I didn’t predict it – in fact, I thought the exact opposite – but it looks increasingly likely that President Obama will win re-election. As well, Democrats have a decent chance to hold the Senate, something that seemed unlikely a few short months ago, and a small, but non-zero, chance of increasing their majority significantly.
Republicans will retain control of the House despite Nancy Pellosi’s assertion that the lower chamber is in play, but are likely to go through a few of the seven stages of dying come November 7 if Obama is back in and the Senate is further out of reach, with a special emphasis on denial and rage.
Those of us on the reality-based side of things have a more interesting task, sorting what a modest Obama/Senate win means. This is a first, premature draft on that subject.
The most important question is simple to formulate: will a Republican loss mean the public is repudiating the party? That voters see a party that has gone so far off the rails it can’t be trusted?
It’s tempting to say yes, and to read the developments of the last few weeks in that light – i.e., that Mitt Romney says some of the dumb things he does because the Republican ‘position’ on things like the economy is not a coherent set of ideas so much as it is a not ever acknowledged acting out of grievances, a holding your breath until you turn blue because of the unfairness of the media, the unions, the welfare state and all manner of foreigners, including the President.
But here’s what will fly in the face of a ‘widespread rejection’ theory. First, a sizeable block of states will vote Republican, so batshit crazy or not, a lot of our fellow citizens will continue to believe this stuff. Second, not only has the Romney campaign been really bad so far, the Obama camp has done a lot of things that looked sketchy at first, but are showing signs of being right – like spending money early on tv advertising instead of saving it until now, when conventional wisdom has it that voters start paying attention. The early ads defined Romney before he could define himself. It appears more and more to be money well spent.
It also looks like the Obama camp has upped the sophistication of the ground game to a new level, with a rigorous approach to getting the President’s voters to the polls that uses techniques that leave things like ‘send a flyer to every soccer mom in a particular suburb’ in the dust.
My point is, neither of those things (bad Romney campaign/good Obama campaign) changes the underlying dynamic, and we are very likely to come out of this election the way we went into it; deeply divided about all the essentials of the country, from whether science actually works to whether the founders wanted to establish the U.S. as an explicitly Christian state. And that will surely embolden Republicans in the House, who will believe the party screwed up, but that the force of good ideas is still on their side. There won’t be what so many centrists long for, a Republican party that finds its balance, walks back the crazy talk and pursues a more modest vision of government. Instead, President Obama is likely to get going forward what he got for the last few years, and maybe worse, with the House Republican leadership reading the election as something, anything other than an about face.
So my guess is Republicans will decide that the 2012 problem was a failure to go far enough, and that we’ll see at least one more cycle in Congress with an even more fanatical GOP in the diver’s seat. And just because the techniques of choice don’t work in 2012, voter suppression being the worst, the most monsterously cynical of them, doesn’t mean they won’t work further out. The people in charge of the modern nexus of Republican/radical right politics are nothing if not patient, and well funded for the long haul.