The pundits who are trying to spin Tuesday’s election as the result of a simple anti-incumbent mood are not merely wrong; they are actively suppressing the truth. Had this been an anti-incumbent election, there would have been similar defeats on both sides. But a comparison of Democratic versus Republican incumbent defeats presents a stark and inescapable conclusion, particularly in the US House: voters rejected incumbent Democrats but not incumbent Republicans. Fifty Democratic incumbents lost their seats, compared to only two Republican incumbents. The two Republican incumbents who were defeated, Joseph Cao and Charles Djou, were both elected under unusual circumstances in heavily Democratic districts. Cao was elected in November 2008, and Djou was elected in May 2010, so both were just barely incumbents.
Many of the congressional seats the GOP picked up came in areas that John McCain carried for president. For example, in Mississippi, where Democrat Gene Taylor — who has held a Republican-leaning congressional seat since winning a special election in the early months of George Herbert Walker Bush’s presidency and who was a vocal opponent of much of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi agenda — went down to defeat. Taylor didn’t get voted out because he was an incumbent — he was voted out because he was a Democrat.
The same is true for Democrats like John Spratt, formerly the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ike Skelton, who used to hold the gavel on the House Armed Services Committee, and James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Obama, Pelosi and Reid damaged their brand, and they paid the price.
A similar pattern of ousting Democratic but not Republican incumbents prevailed in state legislative races. There were several state chambers that the Democrats thought they could win control of, but in every single case, they went the other way. Instead of losing the Texas House of Representatives to the Democrats, for example, the GOP picked up a net of 24 seats. They also picked up a net of 16 seats in the Missouri House and 14 in the Tennessee House.
Had this been an anti-incumbent election, at least a few chambers would have flipped in each direction. Instead, everything went one way. Republicans and independents and tea party voters came out in large numbers, and they sent a single message all across the country: they’ve had enough of the joblessness, the uncertainty and the bad economy, and they know who to hold accountable. Analysts who think that there was an anti-incumbent fever running through the electorate are simply trying to hide the truth: Barack Obama’s decision to lead his party away from the pragmatic, optimistic, post-partisan message that brought him to the White House, and instead embrace an uncompromising expansion of government irrespective of well-documented public opposition, resulted in the fastest reversal of the national partisan direction in almost a century. The fact that it occurred in a census year, following which Congressional redistricting will occur, means that this reversal is likely to be locked in for a decade, at least in the US House of Representatives and most of the state legislatures. The president who ran a nearly flawless campaign just two years ago committed a political miscalculation of such epic proportions that his party will pay for it for years to come.
Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring.