Since it has become virtually impossible for Democrats and their allies to avoid acknowledging that they have received a “shellacking,” to use President Obama’s phrase, they have now settled on a new theme: Republicans may have won, but they don’t have a mandate.
“Republicans are now trying to create a mandate where none exists,” opined former White House communications director Anita Dunn. This election “wasn’t a mandate for the policies most Republicans campaigned on,” echoed AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. “Voters deliver a message, not necessarily a mandate,” reported USA Today. “It was hardly an order from the American people to discard the progress of the last two years,” editorialized the New York Times.
No mandate? If there ever was an election with a clear set of differences between the parties, this was it. This was a choice of bold colors, not pale pastels. For the last two years, President Obama and congressional Democrats had expanded the size, cost, and intrusiveness of the federal government. While some Democrats tried to run away from the administration and its record, the general message was, “Stay the course.” As President Obama said repeatedly, he believed that his policies were working. The Democratic message was that voting Republican would reverse the “progress” of the last two years.
And Republicans, almost unanimously, made it clear that that was exactly what they intended to do. Could anyone have voted for the Republicans without knowing that they intended to cut spending, cut taxes, and repeal Obamacare? If it wasn’t enough for the Republicans themselves to have said so, Democrats spent hundreds of millions of dollars on commercials warning voters that Republicans were going to “give tax cuts to the rich,” and cut spending on everything from Social Security and Medicare to unemployment benefits and college loans.
Voters listened and said pretty unequivocally: That’s exactly what we want.
On Election Day, 56 percent of voters told exit pollsters that the government is doing too many things better left to business and individuals. Given that exit polls tend to skew Democratic, this is a pretty remarkable repudiation of big government. And 39 percent of voters said that reducing the deficit should be the next Congress’s top priority, even more than said creating jobs.
On health care, exit polls showed that at least half of voters wanted to repeal Obamacare, an almost unprecedented level of opposition for a major entitlement expansion. But an even better measure might be an election-night Rasmussen telephone poll that found 59 percent of voters in favor of repeal. A Kaiser Foundation survey of voters found similar results: 56 percent of midterm voters said they wanted to see some or all of the law repealed. Another post-election survey found that 45 percent saw their vote as a specific message of opposition to the health-care bill.
Or look at the election results themselves. If voters had simply been expressing a general dissatisfaction with the economy, or if this were a simple anti-incumbent “tantrum” (as a number of liberal pundits put it), then Republican incumbents would have suffered equally. But only three incumbent Republicans lost, all in highly Democratic districts.