In the process of wrapping up a detailed “crystall ball” prediction on the mid-term elections – House takeover for the Rs, Senate on the bubble, big gains among governorships – the very non-partisan political scientist Larry Sabato makes the following observation:
It is not that Republicans are popular—most polls show the party even less liked than the Democrats. Many observers find it amazing that the less-liked party is on the verge of triumphing over the better-liked party. Nevertheless, in the time-honored American way, voters will be inclined to punish the party in-power by checking and balancing it with more members from the opposition party.
Sabato also adds an interesting historical note that should further gladden the hearts of Republican partisans:
Since World War II, the House of Representatives has flipped parties on six occasions (1946, 1948, 1952, 1954, 1994, and 2006). Every time, the Senate flipped too, even when it had not been predicted to do so. These few examples do not create an iron law of politics, but they do suggest an electoral tendency.
If the Rs gain control in a wave of that magnitude, one would expect some pressure on them to do something, to try something. Other than to shout about Muslims, and further obstruct Obama, their mandate seems to be to cut taxes and spur economic growth, and yet also to bring the budget under control, while a significant wing of their coalition believes defense spending is sacrosanct, and needs to be increased.
The logical and mathematical implications would seem to be either a political real assault on entitlements and domestic spending… or general political gridlock heading into 2012. The former is difficult. The latter is what American politicians are good at. To whatever extent they try the former, it will give Obama an opportunity to stand up as the last safety before the goal line on the Good Society, and to pick an issue or two for Clintonian triangulation.
Too many other major questions will still need to be resolved for anyone to venture a prediction about the next presidential race, but, whoever wins and however he or she wins, the shape of the American discussion appears set, and its course may yet turn the 2010 wave, assuming it occurs as predicted, as a rather minor historical footnote.
But a lot of my old friends will enjoy it at least in the same way a sports fan enjoys watching his team win a championship. That’s not nothing. Not quite.