Surprising, although it probably shouldn’t be. Any indicator that the GOP in 2014 might somehow outperform the big red wave of 2010 is noteworthy, but timing is everything here. I think.
In January 2010, ObamaCare hadn’t passed yet. Scott Brown was headed for victory in the Senate, imperiling the Democrats’ chances of getting it done. Republicans hadn’t reached peak outrage. In January 2014, we’ve just wrapped up three months of technological disaster, mass policy cancellations, and arbitrary weekly top-down tweaks by HHS to America’s new health-care regime. We may be at peak outrage now. I don’t think so — wait until small businesses start cutting insurance to their employees later this year — but it’s not unimaginable. It’ll be hard even for President Bumblefark to outdo the incompetence and imperiousness of late 2013. Notice too that Democrats are themselves more enthusiastic about the midterms right now than they were four years ago. I wouldn’t have expected that after the past three months, but maybe there’s some critical mass that thinks O-Care’s worst days are behind it and/or that the national game has moved on to issues like income inequality. All of these numbers help explain, I think, why you’re seeing seemingly contradictory headlines about congressional Republicans aiming for a light agenda this year and also pushing splashy anti-poverty ideas. The latter is a defense to the left’s inevitable “Republicans don’t care about the little guy” midterm messaging but the former reveals the truth that they’d rather not try anything ambitious when their base is already revved up to vote. Which means comprehensive immigration reform is, in the words of “The Princess Bride,” mostly dead for now.
One key question that’s unanswered, though: What about independents? There are a lot more of them than there are Republicans or Democrats. The fate of the Senate depends on which way they’re leaning and how enthusiastically. The most arresting graph in the Gallup poll that Ed posted earlier is the one showing a nine-point rise among indies in just the past year alone. I assume that’s being driven by contempt for the governing Democratic agenda on the one hand and contempt for the Republican-led House on the other, but which way that breaks electorally, I don’t know. It’s probably mostly a case of tea partiers and libertarians casting off the GOP label (as has been true for the past few years) while intending to vote Republican anyway, but some segment of these people may be so disaffected by gridlock and various government shenanigans — O-Care screw-ups, the shutdown, a slow economic grind that neither party can solve — that they’re just going to stay home. I’d rather know that than partisan enthusiasms right now.
I know, I know: This means I owe you a palate-cleanser later. Hmph.