(from the New York Times, Nov. 5, 2014)
Negativity Wins the Senate
By the Editorial Board, Nov. 5, 2014
Republicans would like the country to believe that they took control of the Senate on Tuesday by advocating a strong, appealing agenda of job creation, tax reform and spending cuts. But, in reality, they did nothing of the sort.
Even the voters who supported Republican candidates would have a hard time explaining what their choices are going to do. That’s because virtually every Republican candidate campaigned on only one thing: what they called the failure of President Obama. In speech after speech, ad after ad, they relentlessly linked their Democratic opponent to the president and vowed that they would put an end to everything they say the public hates about his administration. On Tuesday morning, the Republican National Committee released a series of get-out-the-vote images showing Mr. Obama and Democratic Senate candidates next to this message: “If you’re not a voter, you can’t stop Obama.”
The most important promises that winning Republicans made were negative in nature. They will repeal health care reform. They will roll back new regulations on banks and Wall Street. They will stop the Obama administration’s plans to curb coal emissions and reform immigration and invest in education.
Campaigning on pure negativity isn’t surprising for a party that has governed that way since Mr. Obama was first sworn in. By creating an environment where every initiative is opposed and nothing gets done, Republicans helped engineer the president’s image as weak and ineffectual. Mitch McConnell, who will be the Senate’s new majority leader, vowed in 2009 to create “an inventory of losses” to damage Mr. Obama for precisely the results achieved on Tuesday.
Mr. McConnell was assisted in this goal by the president’s own second-term stumbles — most notably the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act last year, an indecisive foreign policy, and revelations of domestic surveillance and improper veterans care. Republicans were also able to exploit nativist fears about immigrant children crossing at the southern border and some initial troubles in responding to the first domestic cases of Ebola.
In some races, missteps by the Democrats helped Republicans. In Iowa, Representative Bruce Braley may have cost himself the race by making a belittling comment about farmers. In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes didn’t establish a reputation for candor when she refused to discuss her previous votes for president.
Virtually all Democratic candidates distanced themselves from Mr. Obama and refused to make the case that there has been substantial progress on jobs and economic growth under this administration.
But Republicans also had little to say about reviving the economy, and their idea of creating jobs seems to be limited to building the Keystone XL oil pipeline, cutting taxes further and crying “repeal Obamacare” at every opportunity.
In theory, full control of Congress might give Republicans an incentive to reach compromise with Mr. Obama because they will need to show that they can govern rather than obstruct. They might, for example, be able to find agreement on a free-trade agreement with Pacific nations.
But their caucuses in the Senate and the House will be more conservative than before, and many winning candidates will feel obliged to live up to their promises of obstruction. Mr. McConnell has already committed himself to opposing a minimum-wage increase, fighting regulations on carbon emissions and repealing the health law.
“Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict,” Mr. McConnell said in his victory speech. As the new Senate leader, he must now prove those are not empty words.