Pelosi: I don't plan to stay in this new, smaller office for long

Candygram for Nancy from TNR’s Ed Kilgore: Get comfortable.

We can’t be precise about how all of this will shake out. But it is reasonably clear that, to take back the House in 2012, Democrats would have to approximate the feat they pulled off in the banner year of 2006 while facing a changed and more hostile political map. Redistricting aside, a number of places where veteran Blue Dog Democrats lost in 2010—including three in Tennessee, two in Mississippi, and one each in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama—are heavily Republican districts that are very unlikely to flip back in the foreseeable future.

The Senate picture for Democrats in 2012 is not much better, for the simple reason that 23 of the 33 seats that will be contested then are currently held by Democrats, reflecting the 2006 landslide. To put it another way, Republicans could lose Senate races by a 19-14 margin and still recapture the chamber (or by a 20-13 margin if they win the White House). Meanwhile several Republican senators, including Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dick Lugar of Indiana, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, and Olympia Snowe of Maine, will go into the 2012 re-election cycle more worried about right-wing primary challenges than about general election contests…

So what’s my point, other than to pour cold water on Democratic hopes for a quick revival after a really bad midterm election? It’s that progressives need to begin adjusting their expectations. Up until now, many Democrats have judged Barack Obama according to the hopes he inspired in 2008—that he might not only undo the damage inflicted on the country by George W. Bush, but end more than three decades of conservative ascendancy and usher in a period of progressive reform. We have been judging Obama according to our wish-list: the public option, cap-and-trade, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And we have been disappointed when he fails to deliver.

That’s not the best way to look at the rest of the Obama presidency.

Unmentioned here but also relevant: The precipitous decline in Democratic Party ID over the past few years. Via Gallup:

Between voter disaffection from the GOP in 2008 and the implosion of the big liberal “comeback” this year, we’ve heard a lot lately about the “rise of independents.” In fact, though, independents have ruled the roost for decades. Except for a brief blip after the invasion of Iraq, they’ve been ahead of Democrats and Republicans steadily since 1991 — sometimes, as in 1995, by wide margins. The conventional electoral wisdom, I think, is that voters split roughly 40/40 between the parties with the remaining 20 percent of independents deciding the race. Not so: It’s more like 30/30 with a huge 40 percent chunk (many of whom lean to one party or the other, needless to say) to decide things. Maybe the most amazing thing here, though, is how little variability there is over time. In a span of almost 25 years, despite demographic changes and the flow of events, Democratic ID has fluctuated within a narrow five-point band. It’s remarkable that Pelosi managed to steer them from the top of that band to the very bottom in just two years. Another one of her “achievements,” I guess. Click the image to watch.