Shellacking 2.0: Is this the 'end of an era for Democrats?'

Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer declared 'the end of an era for Democrats.' Time magazine put Mitch McConnell on its cover. Were the mid-term elections a sweeping Republican mandate?

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Zoe Buck, a 14-month-old child, checks out an empty voting booth as at her mother, Julie Buck, votes at left, Tuesday Nov. 4, 2014, at the Alaska Zoo polling place in Anchorage, Alaska.

It's been called "shellacking 2.0," "a red wave," a "political typhoon," and "a repudiation" of Obama and his party.

So decisive were GOP wins Tuesday night, some commentators are calling it "the end of an era for Democrats."

"I think this is the end of the charismatic phase," conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer told Fox News Tuesday night, following election results. "Democrats who lost today are the ones who came in in '08 on the coattails of this great leader who was swept into office, and now on their own, without the coattails – in fact, the coattails have become toxic – a lot of them are gone."

Democratic incumbents and newcomers in contests across the country lost in almost every key race, and Republicans regained control of the US Senate, decisively. As the Monitor's Linda Feldmann explained in "Midterm elections results: Why Republicans crushed Democrats," "The next Congress will have its largest GOP majority in the lower chamber since the 1940s."

One reason for Democrats' heavy losses: failure to turn out key demographic groups.

On Fox, Krauthammer argued that Democrats' favorable demographics, among minorities, women, and young people for instance, have shrunk, refuting claims that the Democratic party is the party of the future. "I think this is the end of an era for Democrats."

Time magazine reinforced that message with an eerily familiar new cover that passes the mantle of "change" to new Senate Majority leader, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who easily won against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Remember that iconic blue-and-red stylized portrait Time commissioned artist Shepard Fairey to create for its cover in 2008, when the nation was overcome with the hope and change Obama's historical election represented?

It's McConnell on the Time cover, now.

In the cover portrait, he appears to be staring into the future – presumably a Republican-led one topped with fluffy firearm-shaped clouds – with the word "CHANGE" printed below in bright red block letters. That is, of course, the "change" that once belonged to Obama. If that doesn't represent a sea change, however symbolic, we're not sure what does.

With its new cover, "Time magazine passed the aesthetic, if not the mandate, of change to new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell," Mediaite proclaimed

Which raises an important question: Do the GOP's election victories add up to a mandate – an endorsement of conservative policies?

It depends which side of the aisle you're on.

"The Republican Party's going to have one of the most important, biggest mandates I can recall a party ever having," radio host Rush Limbaugh forecast Monday. "It is going to have won for one reason: to stop Obama. That is their mandate."

To be sure, if there was one message voters sent Tuesday, it was that they were unhappy with Obama.

Obama and the Democratic Party suffered abysmal approval ratings in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, with some 40 percent of Americans approving of Obama’s job performance, and 51 percent viewing the Democratic Party unfavorably, its weakest number in three decades of polling.

The only catch? In the poll, Republican Party approval ratings were even lower than their Democratic counterparts – just 33 percent.

"Some endorsement," the LA Times columnist Doyle McManus quipped.

"As for a mandate, there was little evidence that voters were backing a specific conservative agenda," McManus wrote. "How could they? The GOP never really offered one...Instead, most Republican candidates just emphasized their opposition to Obama..."

So do the midterms represent "the end of an era for Democrats," and a mandate for Republicans?

In the end, probably not.

Obama and the Democrats interpreted his historic election as a mandate for change in 2008, just as Tea Party conservatives saw their triumph in the 2010 midterms as a mandate for conservative governance. Exaggerating victories is simply part of partisan politics, a sort of political peacock puffing performance.

And some conservatives recognize that. The road ahead, they suggest, is one of negotiation and of proving themselves.

"Just because we have a two-party system doesn't mean we have to be in perpetual conflict," Mitch McConnell said in a conciliatory victory speech that never mentioned the word "mandate."

And though Krauthhamer called it "the end of an era for Democrats," he also indicated the work that lies ahead for the GOP. "The playing field is now level and the parties are going to have to work out who is the better party between now and 2016."

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