Despite what you may have read or seen, last night was not a good night for the Democrats. They lost their majority in the House and perhaps in the Senate. That said, the bleeding was not nearly as bad as anticipated.
For the Republicans, it was also not a very good night, as expectations exceeded performance and a midterm election that should have been triumphant turned inexplicably into a status quo election.
As for the voters, they seem content with the current situation, or at least unconvinced that a Republican-controlled Congress will make a material difference. Who can blame them? The Republicans offered no positive agenda — and have not now for six years — so it was difficult for voters to figure out how they might differ from the current ruling party.
Other conclusions also seem fairly obvious. It was a good night for Gov. Ron DeSantis and a bad one for former President Donald Trump. It was a bad night for Chairman Ronna McDaniel and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Candidates mattered, and that is probably a good thing ultimately. Opinion researchers seem to have been pretty close to target, which suggests they have corrected the problem of under sampling Republicans. Money has become so prevalent in politics that it no longer appears dispositive with respect to campaigns (ask Robert Francis O’Rourke).
In the face of all that, it is important to maintain perspective. In the wake of any electoral setback, it is tempting for those who voted for the losers to spiral a bit into depression and despair. Similarly, winners always get carried away and interpret the results as a mandate to do whatever.
Both election losers and winners should resist those impulses.
It is difficult to remember now, but in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 national election, many Democrats were talking about what they were going to do with their newfound majority. Defund the police. Kill the filibuster. Admit the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as states. Pass voting rights and pro-union legislation. Establish the green new deal. Enact compulsory pre-kindergarten. Make college free for everyone. Pack the Supreme Court.
Of the entire crazy collectivist wish list, the only thing the Democrats really got was some temporary increased spending on some of their agenda items (the American Rescue Plan), tax credits of marginal value (because of the requirements for domestic content) for electric vehicles and alternative sources of energy (the Inflation Reduction Act), and some bike paths and walking around money in the infrastructure legislation.
They also got a generation’s worth of blame for economy-destroying inflation and the consequent recession. Additionally, they received international embarrassment at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The lesson is that you need to be careful both of what you wish for and what expectations you set.
The simplest and most enduring rule of elections in the United States is that the winners are usually disappointed and the losers are usually pleasantly surprised. The winners — and losers — are always quite certain that the victory will bring significant and enduring changes to themselves and the nation.
Over time, the winners realize that the system is specifically designed to prevent significant changes from being made over just one election cycle. They are, consequently, disappointed. The losers also eventually realize this and are pleasantly surprised that the changes they feared might occur are less egregious and enduring than initially anticipated.
John Steinbeck once wrote that: “Somewhere in the world there is a defeat for everyone. Some are destroyed by defeat, and some made small and mean by victory. Greatness lives in one who triumphs equally over defeat and victory.”
It is important to recognize what politics and elections are and what they aren’t. They are not about the soul of the nation. They are not about healing anything. They are not some grand statement about the arc of justice or whatever. This particular election was not about the soul, survival, or status of democracy.
Politics and elections are simply about how we as a society decide who gets to use the coercive power of the state to encourage some activities and discourage or outlaw other activities. That’s it.
Mercifully, for the most part federal policies change within a fairly narrow range. For example, Mr. Biden has focused almost entirely on spending more cash. The good news is the next Congress, or the one after that, can revisit that spending. Former Prime Minister Thatcher captured this iterative nature of politics perfectly when she noted that: “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”
Those who lost this cycle will fight the battle again, as will the winners. That is as it should be. Each election is sold as the “most important election in the history of the Republic/our lives/etc.” Obviously, all of them cannot be, and almost all are not. This election was certainly not.
Political defeats are temporary; so are political victories. It is unwise to treat them as anything else.
Michael McKenna is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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