The 2014 midterms turned out to be the wave election that Republicans dreamed of and Democrats dreaded. But amid the debris of what turned out to be a stunning repudiation of the administration, there are some people who must be judged to be the big winners and losers on both sides. Here’s my list:
The first and most obvious winner is Mitch McConnell who will be the majority leader in January. Earlier in the year, he looked to be under siege in his race for reelection but ran among the smartest campaigns in the country as he first swamped a Tea Party challenger and then destroyed Alison Lundergan Grimes, the candidate the Clintons helped handpick to oppose him, in the general election. McConnell finally gets his chance to run the Senate and the man in position to put the heat on President Obama even if he won’t have an easy time with some members of his caucus.
Tom Cotton came into 2014 as the most hyped GOP Senate candidate but was thought to have run a lackluster campaign that turned an easy win into a nail biter. In the end, he won his Arkansas seat in a landslide. That puts him back into the conversation as the most highly regarded young (only 37) Republican and a future leader of his party.
In the course of the last year Joni Ernst went from an unknown to the leading Republican dragon slayer who turned a likely Democratic hold to a GOP Senate pickup in Iowa. The first woman sent to D.C. from the Hawkeye State, she turned out the most effective ad of the campaign in which she spoke of castrating hogs and making the pigs in Washington squeal. Forget about Sarah Palin and Michel Bachmann. Ernst is the new female star of the Tea Party with a bully Senate pulpit.
Ted Cruz wasn’t on the ballot and his GOP nemesis McConnell got a major promotion. But Republican control of the Senate will also make him more important and bring even more attention to his guerrilla campaign against both the Republican establishment and the Obama administration as he prepares for a presidential run.
Scott Walker’s struggles to win reelection as Wisconsin governor were supposed to tarnish his hopes for the presidency. But rather than being knocked off by another huge effort by the unions and liberal super-PACs, he wound up prevailing by a convincing margin that will boost his credibility for 2016. Though he is still untested on the national stage, winning three elections in four years elevates him to the first tier of GOP candidates if, as is expected, he runs for president.
Chris Christie didn’t have a very good 2014 that started off with Bridgegate and ended with a video in which he told a critic to “sit down and shut up.” But as head of the Republican Governors Association, he has to get some of the credit for a GOP wave that saw major wins for the GOP in blue states like Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts. That gives his flagging hopes for the presidency a much-needed boost.
The only Democrat on our list is Elizabeth Warren, another senator who wasn’t on the ballot. Being in the minority in the Senate will only enhance her standing as the idol of her party’s base. It will also put her in a position to wage her own guerilla campaign to hold President Obama’s feet to the fire should he be tempted to try to cut any deals with the GOP Congress.
The most obvious loser is President Barack Obama for whom this midterm must stand as a personal repudiation even if he chooses to pretend that is not the case. Whether he chooses to try to work with Congress or attempts to govern on his own with executive orders of questionable legality, the lame duck period of his presidency begins now.
The other obvious loser is Harry Reid who gets demoted from majority to minority leader. Reid, who ran the Senate with an iron fist and squelched debate from both sides of the aisle, will not find the change invigorating or pleasant.
Even before her party tanked on Tuesday, Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was already lined up to be the scapegoat for the defeat. The White House has been waging a war on women with her in the cross-hairs for the last three years but the devastating loss may give Obama the opening to finally fire someone that he seems to dislike almost as much as Benjamin Netanyahu.
The competition for the worst campaign of 2014 is stiff but the title has to go to Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley who singlehandedly turned a safe Democratic Senate seat into a Republican pickup. Though, as I noted, Joni Ernst ran a nearly perfect campaign against him, Braley’s gaffes will not soon be forgotten. Runners up would be Alison Lundergan Grimes who turned a close race against an unpopular Mitch McConnell into a rout. And she still isn’t saying whether she voted for Obama. Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was probably even more inept than Braley or Grimes but doesn’t get the title because she would have lost in red Texas even if she ran a perfect campaign. Still, the collapse of her mendacious run for statewide office was as catastrophic as her rise from obscurity via a pro-abortion filibuster last year was meteoric.
She wasn’t on the ballot yesterday, but the likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took a hit as much as any other member of her party. The scope of the GOP win and the inability of her party to generate an Obama-style turnout without the president on the ballot should chill Democratic optimism about the next national election. So should the failure of the Clintons to help Democratic candidates around the country.
The one Republican loser on the list is Scott Brown. Though he wound up losing by only a whisker in a New Hampshire Senate race that few gave him a chance to win, had he stayed home in Massachusetts and run for governor, he’d have been the one to beat Martha Coakley. Had Brown done so, he’d be governor and have a bright future instead of seeing his career in elective politics finished.