Last night was basically a massive dumpster fire for Democrats. The structural issues get you pretty far toward an explanation—young people and poor people didn’t vote, as usual, and the president is extremely unpopular, particular in the red states where Democrats were already playing panic defense. But even those headwinds don’t get you all the way there. Democrats underperformed in every state-wide race, got wiped out in state legislatures, in deep-blue state governorships, and of course the Senate was a bloodbath. Every supposedly "embattled" Republican prevailed, including the deeply unpopular Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts in Kansas, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and certifiably insane Maine Governor Paul LePage.
I don’t know what it all means. The Republican party favorability remains far underwater. The economy has improved steadily in the two years since the president won a resounding reelection. Yes, the stock market highs and corporate profitability haven’t yet translated into wage gains for ordinary workers, but the economic trend is unequivocally positive. Europe is still a drag, but their troubles also highlight how far superior our recovery has been. It’s a massive success story. The Affordable Care Act is more or less working as expected, despite many people’s preference for that not to be the case. Gas prices are low. The Ebola theat was squashed. ISIS hasn’t invaded Texas. Things seem…pretty okay. I’m trying to reconcile that with the deep cavern of dissatisfaction and anxiety out there in the electorate. I’m a little stumped.
One way to synthesize it is to recognize that maybe two-party politics is just a never-ending iterative process of essentially inexplicable back-and forth. As Matt Yglesias wrote today:
The presidential and non-presidential electorates look too different for either political party to optimize for both of them. Democrats have built a coalition that’s optimized for presidential years, while the GOP has one that’s optimized for off-years. And so we’re set for a lot of big swings back and forth every two years.
Seems right to me. I think it’s also a basic validation of Mitch McConnell’s grand evil genius strategy of sowing dysfunction and obstruction with the expectation that the American people would blame the president for it all. It worked beautifully, and got him to power. I don’t know if that basic dynamic works now that his party controls all of Congress. But I don’t dare underestimate that guy.