, John Thune) are also considering a run, which will test whether a Washington insider can nevertheless take on the mantle of reformer/outsider. Can any from this group of Republicans — who frankly lack magnetic personalities – also engage Tea Partiers? We will see.

So conservatives keep looking and trying to persuade the reluctant pols to throw their hats into the ring. Those who imagine they can win back the White House without full engagement of the 2010 winning formula (Tea Partiers plus traditionalists) should think again. A plan by half of the Republican alliance to overpower the other half is a formula for a second Obama term.

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RE: Senate Shifts

As I noted yesterday, the new Senate will have more Republicans and, just as important, many more nervous Democrats. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is thinking along the same lines:

“I think the most interesting thing to watch in the next Congress is how many Democrats start voting with us,” McConnell said.

“Every one of the 23 Democrats up [for re-election] in the next cycle has a clear understanding of what happened Tuesday,” he said. “I think we have major opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to support what we want to do.”

There are roughly three groupings of these Democrats. First are those who already cross the aisle now and then. “Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has voted with Republicans about 32 percent of the time during this Congress, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has broken with her party on about 1 in 5 votes.” Yes, this is deceptive because on the really big issues (e.g., ObamaCare), these two voted with the White House. Still, their proclivity is not knee-jerk agreement with their leaders.

Next are those up for re-election in 2012. “Sen. John Tester, who’s up for re-election in 2012, represents red state Montana. And Senator-elect Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has to run again in two years for a full term, has already promised to take aim at Democratic policies — literally.” You can add in Kent Conrad. And Jim Webb.

And finally, you have the Blue State senators whose states aren’t all that Blue anymore. “Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin will say goodbye to Badger State delegation colleague Russ Feingold; Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey and Florida’s Bill Nelson will be joined on the Hill in January by conservative Republicans instead of by fellow Dems; and Sen. Sherrod Brown witnessed the Democrat in Ohio’s Senate contest beaten by almost 20 points.” In short, they risk being shown up by their states’ more-conservative senators.

For years, the conservative base has grumbled about the least-conservative members of the Senate caucus (the two Maine gals and Snarlin’ Arlen before he switched parties). Now it’s the Dems’ turn to wrestle with the least-liberal members on their side. Harry Reid’s headaches didn’t end on Election Day, and his own narrow escape from a highly vulnerable opponent will serve as a warning to members who don’t have the influence and seniority of a minority leader.

McConnell, with 47 on his side and more to poach from the Democratic side, will be a potent force. Prepare to see him run rings around Reid. Chuck Schumer can take some small consolation that he isn’t going to be the victim of McConnell’s parliamentary skills. And a final point: with a working majority of Red State Democrats and Republicans, prepare to see the liberal intelligentsia defend the wondrous filibuster. Just you wait.

As I noted yesterday, the new Senate will have more Republicans and, just as important, many more nervous Democrats. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is thinking along the same lines:

“I think the most interesting thing to watch in the next Congress is how many Democrats start voting with us,” McConnell said.

“Every one of the 23 Democrats up [for re-election] in the next cycle has a clear understanding of what happened Tuesday,” he said. “I think we have major opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to support what we want to do.”

There are roughly three groupings of these Democrats. First are those who already cross the aisle now and then. “Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has voted with Republicans about 32 percent of the time during this Congress, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has broken with her party on about 1 in 5 votes.” Yes, this is deceptive because on the really big issues (e.g., ObamaCare), these two voted with the White House. Still, their proclivity is not knee-jerk agreement with their leaders.

Next are those up for re-election in 2012. “Sen. John Tester, who’s up for re-election in 2012, represents red state Montana. And Senator-elect Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has to run again in two years for a full term, has already promised to take aim at Democratic policies — literally.” You can add in Kent Conrad. And Jim Webb.

And finally, you have the Blue State senators whose states aren’t all that Blue anymore. “Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin will say goodbye to Badger State delegation colleague Russ Feingold; Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey and Florida’s Bill Nelson will be joined on the Hill in January by conservative Republicans instead of by fellow Dems; and Sen. Sherrod Brown witnessed the Democrat in Ohio’s Senate contest beaten by almost 20 points.” In short, they risk being shown up by their states’ more-conservative senators.

For years, the conservative base has grumbled about the least-conservative members of the Senate caucus (the two Maine gals and Snarlin’ Arlen before he switched parties). Now it’s the Dems’ turn to wrestle with the least-liberal members on their side. Harry Reid’s headaches didn’t end on Election Day, and his own narrow escape from a highly vulnerable opponent will serve as a warning to members who don’t have the influence and seniority of a minority leader.

McConnell, with 47 on his side and more to poach from the Democratic side, will be a potent force. Prepare to see him run rings around Reid. Chuck Schumer can take some small consolation that he isn’t going to be the victim of McConnell’s parliamentary skills. And a final point: with a working majority of Red State Democrats and Republicans, prepare to see the liberal intelligentsia defend the wondrous filibuster. Just you wait.

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Senate Shifts

Fred Barnes makes a key observation:

Ten Democrats whose seats are up in 2012 come from right-leaning states or saw their states scoot to the right this week: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jim Webb of Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Jon Tester of Montana, and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

It’s a good bet that some or all of them will be sympathetic to cutting spending, extending the Bush tax cuts, scaling back ObamaCare, and supporting other parts of the Republican agenda. With Democratic allies, Republicans will have operational control of the Senate more often than Majority Leader Harry Reid and Mr. Obama will.

And let’s not forget Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who ran and won by repudiating Obama’s agenda. You may be skeptical that self-styled moderate Democrats will buck the president. Certainly, their track record in that regard is poor. But the 2010 midterm elections and these lawmakers’ own re-election have a way of focusing Democrats on the perils of Obamaism. And to give you a sense of the danger these Democrats face, Ohio, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, and New Mexico will all have Republican governors — and, if those officials do their jobs properly, a taste of what a conservative reform agenda looks like.

Will the Democrats at risk in 2012 desert Obama all the time? Of course not. But in key areas, it certainly will appear that there is a bipartisan consensus on one side and the president on the other. With Harry Reid — he of gaffes and never a sunny disposition — leading the Senate Democrats, this could become quite entertaining and, for the electorate, illuminating.

Fred Barnes makes a key observation:

Ten Democrats whose seats are up in 2012 come from right-leaning states or saw their states scoot to the right this week: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jim Webb of Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Jon Tester of Montana, and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

It’s a good bet that some or all of them will be sympathetic to cutting spending, extending the Bush tax cuts, scaling back ObamaCare, and supporting other parts of the Republican agenda. With Democratic allies, Republicans will have operational control of the Senate more often than Majority Leader Harry Reid and Mr. Obama will.

And let’s not forget Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who ran and won by repudiating Obama’s agenda. You may be skeptical that self-styled moderate Democrats will buck the president. Certainly, their track record in that regard is poor. But the 2010 midterm elections and these lawmakers’ own re-election have a way of focusing Democrats on the perils of Obamaism. And to give you a sense of the danger these Democrats face, Ohio, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, and New Mexico will all have Republican governors — and, if those officials do their jobs properly, a taste of what a conservative reform agenda looks like.

Will the Democrats at risk in 2012 desert Obama all the time? Of course not. But in key areas, it certainly will appear that there is a bipartisan consensus on one side and the president on the other. With Harry Reid — he of gaffes and never a sunny disposition — leading the Senate Democrats, this could become quite entertaining and, for the electorate, illuminating.

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Recap

What happened? First the body count. The GOP picked up 64, lost three, and has a net pickup so far of 61. However, about a dozen seats are still undecided. The final total is likely to be in the high 60s. In the Senate, the GOP has six pickups, no losses. Lisa Murkowski seems headed for the win to hold Alaska for the GOP. (Those wily insiders in the Senate were perhaps wise not to dump her from her committees; she will caucus with the GOP.) Ken Buck is deadlocked in Colorado, with Denver all counted. Patty Murray is leading by fewer than 15,000 votes, but much of King County, a Democratic stronghold, is only 55 percent counted. The GOP will have six to seven pickups. In the gubernatorial races, the GOP nearly ran the table. So far, it has picked up seven and lost two (in California and Hawaii), is leading Florida by about 50,000 votes and in Oregon by 2 percent, and is trailing narrowly in Illinois and Minnesota.

Did Obama help anyone? Probably not. He fundraised for Barbara Boxer, but the race turned out to be not close. California seems determined to pursue liberal statism to its logical conclusion (bankruptcy). He made multiple visits to Ohio, and Democrats lost the Senate, the governorship, and five House seats. He went to Wisconsin. Russ Feingold lost, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett and two House Democrats. A slew of moderate Democrats who walked the plank for him and his agenda also lost. Those House and Senate candidates who managed to avoid the tsunami – Joe Manchin, for example — will be extremely wary of following Obama if the president continues on his leftist jaunt.

What does it mean? This is a win of historic proportions, the largest in the House since World War II. There is no spinning this one; Nancy Pelosi presided over the destruction of her Democratic majority because she failed to appreciate that not every place is San Francisco. The Senate results should signal to the GOP that picking candidates who can win is not the same as picking candidates who have the least experience and the hottest rhetoric. As one GOP insider said to me last night of Nevada and Delaware, “Thanks very much, Tea Party express.” But before the GOP establishment gets too full of itself, it should recall that the Tea Party ginned up enthusiasm and made many of those big House and gubernatorial wins possible. And finally, the story of the night that had largely evaded discussion before the election is the sweep in gubernatorial races. Key battleground states in 2012 will have Republican governors. About 10 more states will now probably experience what GOP reformist government looks like, and a whole bunch of states may now opt out of the individual mandate in ObamaCare. Oh, and redistricting just got a whole lot easier for the GOP.

You’ll hear that this was a throw-the-bums-out year. But only a few Republicans were tossed. You’ll hear that this is good for Obama; don’t believe it. He and his aggressive, left-leaning agenda have been rebuked. And you’ll hear that Obama is a goner in 2012 and that the GOP has rebounded; that part is poppycock, too. Obama can rescue himself, if he is able and willing. The Republicans can do themselves in if they are not smart and disciplined. And finally,  we are remined that politics is a serious game played by real candidates in actual races. And that’s what makes it so unpredictable and so wondrously fun.

What happened? First the body count. The GOP picked up 64, lost three, and has a net pickup so far of 61. However, about a dozen seats are still undecided. The final total is likely to be in the high 60s. In the Senate, the GOP has six pickups, no losses. Lisa Murkowski seems headed for the win to hold Alaska for the GOP. (Those wily insiders in the Senate were perhaps wise not to dump her from her committees; she will caucus with the GOP.) Ken Buck is deadlocked in Colorado, with Denver all counted. Patty Murray is leading by fewer than 15,000 votes, but much of King County, a Democratic stronghold, is only 55 percent counted. The GOP will have six to seven pickups. In the gubernatorial races, the GOP nearly ran the table. So far, it has picked up seven and lost two (in California and Hawaii), is leading Florida by about 50,000 votes and in Oregon by 2 percent, and is trailing narrowly in Illinois and Minnesota.

Did Obama help anyone? Probably not. He fundraised for Barbara Boxer, but the race turned out to be not close. California seems determined to pursue liberal statism to its logical conclusion (bankruptcy). He made multiple visits to Ohio, and Democrats lost the Senate, the governorship, and five House seats. He went to Wisconsin. Russ Feingold lost, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett and two House Democrats. A slew of moderate Democrats who walked the plank for him and his agenda also lost. Those House and Senate candidates who managed to avoid the tsunami – Joe Manchin, for example — will be extremely wary of following Obama if the president continues on his leftist jaunt.

What does it mean? This is a win of historic proportions, the largest in the House since World War II. There is no spinning this one; Nancy Pelosi presided over the destruction of her Democratic majority because she failed to appreciate that not every place is San Francisco. The Senate results should signal to the GOP that picking candidates who can win is not the same as picking candidates who have the least experience and the hottest rhetoric. As one GOP insider said to me last night of Nevada and Delaware, “Thanks very much, Tea Party express.” But before the GOP establishment gets too full of itself, it should recall that the Tea Party ginned up enthusiasm and made many of those big House and gubernatorial wins possible. And finally, the story of the night that had largely evaded discussion before the election is the sweep in gubernatorial races. Key battleground states in 2012 will have Republican governors. About 10 more states will now probably experience what GOP reformist government looks like, and a whole bunch of states may now opt out of the individual mandate in ObamaCare. Oh, and redistricting just got a whole lot easier for the GOP.

You’ll hear that this was a throw-the-bums-out year. But only a few Republicans were tossed. You’ll hear that this is good for Obama; don’t believe it. He and his aggressive, left-leaning agenda have been rebuked. And you’ll hear that Obama is a goner in 2012 and that the GOP has rebounded; that part is poppycock, too. Obama can rescue himself, if he is able and willing. The Republicans can do themselves in if they are not smart and disciplined. And finally,  we are remined that politics is a serious game played by real candidates in actual races. And that’s what makes it so unpredictable and so wondrously fun.

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