For Delaware Democrat Chris Coons, it’s fitting that Election Day comes two days after Halloween, running as he is against that sometime dabbler in witchcraft, Christine O’Donnell. For hundreds of his partisan brothers and sisters, however, another holiday reference is more appropriate: Mexico’s Day of the Dead. Today, our neighbors to the south will begin celebrating the memories of their deceased family and friends. Tomorrow, our neighbors to the left will mourn the demise of hundreds of candidates whose careers will be consigned to the political graveyard, few of which will rise to take bodily form again.
How did it come to this? Just two years ago, all things seemed possible for Democrats. In possession of congressional majorities larger than any since 1980, led by a seemingly historic figure who had just won a larger share of the popular vote than any non-incumbent Democrat since FDR in 1932, Democrats forecast an American political sky that would remain endlessly blue. Today, Democrats are headed for a reversal of fortune of proportions not seen since the landslide elections of 1946 and 1948.
How strong will this reversal be? I predict that Republicans will gain between 55 and 72 seats in the House; my best estimate is 64. That will give the GOP 243 seats, its highest total since the election of 1946 and the second highest since the Great Depression. No living Democrat has served in a House of Representatives with as few Democrats as will inhabit that body come January.
Furthermore, I predict that the GOP will gain nine Senate seats, giving it 50 members. That means the Republicans will nearly capture the slate in the seats up for grabs, losing only West Virginia in a nailbiter among the close seats in the polls. I would not at all be surprised if one Democrat — perhaps Jim Webb of Virginia — subsequently switches parties or changes which party he caucuses with to give the GOP operational control of the Senate. (Those interested in my specific seat-by-seat predictions should keep their eye on the Corner.)
Many will blame the economy for this situation, arguing that no party in the midst of the worst economic crisis in at least 30, and perhaps 80, years could have satisfied the electorate. There is truth to this, as the party in power always suffers at the polls during a significant recession.
But this explanation goes only so far. The anger, disappointment, and disgust that the voters will shower on the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership is unusually deep. The electorate is reacting at a much more visceral level.
In my private election-prediction memo two years ago, I wrote the following words: “Democrats are split between progressives, who seek a radical and swift move to the economic left, and centrists, who want to re-regulate and ‘spread the wealth around’ but nowhere near the degree of the progressives. . . . Who will win these intra-party fights? We don’t know, and which faction wins and to what extent will largely determine both the health of our nation and the possibility of a quick Republican resurgence.”
We now know that the progressives, despite their dissatisfaction with many elements of President Obama’s agenda, largely won those fights. The result is that large segments of the American electorate feel that the administration and Democrats in Congress don’t understand and don’t care to understand their aspirations and fears. This sentiment is most keenly and strongly felt among conservative Republicans, but it is shared — for different reasons — by many nonconservatives. This sentiment is particularly strong among the white working class and among Catholics.
The development of this sentiment was not inevitable. President Obama took power with the strong support of most Americans, who hoped and believed he could make America whole again. Instead, in his deeds and in his words, in what he has done and in what he has failed to do, he has alienated the vast American middle.
Why did he do and say what he did? Why did those words and deeds alienate the American middle and working classes? Is there something inherent in progressive politics that is out of sync with American attitudes and aspirations?