The mainstream media is falling over itself to inaugurate a new era of Republican dominance in Washington, D.C. after last week's mid-term election. TIME magazine put incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on its cover with a sly perversion of Shepard Fairey's 2008 "HOPE" poster, now titled "CHANGE," and rivers of ink and hours of cable political chat shows are heralding the effective end of President Obama's presidency.
For those brave enough to raise even the most modest dissent, they are quickly shouted down by the purported undisputed evidence of this latest Republican "wave" that has swelled their majority in the House of Representatives, given them a Senate majority, and expanded the number of governerships under their control. All of this, of course, is being deemed a repudiation of President Obama and his policies. Yes, the media wants you to believe that the same guy who was re-elected in an electoral landslide 2 years ago is suddenly in such bad odor that even his own party is sick of him.
There is a lot of superficial evidence to support this thesis. After all, the Democrats in the Senate have lost a net of more than 10 seats since briefly holding a filibuster-proof majority in 2009 and the House that convenes in January will have more Republican members than at any time since before the Great Depression. This is not a small thing but it fails to explain why this has happened, and it is not simply a snubbing of a supposedly unpopular President.
You see, the three-legged stool that has allowed for this ascension is more nuanced than just pointing the finger at President Obama. First and most importantly, is the fact that Republicans paid no price for their lockstep obstruction of the President. For this, you can thank the media. When you consider that in just the last year, there was a government shutdown, cuts to programs that provide food and heating to poor people, and then Congress basically skipped town in late July and, but for a few days in September, went back home to campaign and paid no price for any of this speaks to the fact that the media is pre-disposed to a "both sides do it" narrative about Washington gridlock.
Second, as people far smarter than me have discussed, Congressional districts are so finely gerrymandered in most states that Democrats will find it incredibly difficult to regain the House before the 2020 census. And this is true even though Democrats won one million plus more votes in House races in 2012 than Republicans did.
And thirdly, in the Senate, the map was exceedingly favorable for Republicans. In places like Arkansas (Romney + 24), Kentucky (Romney +23), Montana (Romney +13), and Louisiana (Romney +17), any Democrat would have had a hard time winning (and Louisiana is going to a runoff, though Democrat Mary Landrieu would have won if the state did not have a law on the books requiring the winning candidate to get 50% +1 of the vote) and in those states where a glimmer of hope existed, like Kansas, the historical record showed that a non-Republican was last elected to the U.S. Senate in 1932.
That's not to say that a couple of races, in Iowa, Virginia, Colorado, and North Carolina did not show Republican strength, they did; however, turnout did matter. In Iowa, about 500,000 fewer votes were cast than in 2012, but most of that reduction came from the Democratic side, where the President received more than 822,000 votes in 2012, but Bruce Braley got about 491,000, or about 60% of Obama's vote total. By comparison, Joni Ernst got 80% of Romney's vote total (586,921 v. 730,617). In fact, had Braley managed to retain the percentage of Obama's vote that Ernst did of Romney's, he would have won handily. The same is true in Colorado, where Mark Udall retained just 69% of Obama's vote, but his challenger, Cory Gardener, collected 81% of Romney's vote. Had 80% of Democrats who voted for the President voted for Udall, he too would have won. Now that is not to say that every voter who voted for the President or Governor Romney voted the same way in 2014, but the general point is that Democrats did not turn out in these close elections like they did two years ago.
In the election's post-mortem, the media clung to the idea that second-term Presidents typically lose their off-year elections, but the reality is that Democrats, in the midst of Bill Clinton's impeachment scandal, gained seats in 1998 while George W. Bush, mired in Iraq and Katrina, lost seats. Indeed, the quick analogy of Obama to Bush was particularly galling - the voters spoke loudly in 2006 against a war that had cost thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars and a response to a natural disaster that was appalling and indefensible. If voters in 2014 were railing against "gridlock" in Washington, that is not something that can be left at the President's door. The idea that the guy who made 99% of George W. Bush's tax cuts permanent, has had more Republicans serve as Defense Secretary than Democrats and currently has the former number two official from Bush's Justice Department serving as FBI director cannot be accused of being unwilling to extend a hand in cooperation.
Of course, the President can't win either way. When he was re-elected, the media called on him to be magnanimous towards his vanquished foes. Now that his party has shrunk in Congress, he is being told to compromise, ignoring the fact that there was nothing stopping the now suddenly flexible Republicans who claim to want to do deals on tax reform (shocker) and free trade from doing so when they were in the minority. But oh well, "bygones" as they say.