I know, that seems like a ridiculous thing to say. With a 60-seat grab in the House and carving a chunk out of Democratic support in the Senate, it looks like a huge win for the Republicans. But if you really look at what the Republicans have been handed, and what it means for them, the outlook for the GOP is decidedly less rosy.
The GOP has been handed power in the House. And when you are handed power, you are expected to get results. You are expected to deliver the goods.
But what has this version of the GOP promised? Repeal of the healthcare legislation. Massive tax cuts and spending cuts. A wholesale repudiation of the last two years under President Obama and a Democratic Congress.
So just how are they going to do that when the Democrats still hold the Senate? And President Obama still sits in the White House?
Had the Republicans won both chambers, it would have created a clear-choice scenario; choose the Democratic President or the Republican Congress. Had the GOP not won the House, they could have continued to be obstructionist gadflies without having to actually govern. But by winning the House, the GOP now has to govern, but without a clear path to actually achieving anything that they promised the Tea Party movement. And they will have a spotlight on them from Day One.
Here's an example. There will be a showdown in early 2011 over extending the debt ceiling, one that will likely lead to a government shutdown. Had the GOP won both chambers, the narrative would be a straight GOP/Democratic showdown, two sides locked in a heated political struggle. Had the GOP not won the House, they could have torn the Democrats apart for their profligate spending and unwise budgetary planning without consequence.
But in only winning the House, the GOP leadership there is on an island. If they cause a government shutdown, they do so without a Senate backing them (which would make for great visuals and crafting the narrative). The news focus won't be a "Democrats vs GOP" angle but "GOP in House Refuses to Budge" angle as veterans don't get their benefits and families with children lose their food support.
Even in something as simple as crafting a budget, the GOP House is now exposed. Not only because they have to actually produce something now as opposed to having Eric Cantor promise unidentified spending cuts, but because they are doing so alone. They cannot count on Senate support for their agenda. And while the House does create all the spending bills, a Tea Party budget won't pass the Senate and it certainly would get vetoed if it ever did.
The only promise the new GOP-lead House can keep is their promise to investigate Obama and hold hearings on climate change. Would anyone like to predict how America will react to month after month of Darrell Issa and Michelle Bachmann investigating ACORN while the economy teeters on a thin precipice? People didn't give the GOP a mandate, they gave them a chance. And the GOP in the House seems set to squander it almost from the start. Never mind how the Tea Party will react when the GOP can't get rid of healthcare reform. Just this morning, Mike Pence was saying the GOP will "undo" healthcare reform. That simply isn't going to happen. How will the Tea Party react when it doesn't?
Even in the Senate, with a huge six-seat pickup, the GOP has put themselves in a spot. They can't control the agenda and yet new voices like Rand Paul will get national attention. How will all of America react to someone saying the Civil Rights Act is wrong and the minimum wage needs to be abolished? As an aside, that Kentucky seat should be permanently enshrined as the "Crazy Kentucky" seat with Paul following Jim Bunning.
Ironically, the big winner last night may well have been President Obama. With a divided Congress, the President can stand above the fray. He can point to GOP obstructionism in the House and actually have a target to hit. With the GOP unable to repeal healthcare reform, or Wall Street reform, or anything else that was passed, those plans will have two more years to work and become a part of our lives. Elizabeth Warren at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau isn't going anywhere because that office isn't going anywhere. Because repealing that bureau won't even make it through the Senate. President Obama can propose plans to simplify the tax codes and help small business. And if the House decides to say no, the President can wield that like a club against them.
As the old Chinese curse goes, "May you get what you wish for". The GOP has gotten what they wished for in the House. But I think they will find that the dream of winning the House, and the reality of what it actually means for them, are two very different things.
And hey, even if you think the above is bunk, Sharon Angle and Ken Buck lost. So at least there is that. :)