I'm not entirely hostile to the Republican Party, though for all that I malign democracy, the Democratic Party promotes a platform to which I am more sympathetic. This is due to two factors: First, I am an advocate for active social change rather than passive, laissez-faire methods. Second, I am actively opposed to religion and theocracy in all its forms and as such the coalition between the Republican Party and the politicized Christianity in America make it impossible for me to support any high-profile Republican in any capacity whatsoever.
So it should come as little surprise that I am less than pleased with the results of the midterm elections. It may be simple, stupid optimism, but I don't think that these results necessarily forebode a swing back towards the right wing in the 2016 presidential season. The next two years will constitute a trial period for the Republican Party, and the performance of Congress during this trial will have considerable impact on that election.
There are a few things that are going to influence this:
1) Repeal of the ACA - This could go either way. The Republicans have been after this since before it even passed, and so it is now one of the "big ticket" items on their agenda. This is something that will be used as a benchmark of their success, like getting out of Iraq and closing Guantanamo have been for Obama.
These benchmarks, of course, have very little to do with any actual effectiveness or competency, but because of their high profile and binary nature they are easy for voters to understand and rally behind. For this reason, the GOP essentially must pursue repeal of the ACA, despite what Mitch McConnell has promised in post-election interviews. To fail to do so is, in the mind of the voter, a failure of the GOP. The Republicans may expect that they can spin it as their efforts being blocked by the Democrats, but that spin is unlikely to hold up while they hold a majority. If it does, then the repeal of ACA gets to be a talking point for their next Presidential candidate. It's a tough tradeoff to measure.
Obviously, the greatest contributors to the enrollment numbers are the poor, who have seen an overall 9% decrease in uninsured people under the ACA. The kicker is that a higher percentage of Republicans gained insurance under the ACA than Democrats, so by repealing it Republicans will be hurting their own constituents, such as those in historically poor and republican areas such as Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi; and the deep south remains the most uninsured part of America.
|Image Source: The New York Times|
On the other side of the coin, young people (18-34), Hispanics, Blacks, and women all had significantly greater levels of enrollment than old white men. These are groups which tend to vote Democrat, and so will be fighting to keep the ACA on the books in two years' time.
2) Filibusters and Shutdowns - Unfortunately, the filibuster is a fact of life in Congress now - the commonly cited figure is that 70% of all bills before the Congress will be filibustered and only 2-3% of them will ultimately pass. The desirability of that latter point is a debate outside the scope of this discussion; it does, however, give an indication of the ability of our Congress to actually accomplish anything. As an organization tasked with running the nation and fixing its problems, a 2-3% implementation rate is eyebrow raising to say the least.
Abuse of this procedural artifact has been brought to light recently but it will make no real difference in the perception of either party. I assess that the minority party - which is the one with the most to gain from a filibuster - will suffer slightly more blame; on the other hand the mechanism is now identified in the public consciousness as a Republican strategy. At best, it comes out as a wash.
Speaking of Republican strategy, however, leads us into something which explicitly IS a Republican strategy: Holding the nation hostage via the Government Shutdown.
The shutdowns in recent years reflected extremely poorly on the Republicans, as the nation overwhelmingly (and rightly) viewed the loss of services as a dangerous and irresponsible act of political brinksmanship, rather than - as the GOP had hoped - as the inevitable results of a failure of the reigning Democrats to negotiate.
The voter has a short memory, as it turns out, and they decided that the solution was more Republicans. During the campaign season, Sen. Mitch McConnell threatened to use government shutdowns as a strongarm method to get their way. He quickly waffled on that point - presumably after an aide showed him the polls from the last shutdown - and has vowed "no shutdown, no repeal [of the ACA]" in the post-election interviews. At least one of those points is disingenuous, and the fact remains that the cat is out of the bag now. Congressional Republicans - who have to deal with not only Democrats, but the rogue and extremist Tea Party members - have historically demonstrated their willingness to shut the government down and it remains a threat that they can continue to employ. If the extremist elements within the GOP do not fall in line, the fallout from even the threat of a shutdown will reflect very poorly on a Republican Congress, who will be seen not only as disruptive as ever, but also as unable to control a congress in which they hold a majority.
Therefore, filibusters and shutdowns will inevitably end poorly for the Republicans in 2016, forcing them to take a less rigid, more ecumenical position in order to market themselves as a party that can solve problems.
3) Vetoes - There is really not much relevant data on veto-heavy terms. The Reconstruction era Presidency of Andrew Johnson, while culminating in an impeachment attempt, is not analogous because Congress had the votes to override a veto.
I expect, however, that a high number of vetoes is likely to go in favor of the GOP. Americans prefer an ecumenical government and the veto counteracts this idea in two ways.
First, it has the President throwing out the orders of our democratically elected Congress. Despite being democratically elected himself, there is simply no way to avoid the spin on this.
Second, while the Republicans hold a majority in Congress, they lack the supermajority necessary to override a veto. Once again, rather than being seen as the essence of republicanism in action, where our representatives have a balance of power which prevents a runaway Congress, this will be spun as a Democrat minority exercising a disruptive power to prevent the "will of the people". By passing laws that they expect to be vetoed, especially with the congressional tendency to attach emotionally charged titles to bills, the GOP can counteract at least some of the bad press from the above point by casting the democrats in an uncooperative and heartless light.
Expect the number of idiotic bills with emotional names and causes to increase as the election season picks up. The Republicans may also, in the spirit of Congress under Andrew Johnson, use a series of vetoes to pursue their OTHER high profile key agenda item: Impeachment of the President.
4) Impeachment of the President - This is the "Big Ticket" which the GOP has been pursuing for six years for no reason whatsoever. Mitch McConnell made assurances that his Congress would not shut down the government and that they would not fully repeal the ACA, but the impeachment of President Obama is still on the table.
This is a losing move for the Republicans and I hope they make it.
As above, they must pursue this point as a matter of public perception. Unlike with the ACA, however, there is a time limit. They cannot let this sit idle until they are in a better position to move - they must act in less than two years or they have failed.
Contrary to GOP hysteria, Obama has not committed any "Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors" and therefore is not subject to impeachment - or to be more precise, there is nothing to convict the President of in the event that impeachment proceeds to a trial before the Senate. Impeachment proceedings are a high profile case which would force the issue - Republicans would have to present their evidence and have it weighed. The failure of their case will be a high profile stain on years of campaigning, and the distraction of the case from other matters of national import will become a burden on the GOP for pursuing a petty political agenda at their expense.
Ultimately, I expect that it is safer for the Republicans to avoid the issue of impeachment overall so that they may maintain their theatrics, rather than suffer the much worse failure to convict the President. This puts them in a bind: as I've repeatedly said throughout this post, they must pursue impeachment now that they have a majority and the must do it within a set time limit.
It is possible that the GOP expects the payoff for repealing the ACA to be higher than that of even a half successful impeachment. Repeal of the ACA is high profile and the fallout from its removal lacks the immediacy necessary for the voters to attribute the cause of their ire appropriately. Should this be the case, it works against the Democrats in 2016 as well. Candidates can proudly say that they supported and defended the ACA should it survive a Republican assault; on the other hand, failure of the GOP to impeach the President is not something which a Democratic candidate can mention without tying together the ideas of impeachment and the Democratic administration.
Ultimately, I don't expect either plan to come to fruition, but the GOP is likely to stage a big show of assaulting the ACA while letting their plans for impeachment fall by the wayside. This will give them contentious and ideologically charged fodder to ride in the 2016 presidential season. What remains is whether or not two years of a Republican Congress will convince the swing voters that the GOP is reactionary and dangerous, or if it will convince them that the GOP needs more rope to pursue its agenda.