For those who find U.S. elections too long and sometimes endless, brace yourself as the next cycle begins tomorrow morning. The near unanimity of prognosticators are predicting a Republican wave, and this will only raise the ante as to whether President Obama will be a one-term President. History leads us to be cautious about predicting presidential elections based on midterm elections.
Since WW II, there have been three blowout results (Harry S. Truman in 1946, Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Bill Clinton in 1994) and each of these Presidents were re-elected two years later. With less than 50 percent of the electorate expected to vote and with the average midterm loss around 28 seats in the House and four in the Senate, it is almost certain that the Democrats will suffer some serious losses. But this is mainly an election about local issues, the current state of the economy and how this impacts on the mood of the country. A presidential election is a much different dynamic.
Elections do often carry some surprises. Races which were leaning heavily Republican are now much closer and some are trending Democratic as is the case in California, Delaware and Connecticut. The weekend rally under the aegis of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert using satire and the theme of sanity indicates that enthusiasm is not just in the Glen Beck camp. President Clinton in a Montreal speech last Friday predicted that the Democrats will cause some surprises. However, while he may be on to something, it is fair to say that if the House flips to John Boehner and the Republicans this Tuesday, the presidential stakes in the Republican Party will begin in earnest.
The President will have to take away some lessons from the certain losses he will face. He will possibly face a GOP-held House (as all pundits seem to predict) and a reduced majority in the Senate (as seems most likely).And this will undoubtedly change his style of governance. It will take a more incremental policy change approach as opposed to comprehensive reforms. It will require more pedagogy, better focussed communications and greater interaction with the voter as opposed to legislators if he is to regain the upper hand. The bully pulpit is in his hands and not in those of Speaker of the House. Divided governance provides for co-responsibility.
The voter, especially independents who will sway the result in this election cycle, will not tolerate presidential vetoes or congressional gridlock. If Obama got elected as a transformational figure, he will most likely stand a chance of being re-elected by being a transactional president. And with budget deficit cutting, entitlement reform, energy and climate change imperatives, and immigration reform, he will have plenty of opportunities to show his transactional skills.
Republicans, on the other hand, will smell blood if they make their anticipated gains in Congress and in the Governors’ races. The latter will affect redistricting which will only embolden Republicans for 2012. Prospective candidates will start vying for the nomination with early visits to primary states. The Tea Party and its various components will interpret whatever limited success they will have by pushing the Republican Party further right. Sarah Palin will emerge with more profile in the weeks ahead and already she has served notice about not deviating from Tea Party principles.
Party operatives like Karl Rove are already setting their sights on the big prize and he is keenly aware that gravitating to the middle carries more promise of capturing the White House. His latest salvo against Palin, and her upcoming foray in reality TV illustrates his belief that Palin has too many shortcomings for primetime. Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee will soon lay claim to their stake in the game. Promising darkhorses like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels may be tempted to test the waters as early as the winter of 2011. And lest we not forget Newt Gingrich, ready and full of policy ideas to shape the Republican contest.
So irrespective of the results today, the battle of 2012 will begin. The only sure prediction we can make is that the results of the midterms are not a good indicator of what will happen in 2012. Have a good election party!
* John Parisella is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is Québec’s Delegate General in New York, the province’s top ranking position in the United States.