By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
Here’s what did not happen on Election Day: The American people did not simply rise up and repudiate President Obama and give Republicans a mandate.
Oh, they did repudiate Obama, but the Republican Party’s big win was more the result of timing and demographic factors that worked entirely in its favor this year and mostly will favor Democrats in 2016.
We’re talking nationally, not about Arkansas. What happened in Arkansas was permanent.
Let’s focus on three big advantages Republicans across the country had working for them.
Our two electorates. The United States is now made up of two distinct voting populations. The one that votes in presidential election years is bigger, younger, and more diverse, favoring Democrats. Many of those voters stay home during midterms, when the leader of the free world is not on the ballot. What’s left is an electorate that is older, whiter, and more affluent – in other words, more Republican.
Second-term midterms. So far, seven U.S. Senate seats have shifted from Democratic to Republican hands, and Sen. Mary Landrieu is probably going to be the eighth in Louisiana’s December runoff. Seven or eight seats sounds like a lot, but that kind of result is not unusual for a midterm election when a president is in his second term and voters are becoming cranky and annoyed. President George W. Bush’s Republicans lost six Senate seats in his second-term midterm, and President Reagan lost eight seats. President Eisenhower, World War II hero and budget balancer, saw his Republican Party lose 13 seats in his second-term midterm elections.
Democrats on the defensive. This year, Democrats were defending 21 of the 36 contested Senate seats, including seven states won by Mitt Romney in 2012. Senators serve six-year terms, so these Democrats were elected during the 2008 presidential election, when they had the advantage, and had to run for re-election this year in a midterm, when the electorate favors Republicans.
The reverse will be true in 2016. Republicans, elected in 2010 when they had an advantage in the midterms (and also after Obamacare was passed) will be defending 24 of the 33 seats up for re-election, and they’ll be doing it in a presidential election year that will be more favorable to Democrats. In seven of those 24 states, Obama won twice.
Republicans will have one historical reality in their favor, and it’s a big one: the fickle American voter. We have a habit of letting one party control the White House for eight years and then giving the other party a shot. In recent years, we’ve gone from eight years of Clinton to eight years of Bush to eight years of Obama. The last time voters let a president’s party stay in power after two terms was 1988, when they elected Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, for one term.
Of course, what happens between now and 2016 matters. How will Republicans govern now that they will control Congress, and what will President Obama do in his last two years in office? Does Hillary Clinton want the nomination, and if so, will Democrats just give it to her? Are Americans ready to elect her, or any “her”? Will the Republicans beat up each other so badly during the primary process that the nominee emerges too bloodied to win in November? Will one of the two candidates insert their foot so firmly in their mouth that Americans can’t hear anything else they say? Will a well-funded independent candidate like Ross Perot emerge to upset the apple cart?
Those questions remain to be answered. This we know: In 2016, Democrats will have the advantage because it will be a presidential election year, and Republicans will have the advantage because it will be their turn.