Don’t over-interpret an election: Pundits who set their hair on fire over 2012 results look silly

Just hours after the second great shellacking of Barack Obama’s presidency, Democrats are outwardly nervous.

On Wednesday, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough pronounced the Democratic Party is particularly endangered because, it seems clear now, Barack Obama’s electoral coalition is not his party’s coalition. Scarborough insisted that the eventual Democratic nominee will probably not win Virginia or North Carolina because “only Barack Obama could have done that,” while his colleagues nodded in agreement. None dared to counter with John Judis and Ruy Teixeira’s theories on the Emerging Democratic Majority which seems to only ever be emerging.

Scarborough is not alone in detecting significant Democratic anxiety, and some of it is well-founded. Barack Obama entered office in 2009 with 59 Democrats in the Senate (and soon 60 with the late Arlen Specter’s flip) and 257 Democrats in the House. He will leave office with 45 Democrats in the Senate and less than 190 in the House.

Republicans have secured a once in a generation majority in both chambers of Congress, but the culling of Democrats on the state-level is far more dramatic. “[Puerto Rico Governor and Republican State Leadership Committee Chair Luis Fortuno] said the party is on course to hold between 67 and 69 legislative chambers – up from the previous high of 64,” Fox News reported. “He said they also are on track to eclipse the prior GOP high of 4,001 state legislative seats (held in 1928).”

There seems to be no appetite for rearranging the party’s congressional leadership, at least if you believe what members of Congress are telling the press. But Democratic representatives are conceding that they have to do something in order to change and address the new, unfavorable political realities.

In citing this election’s results to cast long shadows over the Democratic Party’s future, they are in good company. American punditry traditionally extrapolates the results of one election, no matter how unique, to determine the course of all future elections. This analysis is almost always wrong.

Take, for example, how the punditry class reacted to the 2012 election which saw Barack Obama returned to the White House and his party gain seats in the Senate despite relatively bleak economic conditions.

America is “not a center-right nation anymore,” proclaimed Outside the Beltway blogger James Joyner. Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas confidently predicted that the ensuing post-212 civil war “will have cost Republicans at least one, probably more Senate seats” in 2014.

These were relatively reserved episodes of self-satisfied gloating masked as analysis. An ill-suited editor at New York Magazine allowed columnist Kat Stoeffel to bask in the “disaster of a night for the GOP rape and abortion caucus.”

Newsweek Magazine dubbed Obama a Napoleonic figure while the GOP was simultaneously “old,” “white,” and “history,” according to David Frum.

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“The demographic and cultural changes transforming this nation have deepened the Republicans’ marginality,” wrote The Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson in October of last year. “And as that gap has grown, Republicans have become more insular and more desperate — a toxic combination for a functioning democracy.”

It was not merely Democrats who had determined that 2012 was history’s last election. “If Mitt Romney cannot win in this economy, then the tipping point has been reached,” a discomposed Ann Coulter asserted. “We have more takers than makers and it’s over. There is no hope.” She went on to indict America for being a nation that is “no longer is interested in conservative ideas” but “handouts” instead.

“Unless Republicans profoundly and deeply rethink their assumptions and study what the Democrats have been doing the future could become very bleak and the Clinton-Obama majority could become as dominant as the Roosevelt majority was from 1932 to 1968 presidentially and from 1930 to 1994 in the House of Representatives,” declared former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Republicans still have a minority voter problem, but they also have the largest Congressional majority today that they have had since 1929. A despondent 2012 Gingrich would have probably found that condition shocking in the extreme.

Republicans are not well-advised to project the outcome of 2016 by virtue of a good night in 2014, but it is not Republicans who need to learn that lesson. They recall the ebullience of 2010 and the bitter reversal of fortunes that followed two years later. Today, Democrats are in need of a good, deep breath. Demography was never destiny and the permanent Republican minority was always ever a fable, but the future for Obama’s party is not so grim. The American political pendulum has simply swung again, as it always does, back toward the center.