That doesn’t mean the GOP should be complacent about the challenges ahead, or about learning from its mistakes this time around, some of which proved survivable only because a rising tide lifted a lot of boats. The GOP establishment worked, in Colorado, the way a successful establishment is supposed to – it reccruited the best candidate in to run for the Senate, one in the ideological center of the party who was acceptable to both conservatives and moderates; it found a soft landing for conservative favorite Ken Buck (who won election to the House) while squeezing out more marginal moderate and conservative candidates; it recruited a credible candidate for Governor who, while he lost, sidelind the more divisive Tancredo. But in other states, not so much: Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)93% and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)54%, for example, should have been talked into retiring and more effort made to find fresh replacements. And two of the establishment’s prized recruits, Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and Monica Wehby in Oregon, imploded badly.
And operationally, while the GOP made many positive steps, its shell-shocked pollsters still had trouble calling the wave, clinging to the same outdated 2012 polling models as the public pollsters for fear of being branded with the overoptimism that plagued Romney and, more recently, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)48%.
Nor have the party’s other challenges – internal divisions on strategy and ideology, mistrust of Beltway leadership, the continuing challenge of outreach to non-white voters – gone away. But after 2014, with the party employing a larger share of the nation’s elected officials nationwide than at any time since the 1940s or maybe even the 1920s, Republicans can now turn to the task of tackling those challenges without feeling like there’s an inevitable Lucy-pulls-the-football surprise at the end.
Then there’s the Democrats. 2014 has not had as negative an effect on Democrats’ morale as its positive effect on Republicans, in large part because of 1) the depth of Democrats’ belief in Emerging Democratic Majority theory, i.e., that demographics will make the Democrats increasingly unbeatable over time, and 2) supreme confidence in the superior electability of Hillary Clinton as the First Woman President™. Those too are topics best explored in more depth another day, but it should be noted that if you re-run the 2014 election with the demographics of the 2012 election, almost every major Republican candidate except maybe Thom Tillis still wins, and – as Nate Cohn of the New York Times explains – Republican success in 2016 may not be as dependent on improving with Hispanic voters as people think. And there are reasons to think that Republicans did better with Hispanic voters and Asian voters than anyone expected, to the point where left-wing polling groups like Latino Decisions and its cousin Asian Decisions, having badly blown their pre-election efforts to unskew the polls and argue people like Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)0% were really winning, and now left trying to argue with exit polls that match up with the actual final results of the election.