WASHINGTON, November 3, 2014 — Republicans are heading for a loss on Tuesday.
That isn’t an election forecast. There are election forecasts to satisfy every taste and political leaning. Most of them just reflect the conventional wisdom. Some, like the Washington Post model, are extrapolations from the past. The Washington Post gives the GOP a 94 percent chance of taking the Senate, the New York Times a 70 percent chance. If you believe the future will always follow predictably from the past, you can take those predictions to the bank.
Then there are the non-forecasts, forecasts so larded with qualifiers that they can’t possibly be wrong. When any particular forecast turns out to be wrong, its author will have an explanation.
If I were a true prophet, I’d own an island in the Caribbean and a senator or two. I can no more predict the outcome of an uncertain election than I can predict the stock market. But I can tell you that a summer day in Louisiana will be hotter than a winter day in Montana and that the Chicago Cubs won’t win the World Series, and I can tell you that no matter what happens on Tuesday, Republicans are going to lose.
Some things are just predictable, and Congressional Republicans are among them. They are losers; losing is even more thoroughly coded into their DNA than self-preservation.
There are two ways that they can lose. The first is to not take the Senate. Given expectations now, that would be demoralizing. It would leave the GOP in a round of recriminations, circular firing squads, and paralysis before newly invigorated Democrats.
It would also leave the GOP in no position to take the Senate before 2018; 24 of the 34 seats that will be contested in 2016 are now held by Republicans. Those held by Democrats are all in solidly blue states with the exception of Colorado, which is purple. If Republicans can’t take the Senate now, they won’t do it in 2016, and the odds are that they will be too fractured and dispirited in 2016 even to mount a disciplined effort to take the White House.
Failure to take the Senate on Tuesday will be a gut-punch to the GOP.
The other way that the Republicans can lose is to take the Senate on Tuesday. Right now, that seems to be their more likely route to defeat, but that’s the conventional wisdom and the sense of the polls, not a serious forecast.
But like summer weather in Louisiana, the GOP is sadly predictable. If it takes the Senate and expands its lead in the House, it will do nothing productive. It will posture and bluster. Then its leadership will find themselves impotent before the president, showing themselves again to be mighty towers of jello.
The GOP has no plan and no focus, except for to get a majority. Once it has a majority, it has no idea what to do with it. After the glorious Reagan interregnum, Republicans focused on the past, not the future. With no Gipper to guide them, they focused on tactics, not long-term strategy.
The GOP took America by storm in 1994 with its “Contract with America,” then went into immediate breach. For the next ten years, it had no idea what to do with Congress except to try to keep it. Republicans tried to convince Americans that it was essential that they stay in power, but they did nothing with that power. By the time Democrats took Congress back, it was hard to care.
Republican positions over the last four years can be condensed to two: lower taxes and repeal Obamacare. That oversimplifies — Republicans have a thing or two to say about immigration, the Keystone XL pipeline, global competition, and free markets — but Republicans can be counted on to treat their positions as boilerplate, to disappoint, and to pursue low-cost, low value votes in Congress. As long as there’s no chance to repeal Obamacare and no need to come up with an alternative, they’ll vote to repeal with every chance they get.
Not all Republicans in Congress are sanguine about their party’s drift. Tea Party and libertarian Republicans have mounted largely ineffectual efforts to make the party stand for something, but have often lapsed into incoherent overreach, as when Tea Party candidates took their focus from fiscal issues to do battle with evolution. The Tea Party movement has successfully pushed the GOP to the right, but with no clear agenda beyond taxes and Obamacare.
The GOP has run campaigns this year in opposition to President Obama. Those campaigns are essentially negative — this is who we aren’t — rather than positive — this is what we will achieve, and here’s how we will do it while Obama remains in office. There are some smart Republican ideas about tax reform and health care, but we can be certain that if Republicans send Harry Reid packing, they won’t pursue those ideas.
America needs a new direction. A booming economy that doesn’t make people better off is a failure; most Americans think they’re still in a recession. Government incompetence and partisanship have become a fact of life, even in agencies once respected for their impartiality and competence. The incoherent response to Ebola has senselessly heightened public anxiety and reduced confidence that the government knows what it’s doing.
Republicans have a golden opportunity. Very little is certain in life, but we can bank on this: Republicans will squander the opportunity. They will be losers for it, and so will we all be.