The 2010 election was more than a partisan “shellacking” of the Democrats in Congress, although it was all of that. The gain of 63 seats for the GOP in the U.S. House is a net of 10 more than they won in the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, and is tied for the fifth greatest party switch of the modern Congressional era, which began in 1912. The GOP gain of a net six seats in the Senate seems modest by comparison, but is a bad starting position for the Democrats, considering they will be defending 21 of the 33 seats up for election in 2012.
But, these Congressional numbers, as definitive as they seem, don’t tell the most important story.
Republicans gained a net of five Governors, for a total of 29, compared to 20 for the Democrats and one independent. The GOP also had a net gain of 675 state legislators nationwide. 21 state legislative chambers switched to GOP control. In six states, both chambers switched to Republican control. The GOP now controls both legislative chambers in 25 states, Democrats control both in 19, and 5 states have divided control (Nebraska is nonpartisan). Not a single chamber switched to the Democrats. These results create real depth on the GOP candidates’ bench that will be a factor in the years to come.
Beyond these obvious advantages, the GOP is poised to make gains from the reapportionment of House districts that will result from the 2010 census. The GOP has control of or an advantage in the process to redraw 240 of the 435 house districts, 22 more than a House majority. This process is all but certain to provide for additional Republican gains in the U.S. House.
So, is the father of the victories of 2010 the Republican Party itself? Not so much.
Despite Republican gains, consider the battle for the Chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (RNC). The incumbent was elected with great promise and seemed to have all the right tools. Yet, his tenure was mired in controversy almost from the start. The common complaint in the states was the inadequacy or non-existence of a party-driven get out the vote (GOTV) effort that is usually the function of the central party. In the end, the RNC finished with over a $20 million debt and little credit for the victories, even from its own party members.
Peter Roff from the US News and World Report posted an interesting question during the RNC Chairman contest: “Does it matter? … The rise of social media – Facebook, Twitter, and the like – now makes direct communication between candidates and their supporters possible. There is no longer any real need for a centralized national structure separate from the campaign committee to bring party loyalists out on Election Day … [The work of the official] committees has been supplemented, if not supplanted, by political action committees, interest groups, and political organizations … that have proven their ability to raise significant resources on behalf of state and federal candidates and to make those resources count, all without the help of the RNC.”
Ultimately, neither the GOP congressional election committees, the Republican Governors’ Association (RGA), nor the Republican State Leadership Committee cooperated closely with the RNC, according to insiders and observers. As to the gain in governorships, few don’t recognize the influence and operational savvy of Haley Barbour, Chairman of the RGA, who is serving his second term as Governor of Mississippi and was the Chairman of the RNC when the GOP swept to victory in 1994.
While all these groups have paternal bragging rights for 2010 victories, the inescapable fact may be that those most responsible for the outcomes of 2010 are the fathers of defeat.
In almost every poll, focus group or analysis, the 2010 election was more about what the voters didn’t want than what they wanted. Voters didn’t like the way Washington worked, the leftward lean of the Obama administration, or the high-handedness of the Democratic Congressional leadership. They wanted to “throw the bums out.” But, lest we assume that was all they cared about, the losses by GOP Senate candidates in Delaware, Nevada, and to a lesser degree, Colorado and Alaska, demonstrate clearly that even in “throw the bums out” elections, candidates do still matter.
It would do both parties well to consider that the real father of victory in 2010 was a fed-up, impatient, angry and disillusioned electorate, which wanted government to focus on some very basic things – one of which is making government work. These individuals get their information from non-political sources, via new technologies, and are beholden to neither political party. These are the same voters who voted the GOP out of office in 2006 when their desires went unheeded. They show every indication of having the willingness to do it again. It’s a lesson the new GOP leadership seems to understand. So far.
It’s also a lesson those of us who constitute these new sources of information should take to heart. It harkens to the remarks of another U.S. President who said something about those who actually make a difference in the arena. But that is a subject for another day…