The results are in, or at least enough of them are, to chalk the 2010 midterms up as a major Republican victory and a stunning rebuke of the Democrats’ agenda. What happened on November 2, 2010 will go down as one of the greatest turnovers of power in American electoral history, sure, but a closer look at the results reveals that it was much more than just a typical off-year election where the President in power tends to lose seats. In a word, the election of 2010 was transformative, an illustration of the American people pulling on the reins of a reckless government.
With a jobless rate near 10% (and actual unemployment likely above 15%), that old adage, “It’s the economy, stupid” certainly held true in 2010. Nevertheless, Americans weren’t simply lashing out at a political party for its failure to promote job growth in the short-term. Instead, they expressed a vote of no confidence in the Democrats’ economic thesis of rapid public sector growth. Judging by the party’s track record over the past two years, voters are quite justified in this opinion. With an unimpeded grip on power in both the Legislative and Executive branches, Democrats passed three behemoth pieces of legislation that vastly expanded an irresponsible social agenda at the expense of robust economic growth that normally follows a major recession. At their core, these major acts exploded government spending, further complicated already confusing regulatory schemes, and ultimately exacerbated uncertainty at the worst possible time.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of the 2010 midterms was the rise of the ordinary “citizen legislator” to lead this charge against big government and European-style social welfare policies. In my own home state of Wisconsin, for instance, 2010 proved to be the year of unconventional candidates. It was one of those unique moments in American political history that made victory possible for Reid Ribble the roofing contractor, or plastics manufacturer Ron Johnson over liberal darling Russ Feingold in his campaign for a fourth Senate term. Wisconsin is a microcosm of sorts for national results that overwhelmingly favored nontraditional candidates. For all their inexperience, many of these neophytes across America proved to be politically adept candidates. Kentucky Senator-elect and ophthalmologist Rand Paul, for instance, demonstrated an extraordinary ability to maintain focus on his message of cutting taxes and government spending even in a distracting campaign of personal attacks. Marco Rubio of Florida, another relatively untested candidate, provides one of the greatest examples of natural political talent in recent memory and has even been mentioned as a future Presidential candidate.
For all the success of anti-establishment candidates this election cycle, simply being a Republican newcomer was not enough to secure a victory. The humiliating defeat of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware demonstrated the importance of nominating a competent candidate for high government office. By encouraging O’Donnell’s bid against popular moderate Mike Castle, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party favored ideology over pragmatism. In doing so, Delaware’s Senate seat was moved from safely Republican to safely Democratic overnight. This stunning ability of Republicans to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” now gives Chris Coons, a self-proclaimed Marxist, a seat on the world’s most deliberative body. Don’t get me wrong, the Tea Party was an overwhelmingly positive force in 2010; however, Republicans must learn to channel its grassroots energy into effective politics.
So then, what does this decimation of the Democrats by citizen legislators really mean? I stand by my claim that 2010 was a transformative election; however, it is not simply because voters rejected the central thesis of Obamanomics and propelled political newcomers to high offices. I see the results of 2010 as instead manifesting three unique truths about American politics.
First, the electoral battle lines are reset. Most of President Obama’s historic gains in traditionally Republican areas are effectively erased and GOP gains in the Heartland, Deep South, and Northeast have produced an electoral map similar to that of the Bush years.
Second, Americans are ready for a fight to preserve their economic future. The budgetary battles waged by Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey (incidentally now a more popular political figure than Barack Obama in the deep blue Garden State) are about to be multiplied in statehouses across America and at the federal level. In electing a new batch of uncompromising fiscal hawks, the American people have demonstrated a willingness to make the difficult choices necessary to tame a dangerous deficit and an out-of-control government.
Third, the election of 2010 demonstrates again the utter failure that is liberalism. The feel-good policies of the left may suffice in a university classroom but when applied to the dynamic problems of a globalized world, they will fall short every time. This is no exception in America, where the extraordinary legislative successes of the recent “liberal experiment” have done a great deal for the expansion of government but little to alleviate serious economic woes.
One central question about the election of 2010 remains: have Democrats received the message? The fact that Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and James Clyburn plan to run for leadership positions in their new House minority reveals, unsurprisingly, that they have not. It is now up to Republicans to capitalize on the Democrats’ blissful ignorance.