Even before this week’s blowout, some voices were saying that a Republican midterm victory would actually be a defeat. One pundit wrote that “winning the Senate and controlling both houses of Capitol Hill is a poisoned chalice for the GOP, one that will expose the party’s wide divisions and increasingly extremist views.”
Nonsense. Power is like love: it may involve heartache, but you are better off having it than not having it.
Of course, there will be debates and divisions within the party’s new Senate majority and its enlarged House majority. There were debates and divisions before. But majority parties are better able to manage internal disputes than minority parties. Among other things, they can set the agenda and structure floor votes in ways that hold their own ranks together while splitting the other side. That’s why majority parties generally have higher party-unity scores than minorities.
Moreover, the 2014 election strengthened the GOP’s pragmatic wing. In this year’s primaries, party leaders helped protect incumbents against wacky challengers who either would have lost the general election or become embarrassments in Washington. The establishment also backed strong candidates to run for open seats and challenge Democratic incumbents.
In two years, Democrats will undoubtedly try to run against the Republican Congress. But they were going to do so even if they had held the Senate majority. That’s exactly what they did in 2012, when they had already controlled the Senate for six years. Over and over, President Obama used variations of this line: “But along with this Republican Congress, they've got a vision that doesn't say we work together; it says everybody is on their own.” (The apparent premise was that the GOP effectively controlled Congress by having a majority in the House and filibustering bills in the Senate.)
The 2016 election will be a challenge for Senate Republicans because they will be defending many more seats than the Democrats. But just imagine how much tougher their situation would be if the 2014 election had gone the other way. Disappointed contributors would be putting their checkbooks away, and demoralized incumbents would be making plans to retire in 2016. But with their victory, Republicans are in a much better position to raise money and persuade veteran lawmakers to hang on. And with 53 or 54 seats, they have some cushion against future losses.
No, their triumph is not a poisoned chalice. A win is a win is a win.
Jack Pitney writes his Looking for Trouble blog exclusively for the Monitor.