Conventional wisdom was that the fight over the debt ceiling was a disaster for Republicans that imperils their future electoral prospects. “We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” explained Speaker Boehner shortly after Republicans waived the white flag — and after the beating they took in the media, who can blame them? To no one’s surprise an animated President Obama couldn’t hold back his satisfaction, “if you don’t like a particular policy, go out and win an election.”
Mr. President, be careful what you wish for. Things have a way of coming back around, and when they do, the GOP will be the last one laughing — all the way to Election Day, 2014.
Look at it this way, the Democrats cannot lose more than five seats in the Senate.
The GOP will be defending 14 seats, all in conservative states except Maine. On the other hand, Democrats are defending 21 seats, many of them in conservative and swing states. Historically midterms strongly favor the President’s opposition and while Republican polling numbers are low, their approval numbers are not far from what they were in 2010 — the year Republicans netted 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate, the same magic number they’re after in 2014.
While the shutdown is over, there is another rolling disaster that Democrats have to contend with: Obamacare.
The rollout of the exchanges has been an unmitigated disaster that is not easily fixed. Not only are people having issues signing up for enrollment, CBS News has reported enrollment forms are either incomplete, or have been duplicated. Even the handful of persistent applicants who make it all the way through a broken website are likely to have their applications lost or mangled before they reach the insurance companies.
Red-state democrats are going to have a difficult time explaining their support for Obamacare to constituents in Louisiana, Alaska, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Montana — all states Mitt Romney carried comfortably in 2012.
In Arkansas, the new law is raising premiums in the individual market 171%; Louisiana 106.2%, Montana 42%, North Carolina 90%. States that are more reliably Democratic, like New Mexico where premiums jump 80%, could also come into play. All while Obama grants a one-year delay to big business, regular Americans are forced into an expensive and largely broken system.
Republicans are also more in tune with the public on broader issues of taxes and spending. According to a Bloomberg poll, 61% percent of the public disagree with President Obama’s insistence on raising the debt limit without spending cuts. The media can say all they want about winners and losers on Capitol Hill, but we are $17 trillion dollars in debt and counting. That’s more than $50,000 for every single man, women, and child in America. By the midterm elections expect that number to sit around $18 trillion, and when Obama leaves office try $20 trillion. The party that opposes unlimited, unconditional increases in the national debt may, therefore, be more attractive to centrist voters.
The Democrats have nothing to offer on economic policy other than more taxes, more spending, and more regulations. They’re a broken record supporting policies that have done nothing but ensure the weakest economic recovery in the country’s history.
If the Republicans can stop the infighting and coalesce around the same core message of fiscal responsibility that unified them in 2010 they’ll be a force at the ballot box. The issues are set up favorably for 2014. The key for Republicans is simply to get out of their own way and make the case to the American people.
Mr. Calder is a researcher at American Commitment.