Is the GOP poised to win the Senate?

Why We Worry / Washington, D.C.

With the midterm election still eight months off, I hesitate to contribute, even in my small way, to speculation about how it will play out. The Perpetual Campaign has gotten so bad that House Speaker John Boehner recently warned us not to expect much lawmaking from Congress in 2014. Republicans are reinvigorated in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act and will not risk their election year unity by legislating on any potentially-divisive major issues, such as immigration reform, or any that would advance Obama’s agenda. This prompted Nancy Pelosi to ask: “Why don’t we just pack up and go home?”

US Midterm Election

Since there won’t be much legislation to discuss this year, maybe it’s only right to skip ahead to the elections. The current meme is that the GOP, in addition to holding on to the House, has a strong chance to win a majority in the Senate. The Democrats will be on a defensive footing this election cycle. Historically, the opposition party gains seats. More importantly, Democrats will be defending seven seats in states that Romney won, while losing two incumbents to retirement.

Republicans are convinced that the unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act will tip the electorate toward them, so, accordingly, they intend to base the 2014 campaign around the healthcare law and little else — the third in a row. This is short-sighted. By election day, the healthcare exchanges will be 13 months old. There will have been another surge in enrollment ahead of the March 31 deadline. The buggy website will be a distant memory. As more Americans gain subsidized insurance and see improved standards, they will not offer them up for repeal.

The dreary state of the Republican Party must also be considered. The GOP doesn’t even try to hide their slavish devotion to the wealthiest sliver of the population, and it shows in their 66% disapproval rating. On almost every major issue, the specific policies they advocate have minuscule public support. They’ve alienated broad swaths of women, minorities (citizens and non), LGBTQ community members, the well-educated and the lower classes. Added to this, the party has internal divisions, with major donors fueling “insurgent” primary campaigns from far-right Tea Party candidates. Some Democrats will distance themselves from the ACA, but the party is far more unified and is at least advancing a popular agenda in many areas (e.g. higher minimum wage, public investment, pre-k expansion).

Electoral politics have taken on a new, grave character since the GOP veered hard right post-2008. Ten years ago, the differences between the two parties were far narrower. Now Republicans promise an ominous agenda. Economically, it’s based on domination by the rich. Internationally, on the reflexive use of force. Socially, on regression. The expansion of Republican power would further threaten the well-being of the nation. Hopefully, it can be staunched.