Election Day was, no doubt, a great night for Republicans and for those resisting the progressive agenda. But I think much of the rhetoric about this and past contests is overheated. My view about these matters is primarily structural or cyclical.
It was the sixth year of a two term President and therefore the President’s party was likely to lose a significant number of seats. The President is unpopular and so that makes it even more likely.
Of course, this is not meant to downplay the results. Rather, the point is that the Republicans should have won and probably would have still won (with a smaller victory) even if the President was more popular than he is.
I had a similar reaction to Obama’s reelection in 2012. It is difficult to defeat a sitting President and the economy, while weak, was good enough to allow him to be reelected. He was not challenged in the primaries and there were no other enormous problems that would lead him to be defeated. Still, Romney might have won had he run a more competent campaign – had he, for example, been better in the second debate – but probably that debate did not decide the election.
The 2010 Republican landslide was more surprising, but still easily understandable. President Obama ran as a new, consensus building politician who would solve the country’s economic problems, but then governed in an ideological and partisan manner, and focused on health care rather than the economy. The public punished his dishonesty.
What does all this portend for the 2016 election? Unpopular Presidents tend to be followed by Presidents of the opposite party. Thus, in the absence of unusual circumstances, I would give the edge to the Republicans in 2016 for both the Presidency and the Congress (with less confidence about their maintaining control of the Senate). None of this is because the country is finally rejecting progressivism any more than 2008 was about the country eschewing the Republican’s political philosophy. Instead, it is largely about political cycles.
Of course, nothing is certain. And special circumstances as well as long term changes can override those cyclical considerations. Nonetheless, there are strong forces supporting these cycles.