“How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him.”
—New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, expressing disbelief (and myopia) in 1972 after Republican Richard Nixon defeated Democrat George McGovern by an Electoral College vote of 520-17. Four years later, Democrats won back the presidency.
NOV. 10, 2016 — Residents of colorfast blue states now are islanders in a rising red sea. Republicans haven’t only recaptured the White House. They kept control of the U.S. Senate, where in two years Democrats will have to defend most of the 33 seats up for election. Republicans also kept their lock on the U.S. House. They expanded from 30 to 33 the number of governorships they hold. And they apparently increased their numerical dominance of state legislative chambers. On Tuesday, then, the remarkable slippage of elected Democratic clout during Barack Obama’s presidency only intensified.
Which provokes a question: Will all of us look back to this as the instant when Republicans started to squander their gift from fed-up voters who want less gridlock and more solutions?
Victory can seduce victors to believe their own hype — and to forget why they won. Witness the Democratic majorities that ruled Congress during Obama’s first two years: Shell-shocked Americans were slowly emerging from the Great Recession, their home values crushed and retirement accounts savaged. Democrats might have tackled job creation, tax reform and immigration. Instead they oddly put most of their chips on Obamacare, an unpopular, unaffordable program that has to be rehabbed or replaced.
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has his job due to that Democratic misread of Americans’ priorities. Vice President-elect Mike Pence of Indiana once fretted during a talk with the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board about how, as a congressman, he watched Republicans go native in Washington, voting for lavish spending. We hope Ryan and Pence emerge as sensible Midwestern agenda shapers who focus a distractable President Donald Trump on fixing, not grandstanding. The list of urgent domestic issues is long. In two years, Republicans running for Congress will answer for what they did or didn’t accomplish.
Lawmakers have condemned today’s younger Americans to enormous debts, and have booby-trapped entitlement programs to go insolvent by the time these young people retire. That injustice helps shape our priorities for Republicans:
•Passing reforms to ward off insolvency of Social Security and Medicare.
•Putting the government on a path toward balanced budgets and reducing the national debt as a share of gross domestic product.
•Delivering on Trump’s promise to stoke economic growth and thus job creation. We hope that means re-examining Obama’s expansion of the regulatory state. We hope it doesn’t get twisted into an attack on trade — a huge source of American jobs, especially in the agricultural and manufacturing Midwest.
•Streamlining a tax code that baffles Americans, incentivizes peculiar business behaviors and puts the government in the inappropriate position of choosing winners and losers among companies and whole industries. Example: energy.
•Finding a “comprehensive immigration solution” that’s more than a three-word cliche. Our borders are porous, our policies arguably put too much weight on family reunification and our economy suffers for lack of smarter standards on who is or isn’t admitted legally.
•Fixing or replacing Obamacare. Fast.
If you were wisely asleep at 1:56 a.m. Wednesday, we hope you caught up later with this passage on the immensity of what happened:
Voters delivered a humiliating rebuke to America’s political establishment and to the hangers-on — the pollsters, the pundits, the media elites, the celebrities who surrounded Hillary Clinton on stages even as Trump stood alone. Humbled Democratic leaders and others who had predicted Clinton would win 300 electoral votes or many more instead watched, agape, as Trump picked off states that Barack Obama had won handily. This wasn’t a landslide, but it buried Democrats under plenty of rubble. All that talk of taking back the U.S. Senate and just maybe the House? The assumption that a Democratic president would reshape the U.S. Supreme Court? All gone. Let the Democrats form their circular firing squad for the volleys of blame that now commence.
What we should have addressed is the peril ahead for Republicans. Just as surely as they’ve raised this red sea, they can sink back to minority status in a couple of election cycles.
Solutions or self-destruction, GOP. What’ll it be?