Let me quote myself on October 13 of this year, discussing the Senate races in the home stretch:
If the big victory they can take away from this election is "We have enough Senators to threaten a filibuster!" then the GOP has truly suffered a beating of historic proportions.
The battle to get to 58 will be a pretty easy one but there will be rapidly diminishing returns beyond that point. Fighting their way to 60 will require an improbable victory and a few more years of kissing Joe Lieberman’s ass, bending to his every whim.
And here we are, the Democrats hitting 58 Senate seats with two clusterfucks yet to be resolved. The odds of hitting sixty are not great; in fact, let us go ahead and assume that the GOP wins either the Franken-Coleman recount showdown or the Martin-Chambliss runoff. At this point I would like to cue streamers, fireworks, and celebratory 80s rock anthems. Congratulations guys, you did it! That is the big victory for the year: holding on to 41 Senate seats. G-O-P! G-O-P! G-O-P!
I think all of us who were thrilled by the outcome of this election are mindful of hubris. We know how quickly tables can turn in American politics. But looking at this election in isolation, I struggle to find the silver lining for the GOP.
The Fox News crowd were prepared on Election Day to give McCain a big "exceeding expectations" win. That is, if McCain avoided losing in a complete rout they could note that, given all of Obama's advantages, McCain did far better than he should have. Alas, the Electoral College was lopsided. McCain lost every major swing state, including his Hail Mary state of Pennsylvania. Obama's victory was big enough that without CA and NY he still would have won. Ouch. No Kerry 2004 "Well, it should have been a Bush blowout but we made it close with a terrible candidate, so that's good!" silver lining here.
The popular vote could be a source of solace. The Electoral College magnifies victories and makes reasonably close elections feel lopsided. The popular vote gap was 7% – nearly 9,000,000 votes. Not an overwhelming blowout, but certainly nothing to be happy about from the right.
The Senate? Well, if losing eight or nine seats in one election (bringing the total over the last two races to at least -13 R) counts as a victory it is a victory for the forces of delusion. The practical impact of the Democrats' failure to attain sixty seats is almost nil.
The House? We pay so little attention to the poor old House. Certainly it offered a glimmer of hope for the GOP? No, they lost another 21 seats (possibly more when the few remaining races are sorted out). Their deficit is now more than 80 seats: ~256 to 175. High-visibility and ultra-conservative incumbents like Marilyn Musgrave and Steve Chabot lost. Moderates like Christopher Shays and Jon Porter lost. Dennis Hastert's seat is now held by a Democrat. The GOP lost a House race in Idaho. Ouch.
Perhaps the GOP succeeded by experiencing defeat today to set up tomorrow's victories. This election could be salvaged if they established a clear Obama Alternative, a dynamic leader to bring better outcomes in 2010 and 2012. Well, they established Palin…as a punchline to several years' worth of late-night jokes.
I'm sorry, folks. I just do not see the "bright side." The only good thing about this election for Republicans is that it is over. Maybe the magnitude of their defeat will turn out to be the silver lining. With the other party solidly in control of the Federal government, the GOP's best bet may be to hope that things go poorly and start pointing fingers.