A week ago today, voters flipped the Obama coalition on its head and voted for Republicans in a mid-term landslide that has the potential to be a transformational election. Notice how we used the word “potential.” That’s because every new majority can go in one of two directions: it can either cement its winning coalition or it can fritter it all away. History will be the judge, but the next 12 months will give us a pretty good indication of how this will turn out. Either way, what is clear is that this was a historic defeat for Democrats. And the depth and breadth of the GOP wave was greater than most people realize.
As of today, the GOP has recorded a net gain of 60 seats (seven races remain undecided). It is likely that the net GOP pickup will be around 63 seats. Either way, last Tuesday’s results are the greatest shift from one party to another in the House of Representatives since 1938 (in that year Republicans picked up 80 seats in a dramatic rebuke for New Deal Democrats). The GOP now controls the greatest number of seats (and conversely the Democrats the fewest) in the House since 1948. The GOP also picked up six Senate seats yet fell short of control of the Senate (more on this later). At the state level, the GOP gained seven Governorships and 20 state legislative chambers. These gains were not limited to the South, either. The entire Wisconsin and New Hampshire legislatures flipped to the GOP by wide margins. For the first time since 1870 the North Carolina state legislature is in the hands of Republicans. State Houses in key presidential swing states like Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Michigan all flipped to the GOP. Republicans haven’t had this much power in state capitals since the 1920’s. This is something that really sets this year apart from 1994, in which the GOP wave was largely limited to federal elections. This year may have been much more than a wave.
President Obama says the election was all about the economy and Republicans say it was (almost) all about Obama. It was, of course, about both. Republican leaders are loath to admit that they had a terrific wind at their back in terms of voter anger over the economy and the direction of the country. Meanwhile, Democrats—and the president in particular—seem to not want to acknowledge widespread voter dissatisfaction with their policies. But it took the two in combination to create the tsunami we had last week. While we knew that the economy and dissatisfaction with the president’s policies would create a violent combination, it was not until the end of September that we knew just how great the wave would be.