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Republicans are back on top in the House, gained considerable clout in the Senate and picked up at least 10 gubernatorial seats. Many of last night’s winners said voters are sending them to Washington to cut the deficit, rollback tax increases and reduce government regulations, and concerns about the economy seemed to have been the driving issue in many races. Tea party favorites picked up wins in Kentucky, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Political analysts weigh in on last night’s results, key races that are still undecided, and what the election results may mean for President Obama.
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
- John Dickerson chief political correspondent for Slate.com and CBS political analyst and contributor. Author of "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."
- Kate Zernike national correspondent, The New York Times.
- Andrew Kohut director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Republicans will once again control the House. And they've made strong gains in the Senate. Republican winners spoke of reining in government spending, repealing healthcare legislation and cutting taxes. Joining me to talk about the challenges ahead for the new and old leaders of a divided Congress and for President Obama, Ron Elving, Washington editor for NPR, John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for Slate.com and a political analyst for CBS News, Andrew Kohut, he's director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and from a studio at NPR in New York, Kate Zernike. She's national correspondent for The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMI look forward to hearing your questions, your thoughts about the election. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Ron Elving, I'm going to start with you. As many have predicted, voters across the country sent a rather blunt message yesterday. How would you characterize it?
MR. RON ELVINGDiane, I would say that a different electorate, in many respects, quite different demographically from the electorate that we saw in 2008, turned out and rendered a verdict that was deliberately opposed to and something of a rebuke to the verdict rendered by a different electorate in 2008. These were voters who were older. In 2008, 16 percent of the vote was cast by people over 65. In this particular election yesterday, it looks more like a quarter of the vote was cast by people in that age group.
MR. RON ELVINGAnd the people under 30, who actually outvoted people over 65 just a little tiny bit in 2008 -- very unusual circumstance -- kind of disappeared in this election yesterday. They dropped way down from 18 percent to around 9 or 10 percent of the total electorate. So in other words, their participation was cut in half. So partly perforce, you saw the impact of the vote of people over 65 greatly amplified. It was also a somewhat wider or more Anglo electorate than we had seen in 2008 and a little bit more male.
MR. RON ELVINGAll of those factors -- anyone who follows American politics could predict for you -- would result in a sizable shift. Now, it appears that the overall Republican vote was up something like 6.5 percentage points, which is a substantial shift in our politics, because we are basically a 50-50 country. Even in the 2008 election, it was 53-to-46 in the presidential election. That counts as a pretty good size margin in our presidential elections. We're used to being pretty close to 50-50 in recent history.
MR. RON ELVINGSo when you make a move of 6.5 points and you change the demographic in the way that we saw in this particular election, you would automatically -- if you distribute that vote efficiently at all -- and as it turns out the Republicans had it very efficiently distributed -- you're going to produce a huge shift in seats, of the kind we saw in 2006, the kind we saw in 1994, the kind we saw in 1980, the kind we saw in 1974.
REHMJohn Dickerson, how big a wave was it?
MR. JOHN DICKERSONIt was big. There are a couple of different ways we were looking at it going into the race. There were those 48 McCain districts, places where Democrats were in the House. But districts in which John McCain had won in the presidential race, we figured those would be the first likely to go. Well, many of those went, but then you saw Democratic districts where Republicans made inroads into Democratic districts. Then you saw old bulls or long-serving Democratic members, John Spratt in South Carolina, going -- Rick Boucher in Virginia ran unopposed the last time, got something like, I think, 94 percent of the vote, gone.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONCongressman Kanjorski also, I think, 14 terms -- anyway some large number of terms, gone. So this was deep. And, now, the number is approaching 60, which gives us that sense. That was at the upper range, and it felt a little silly at the end there because the range kind of kept creeping.
DICKERSONYou could get people, you know, close to Election Day who would say, you know, well, it will get to 70. But, you know, 60 is still -- was at the high end of the range of the predictions.
REHMKate Zernike, talk about the races with candidates who had strong Tea Party support. What's your analysis there?
MS. KATE ZERNIKEYou know, actually, in -- I think everyone is looking at the Senate in terms of the Tea Party in saying, correctly, that the Tea Party actually cost the Republicans as much as it helped them in the Senate. But on the House side, it was really striking. A couple of weeks ago, the Times, we looked at every race in the country to identify where there were Tea Party candidates. And we found 129 candidates in races overall. We expected that about 35 of those were in competitive districts. Well, it turns out that 40 actually won, which is really striking. And the other striking thing to me just -- is how the voters were sympathizing with the Tea Party at the polls. Four in 10 voters said that they supported the Tea Party movement.
REHMSo what does that say about Sarah Palin's influence?
ZERNIKEWell, it's interesting because Sarah Palin's endorsements and Tea Party candidates don't always meet. Sarah Palin has endorsed people -- has endorsed candidates -- or did endorse candidates that the Tea Party did not back. Tea Party supporters don't necessarily -- don't like to think of themselves as falling in line behind Sarah Palin as much as she has kind of claimed the mantel of being the Tea Party leader. Her candidates did not do -- I mean, some of them obviously -- Nikki Haley, who won the governor race in South Carolina -- did well. But again, Sarah Palin backed Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, who lost badly, and that was a huge devastating loss for the Republicans. They'd expected to take that seat easily.
REHMAnd, Andy Kohut, people said the economy was the number one issue. Did they not?
MR. ANDREW KOHUTAbsolutely, 83 percent said they were -- 87 percent said they were worried about the economy. Fully 41 percent said that their family was worse off than two years ago. And the economy set the stage for this Republican victory. And there's one point I want to make about your opening statement. Yeah, there was a blunt message but a complex message at the same time. And let me illustrate. The Republican wave was clear. First of all, they won a big margin among independents -- 56-to-39.
MR. ANDREW KOHUTThere were almost what, the Democrat -- the margin the Democrats carried four years ago. And in every demographic group, virtually, there was more Republican support than four years ago. Men, women, older people, whites, conservatives, white Protestants, white Catholics, even among white people who are -- even among people who are not religious, there was more Republican voting. It's a wave election. But what makes it complicated? This Republican Party that won a smashing victory was regarded unfavorably by a majority of the voters who cast ballots yesterday.
MR. ANDREW KOHUTFifty-three percent said they had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party, the very same percentage that said they had an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party. So what -- how do Republicans interpret what happened yesterday? Clearly, there was a lot of opposition to the status quo. There was anti-incumbent sentiment. But there's no clear sense that this was an endorsement of the Republican Party as much as a rejection of the status quo and, to a fair degree, a rejection of Barack Obama.
REHMAnd what about Harry Reid, John Dickerson?
DICKERSONWell, Harry Reid -- Lazarus come back from the dead. He survived Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate, and he now has a Senate with a much smaller majority. And -- but it was the big -- it was a surprise and one of the tiny slivers of good news -- if you can call it good news when you lose six seats in the Senate for Democrats. Joe Manchin, an early piece of good news in the night, the governor of West Virginia who won in that race. Of course, Joe Manchin won by running away from the president. So -- now, Barbara Boxer won by running towards him, but California is a very different place than West Virginia. And it gives us some sense of the -- and Joe Manchin, of course, won in part by saying that he wasn't sure he would support Barack Obama's re-election. And I believe he also said he wouldn't necessarily vote for Harry Reid. Now, that was the kind of thing you say in an election. We'll see how things change once it comes to Washington.
KOHUTIt has to be an incredible irony that a figure who, I think, as much as anyone would symbolize what people didn't like about the last two years, that is to say the leader of the Senate, which is where the healthcare bill became so unpopular, not that it wasn't going to be controversial, but what was clearly unpopular was the process by which it got passed in the Senate. And that's when people started talking about having to cram down their vote down their throat. And that was when people started characterizing the bill rather than the issue of healthcare and health insurance and all the rest of it.
KOHUTAnd that process was managed by Harry Reid. Now, not to blame the man for everything that went wrong in the Senate. He had an awfully tough hand to play. But he was made the symbol of that throughout this campaign, and there have been many things that he did and said that made him the target of all of this anti-Democratic and anti-Obama.
REHMIt is a slim margin of victory for Harry Reid.
KOHUTI think at this point any margin of victory for Harry Reid was a species of a miracle, but he was a slight tinge over 50 percent. And Sharron Angle got about 45 in Nevada. There are several other alternatives to voting for the actual candidates who can vote for none of the above -- none of the candidates named. You can also vote for some small party candidates, and it appeared about 5 percent of the Nevadans did that.
DICKERSONI think it might have been about 40,000 votes for Harry Reid, which by Harry Reid's standard is a whopping victory, because in his past he won one of his races just by a couple hundred votes. And by the standard of what he was...
ZERNIKEAnd by 30 percent.
DICKERSONBy the standard of what was supposed to happen to him, of course, it was a -- quite a huge victory.
REHMKate, go ahead.
ZERNIKENo. I was just saying Harry Reid has won -- I mean in the past, Harry -- and everyone thought this might be what saved him this year. He won by something like 39 percent. I mean, he won because Nevada had so many candidates, and they split the votes so badly. I think is actually a miracle that he got over 50 percent. No one expected that.
REHMKate Zernike, she is correspondent for The New York Times. John Dickerson of Slate.com, Ron Elving of NPR and Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center. Small break here, and when we come back, we'll talk about some of the other close and not-so-close elections.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're, of course, talking about yesterday's elections, the mixed messages. Andy Kohut, you said that 53 percent went into that election, saying they disagreed with Republicans. They voted for them anyhow.
KOHUTThat's right because the Republicans were not in power. And for the third consecutive election, we've had the independents casting large votes against the party in power. And that is a central element in what we saw in this election. And there's a lot of very unexpected, to me, findings from the exit poll. Now, we have, as Ron was pointing out, a clearly more conservative electorate than we had four years ago by a fair amount in higher turnout among all of the conservative categories.
KOHUTYet the opinions about healthcare reform from this very conservative slice of the public -- 41, 40 percent, however many people voted -- were pretty mixed. Forty-eight percent said repeal it. Forty-seven percent said either expand it or leave it as it is. Thirty-one percent said expand it. Seventy -- 16 percent said leave it alone. So that's clearly not some tremendous...
ELVINGWhat's a policymaker to do?
KOHUTI mean, the Republicans and the Democrats and the president -- we'll hear what he has to say a little bit later -- have got their hands full with an electorate that really was only focused on one thing. They didn't like what they saw in Washington.
DICKERSONIt gets even more weird. If you -- when you asked people, what are -- is your number one priority? The majority was, I believe, spend money on creating jobs -- 36 or something percent. Then just below that by, I think, a percentage point was reduce the deficit. So you have conflicting views on the two priorities. Then if you look at tax cuts -- this is the other number one priority of the Republicans -- okay, this electorate, this more conservative electorate, only 39 percent held the Republican position, which is to say extend them for everyone. The rest of the voters either want the Obama position, which is extend them just for people making less than $250,000, or don't extend them at all. And so John Boehner comes in with no kind of actual policy mandate on these three things -- on tax cuts, healthcare and spending reductions.
REHMI want to get Kate in on that. What about those mixed messages, Kate?
ZERNIKEWell, I think this is going to make it very hard going forward. And remember also that you're going to have these Tea Party candidates coming in, such as Ron Paul from the -- I'm sorry, Rand Paul...
ZERNIKE...the new senator from Kentucky, and he's going to be saying, you know, we need to balance the budget within a year. And they really are not -- you know, they say, we're willing to compromise. We're willing to work with the Democrats. But when you ask them how they'd compromise, would you be wiling to balance the budget over five years? They'd say, no, that's too long. And we've seen lawmakers go back on their promises. It has to be within a year. We have to have a balanced budget amendment. And so, I think, there's going to be some pressure on the Republicans that they may not be very happy with because the Tea Party has helped them, but it's also saddled them with a lot.
REHMKate, let me turn this a little bit and ask you about the governor's race in New York.
ZERNIKEYes. What we -- Carl Paladino won. Actually, there is -- the precursor for this was the special election in New York last year in New York's 23rd district -- it's a House district -- where the Tea Party had sort of its first electoral challenge. And many of the same people who backed the conservative, who came very close to winning but did not win in that race, got behind Carl Paladino, who, in the primary, beat Rick Lazio, who -- people may remember -- is the one who -- the candidate who ran against Hilary Clinton in the Senate -- in her first Senate race.
ZERNIKECarl Paladino -- sorry -- beat Rick Lazio by a pretty sizable margin in the primary but then was revealed to sort of be, you know, again, in many ways, the quintessential Tea Party candidate, because he had -- there were some racist, really offensive sexist e-mails that he had sent. He sort of melted down all over. And so Andrew Cuomo, who looks -- when Paladino first won, people thought, oh, maybe he could -- when he won the primary, maybe he could win the general election. Cuomo won by a sizable -- you know, a very safe margin.
REHMAnd California, we talked about California earlier. There is a race where you have Jerry Brown, who served as governor how many years ago, Ron?
ELVINGHe was elected governor there in 1974, 36 years ago.
REHMThirty-six years ago and now re-elected.
ELVINGYes. He was the youngest governor at the time, and he was seen mostly as junior. He was the son of Edmund G. Brown Jr., and he was Jerry. He was a kid. He actually flecked his sideburns with a little bit of instant maturity there -- as I recall in that campaign -- to look a little bit more mature. I mean, he was a guy who is obviously very bright, gone to school and had a lot of Jesuit training before he decided to take a secular path.
ELVINGAnd he was sort of a whiz kid, and he drove around in a beat-up, old car. And he wouldn't live in the governor's mansion, and he was quite a character. And he became Governor Moonbeam and all the rest of that, and he ran for president two or three times. And we all -- anyone who has covered politics over the last generation in America has had many, many, many experiences with Jerry Brown.
ELVINGNow, we have a totally different guy. We have a guy who came back and served as mayor of Oakland, who served in the attorney general's office in California, kind of made his bones, came back up. This is like -- I mean, I don't even know what to compare it to. It's like a guy who used to run Goldman Sachs is coming back and selling apples on the street. And, you know, now, he's back up at the top. And, now, he's going to be governor again. It's really an extraordinary story.
DICKERSONWell, I was just going to say on the governor's front, that was one piece of good news for Democrats, Democratic governor in following -- it's a pick-up. It was a Republican governor in California. But otherwise it was a grim night for Democrats on the Republican -- on the governor front. Republican governors now in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Nevada -- all of those you might notice are presidential swing states. There is a theory that if a presidential candidate has a governor of their party in a state, it gives them a leg up with organization.
DICKERSONBarack Obama won all of those states. He also won some states -- Florida and Nevada -- that didn't have Republican -- that didn't have Democratic governors. But that's a problem. But the other big story is that 19 state legislatures flipped from Democrat to Republican. In a lot of these states that are going to be -- that are going to deal with redistricting -- which, just quickly, is the reformation of congressional districts, happens every 10 years after the census -- the party in control can shape the districts in such a way that their members get elected.
REHMHow does that happen? Explain.
DICKERSONWell, it depends on the different states, but essentially, usually, you have -- the legislature works out a plan. And if you control the legislature, you work it out to your advantage. And then it goes -- and then the governor can veto it. But, of course, if the governor is of the party in the legislature, the governor then approves of it. Now, in some states, if the governor vetoes it, then it can be overridden with a two-third vote. There are other states that have boards that do this, but the majority of the way is that you have a legislature who draws a map. And then the governor supports it or doesn't support it.
REHMSo how does that affect 2012?
DICKERSONWell, it affects 2012 and going forward...
REHMAnd going forward.
DICKERSON...which is that in some of these states where you have -- Ohio may lose one or two seats. Texas may get four. So they redraw the maps, and if you're redrawing the map so that it -- a lot of -- well, I'll give you an example. The last time this happened in Texas, Republicans were running the show. They created a situation in which they took six seats away from the Democrats, six congressional seats. And once you take -- once you redo the drawing, it sticks for 10 years until the next census.
ELVINGAlthough sometimes the changes of party representation in those districts do not stick for the full decade, and this can be botched. And it has been botched oftentimes and usually botched by people who are feeling very full of themselves because of their electoral success and think they can push out the frontiers and say, let's just make the whole state, except for maybe one or two little districts, ours. When they try to do that, they start to discover that the people in those districts they thought could be predicted, vote ways they weren't supposed to vote.
KOHUTI have nothing to add to that neat particular point. But I think we should talk about President Obama and what this electorate said about him last night. By a margin of 38-to-24 people said they were voting against him, not for him, when they cast the ballot. And almost every measure, we see a negative reading on Obama, a majority saying they disapprove of his performance. And the thing that really struck me, that speaks to his future, was that unless the public saw his policies as helping, they voted heavily Republican.
KOHUTThat includes the people who said that his policies are hurting, but it also includes the percentage of people who said they haven't made any difference. If you think that Obama's policies haven't made any difference, which a third of the public -- of the voters believed, they voted Republican, 58-to-39. Barack Obama has to demonstrate that he's had -- is having a positive impact on this economy, and there's no sense of that in this, you know, among -- from this electorate.
DICKERSONI would add, we saw -- what we saw in these results -- and I'd hoped we banish this phrase once we actually had the election, but let's do it one more time -- the enthusiasm gap. You see why, at the end of the election, the Democrats were working so hard to try and turn out their bases. We talked about it earlier. The younger voters turned out, not only less than in 2008, but fewer of them turned out than in 2006. Let's look at Ohio where the president has been 12 times since he was elected. His job in this election was to look -- to go after those younger voters and first-time Obama voters, remind them why they loved him so much and get them to the polls again. He went to Ohio, and the youth vote in Ohio -- the under 30 vote in Ohio -- was smaller this time around than in 2006.
ELVINGThat's because of the war.
ZERNIKE2006 or 2008?
DICKERSONYeah, I know. In 2008 -- both.
DICKERSONBut in 2006, there was the war, and they were lining up in every college town in Ohio to vote in 2006 -- and even in 2004 because of the war in Iraq.
KOHUTBut don't underestimate the impact of the economy on this phlegmatic youth vote. We have the highest percentage of young people out of the employment market in many decades, and a lot -- they had a lot of hope invested in Barack Obama.
REHMAll right. And we have a high school senior waiting on the line. Thomas, in Tulsa, Okla., you're on the air.
THOMASThis is Thomas.
REHMSure. Go ahead.
THOMASI was wondering how the Republican shift in this election is going to affect healthcare.
REHMThat's a fine question. Ron Elving.
ELVINGWell, if you listen to the people who were running for office and getting these votes and being elected to these seats, they're saying that they are either going to repeal it or they're going to defund it, which is -- I suppose it's supposed to sound like defang it, in some sense.
REHMBut how likely is that?
ELVINGWell, I think repeal would be a gesture because, obviously, the president wouldn't sign it. And with the Senate appearing to remain in Democratic hands -- it appears that it has -- then that's just not going to fly. It's not going to get anywhere except out of the House, but it may get out of the House just as a sort of a gesture. Now, defunding is a complicated matter. And the person that I would trust most in the universe to discuss this is Julie Rovner, a reporter for NPR who's been covering healthcare for a couple of decades. And she thinks that it's going to be much more complicated than it sounds...
ELVING...to pull the plug...
ELVING...on healthcare going forward, especially because there are some functions of the government with respect to healthcare. People don't want it to have defunded. I mean, approximately half -- a little more than half of the whole healthcare industry sector of the economy is already government money. So you have to be careful where you pull it out.
REHMAll right. Another question on healthcare from Bob in Naples, Fla. You're on the air.
BOBYes. I don't really have a question on healthcare. I just have a comment that the people's support for the Tea Party, their alleged support for the Tea Party, is similar to their opposition to the healthcare program. Most of them don't know what the Tea Party stands for, other than mother and apple pie. And most of them don't know what their healthcare program is, other than that they think it's a government takeover of the healthcare system. So that they have this basic opposition, which they have everything in government now, because the economy stinks, and people are nervous.
REHMAndy Kohut, do we know clearly what the Tea Party stands for?
KOHUTWell, you know, understanding how much the public knows is less important than the perceptions -- the overall perception that they had of the Tea Party. And 41 percent of these people that we interviewed over the exit polls, through exit interview, said they support the Tea Party. And 31 percent said they oppose it, and that margin made a significant difference in the House races, I think, across the board.
ZERNIKEI think one thing to -- sorry. Once...
REHMAndy Kohut of the Pew Research Center. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Go ahead, Kate.
ZERNIKEI was just going to say I think that the number to look at is obviously -- I mean, I think the 40 percent is very important. Forty percent of voters said that they supported the Tea Party movement. But people tend to mistake that with maybe Tea Party members or people who go to Tea Party rallies or Tea Party meetings. That number is much, much smaller. That's about 4 percent of Americans. The Tea Party is -- you know, it's not a party. There's no headquarters in Washington, and it is a movement. But I think by the time Election Day had rolled around, it had really become a state of mind for people who -- yes, we're casting a protest vote against the president and largely against healthcare, but against the process of healthcare and the process by which it came about, which they saw as borderline corrupt.
REHMAll right. To Indianapolis. Greg, you're on the air.
GREGYes. I was shocked earlier when your female guest, Diane, said that the quintessential Tea Partier is racist and sexist. First of all, I was shocked that you, Diane, didn't call her on that.
REHMI don't think she said that, frankly. She was talking about the candidate for governor in New York. She wasn't talking about Tea Party candidates.
GREGShe said the -- a typical -- the quintessential Tea Partier was racist and sexist. And that, I think, just shows a lot of people are surprised that this is such a widespread movement. They just want to live on caricatures and not see that there are a lot of people who identify with the fundamental values, not racism and sexism, but limited government and stopping spending.
REHMKate, what did you say?
ZERNIKEI think you're right. Look, I think -- what I said was that Carl Paladino was, in many ways, the quintessential Tea Party candidate, not because he forwarded these racist or sexist e-mails, but because the Tea Party chose a lot of candidates in the primary who then -- as I said about Carl Paladino -- melted down a little bit in the general election or not as popular -- who did not have the same success as they had had in the primaries. So I think that was the problem for the Republicans, vis-à-vis the Tea Party, is that in the primaries, the Tea Party voters pushed candidates who were too conservative for their states or their districts.
ZERNIKESo we saw losses like Sharron Angle in Nevada or Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, but I absolutely agree with the caller. I mean, I think, once again, four in 10 voters said they supported the Tea Party movement. I think that is a -- that's a resounding vote of support. And I don't think that's because 40 percent of Americans are racist or sexist.
REHMThanks for calling, Greg. Here is an e-mail from Nancy in Cincinnati. "How much did the unrestrained election spending permitted in this election by the Supreme Court lead to results?" Ron Elving, can we say?
ELVINGI don't think we can say it with any precision. It's a very difficult thing to calibrate. We do know this -- an enormous amount of money was dumped into this election late in the process by a number of organizations that don't fit into the usual political organization structure.
ELVINGWell, I mean, talking about groups like American GPS and talking about groups like American Crossroads, which are sort of a double-breasting of the same organization. One fits under one part of the tax code. One fits under another part of the tax code. One has to reveal who its donors are at some point or another. The other does not. Some of these organizations were essentially invented in the last several months. They have never had to make a filing with anybody. And I'm just guessing, but I'm just kind of suspicious some of them are going to evanesce, and we'll never hear from them again. And they'll never file with anybody, and we'll never really know where the money came from.
REHMRon Elving, he is Washington editor for NPR. We'll take a short break here. More of your calls, your e-mails, your messages when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAll right. We'll go right back to the phones to San Antonio, Texas. Mike, you're on the air.
MIKEHey, thanks, Diane. First off, I'm not one of these sky-is-falling Democrats. Looking back over the last two years, the Republicans have basically had a free pass, sitting in the shadows, taking potshots at Obama. And the press, frankly, has done a pretty poor job of making them spell out what their agenda would be now, you know, if they were in power. I don't think that can be the case any longer. And I think the public will find out that the change that they voted for in this election is not what the Republicans or Tea Party are going to offer. The question I have is, would it have been a worse scenario for Democrats to have won both houses of Congress again...
MIKE...and have the same situation going on for the next two years? Or could this possibly be the case of Republicans winning this battle but losing the war in 2012?
REHMWhat do you think, Ron?
ELVINGMy guess is that if Bill Clinton had not lost the House and the Senate in 1994, Bill Clinton would have been a one-term president. That the anger that was building up, that the tension that was building and so on would have been impossible for him to escape in 1996. But he was able to escape it because we had had two years of rather extraordinary history between him and Newt Gingrich and a lot of other things that happened. And a lot of that energy that worked for the Republicans in '94 turned negative and brackish on them in '95 and '96. There were other reasons, of course, as well, and one can never say for sure.
ELVINGBut if you apply that dynamic to the situation today, then I think the caller is on to something. Now, you never can perfectly reproduce the kinds of things that have happened in the past and say that's what's going to happen this time. I think in this instance it's going to be a lot more difficult for Barack Obama to triangulate the way that Bill Clinton did, which is to say, differentiate himself and hold himself at arms length from both parties. I think it's going to be hard for him to compromise the way Clinton did do with the Republicans.
ELVINGIn '96, you know, they passed the welfare overhaul of 1996 and a lot of other major legislation, including on healthcare reform that had to do with health insurance portability from one job to another -- significant stuff. And eventually, they balanced at the budget back there in the late '90s. They actually worked out a modus operandi, and they actually did cooperate and get some things done. I don't know that that's going to be possible in the political environment we're in right now.
REHMWhat do you think, Kate?
ZERNIKEWell, I think that's true. I mean, that -- look, I think, again, going back to Rand Paul, who I think -- again, another quintessential Tea Party candidate for this reason -- which is that he's saying, we need to cut spending now. We don't want to wait anymore. I mean, remember, two years ago we had this huge Democratic sweep. Now, we have a huge Republican sweep. People are very impatient. They are very eager for results now. They don't want to wait five years or 10 years to balance the budget.
ZERNIKEThey want to do it now, and it's very hard to do. I mean, even if you -- you know, you would have to cut severely in the Medicare and Social Security and military spending, all three of those things, to balance the budget and to cut into the debt, which are Tea Partier's two big goals. And that's incredibly hard to do in a year, much less five years.
KOHUTThis conservative public that voted clearly wants smaller government. But the issue, I think, going forward is whether the American public will accept the kinds of changes that are required to make -- to have a smaller government. And we go back to 1995 when Newt Gingrich saw his agenda as smaller government and this -- and proposed getting rid of the Department of Education, doing away with the school lunch program. And the American publican went into revolt. I mean, the Republicans really have to worry about a lack of clarity on the agenda going forward and the risks associated with getting carried away with -- which is -- with what is a very mixed message.
DICKERSONWell, and that's exactly right. And also, it's very tricky as a Republican leader. The White House had a lot of messaging problems as they tried to wrestle with specifics. And that was just one fellow, the president. As a Republican leader controlling -- you know, when Newt Gingrich won in 1994, a lot of those new members owed their time in Washington to Gingrich's careful cultivation of the lanes that allowed them to get to Washington, had a lot -- and he had power of a different sort that -- than Boehner has. And those freshmen didn't have the same kind of we're-not-going-to-go-along kind of freelancing that may be at stake here. But that's a management problem from Boehner. As a message management problem, you just got all these voices out there who any day can steal the message from what the Republicans hope is a single unified message.
REHMHere's an interesting e-mail from Loraine. She says, "Thank goodness at least one of your panel understands we independents do not like either party. But when we vote, we do not have much of a choice besides Democrats or Republicans, so this is not a mandate. It's a frustration." Good way to put it. Let's got to Miami, Fla. Good morning, Karen.
KARENGood morning, Diane. How are you today?
REHMI'm fine, thanks. Go right ahead.
KARENI just wanted to make a comment about the future of the Hispanic vote here in Florida.
KARENNow, Marco Rubio won the election because of the older Cuban exiled vote. But this electorate is not the future. The electorate that is of the future here of Florida is the young Hispanic Americans. And not to be a cynic, but the Cuban exile vote will be -- only has a few elections within them. So I think they've -- that right now, Florida politics has been spearheaded by this electorate, but it's not the future. Also -- one comment in regards to the Democratic Party here -- I feel that they waited way too long to push and get out the vote for the young Hispanic Americans.
KARENYou know, we -- even last week, we were still debating on who to vote for, Meek or Crist. You know, I know some of my friends voted for Crist because we didn't that Meek had a chance. So again, the Democratic Party should not see this as a failure but should see this as a wake up. Get out the vote and realize that just because this election went to Republicans, it's not the future at all.
DICKERSONWell, and Florida had that special weird ending where Bill Clinton was involved in trying to get Meek out of the race. And Meek was going to do it, and then he said he wasn't going to do it. And it was -- it sent a million different messages to everybody at this crucial moment where they're trying to send the opposite message to that core Democratic base. I would -- one thing I'm interested in and don't know enough about right now -- but what happened with the Hispanic vote in Nevada for Harry Reid and whether there was real turnout there that they were able to -- I mean, clearly, Reid had a good turnout operation. And was he able to do something there with that part of the vote that either can be replicated or that is just a single fact of Nevada life or what the answer is?
ZERNIKEBut I also think -- I'm sorry.
REHMGo ahead, Kate.
ZERNIKEI was going to say, I also think that this race is a question about 2012 and the difference in the electorate. And Andy might be able -- would probably be able to speak to this better, but I think the electorate is going to be less white. In the presidential election is -- we are going to see more young voters in the presidential election. So, I mean, that seems to me, it would -- it offers the president some hope or offers Democrats some hope.
KOHUTYeah, that hope is there if Barack Obama or some other Democrat can inspire higher levels of participation from groups, such as young people and minorities, that generally don't vote at the rates that the majority population does. And that's what happened in'08.
REHMBut here's an interesting message from Paul who says, "This morning I've noticed immediate repositioning by Republicans repeating 'the president still sets the agenda' is the new 2012 talking point. Any progress, you credit the new House majority, but for continued stagnation, you blame the president's agenda."
ELVINGI was struck by exactly the same thing, that all of a sudden you heard several Republican speakers -- led by John Boehner, who is now, obviously, the leader of the Republican Party in Washington -- we'll see who emerges from Iowa and New Hampshire, but he is the leader here in Washington -- really with emphasis on the phrase that the president sets the agenda. In other words, if you're unhappy six months from now, nine months from now, 12 months from now...
ELVING...you'll know who to be angry at. And, you know, in some respects, that's really just an acknowledgment of the political reality. People look to who the president is. Even after the Democrats took over control of the House and Senate in 2006, George W. Bush was the president, and the anger of the country at Washington in 2008 was still directed largely at the Republicans.
REHMLet's talk about Alaska and what's happening there, John Dickerson.
DICKERSONWell, we're not quite sure what's happening there, which is to say we're all waiting for the write-in votes to be counted, and that process will take a while. I'm not sure what the estimate is on how long it will take, but it will take some time as it will in Washington State, where you could vote by mail all the way up until yesterday -- there's a 10-day window -- and a quarter of the vote comes in after Election Day. So those will be hanging out there.
REHMBut, now, explain what happens -- she came in as a write-in candidate.
DICKERSONLisa Murkowski, the Republican, was beaten by Joe Miller, was backed by Sarah Palin, a big, huge story during the primaries, a part of the Palin wave there, really, that -- and went on to help Christine O'Donnell. Miller was a big deal, then he had some difficulties. And Murkowski didn't go quietly into the night and put together a pretty smart, savvy, fast-on-her-feet campaign to get everybody. They wore bracelets. They learned how to spell her name. She got a good ruling from the secretary of state in terms of the sort of liberal interpretation of spelling of her name.
DICKERSONAnd it looks like she's ahead. And she gave a speech last night in which she basically sounded like she'd won, which is, well, I guess, the kind of thing you do when you want everybody to assume you've won. And, you know, McAdams, the Democrat, is in third, so I think there were some talk, maybe fevered last-minute talk, among Democrats that he might have a chance because Miller and Murkowski would split the vote. But I think that's not going to happen.
REHMAnd one incumbent who did lose, Russ Feingold. Ron.
ELVINGRuss Feingold emerged in 1992 as a long-shot candidate. There were two guys ahead of him in line for the Democratic nomination against a wounded Bob Kasten, who was the Republican incumbent. And he was -- you know, Russ Feingold had no money, and all he had was a clever ad maker. And so he made some great ads that were all about how he was trying to run, run, run real quick, and they were black and white and -- oh, they were brilliant. And he won the primary, to everyone's surprise -- everyone's surprise. And then he beat Bob Kasten in a year when Wisconsin was going with Bill Clinton and was going to the blue. He's had pretty good luck since then.
ELVINGIn '98, he had a close race, but, you know, it was okay for him. He squeaked through that, particularly when he had -- was lucky with his Republican opponent. Then in 2004, he did real well. He's looked like he had the formula, the Bill Proxmire Wisconsin formula, that you can be quirky and defy party, that you -- you know, you cast a vote for John Ashcroft to be attorney general, but then you're the only vote against the Patriot Act. That was Russ Feingold. That was exactly the kind of profile he pursued, and it worked great until it stopped. In the end, he could not escape the identification with Barack Obama and his program and a strong Republican candidate with absolutely unlimited financing. And he finally got his head beaten by an enormous, enormous political campaign and advertising blitz.
REHMTo Gayle in Grand Rapids, Mich. You're on the air.
GAYLEGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
GAYLEI'm a Democrat. I haven't always been. But one thing that struck me from what your panel is saying -- what I've noticed, not just during this election -- excuse me -- but in previous elections -- is that the Republican Party, on a local and national basis, has such a strong singular voice. But the Democratic Party doesn't seem to be able to cohesively put out that same strong message. And it concerns me greatly going into 2012, what the Democrats are up against without a singular strong message to be portrayed. Maybe it's something that is evasive. They can't put their finger on it. But it concerns me because I think a lot of this is where the electorate is looking at. They're answering these talking points. They're listening to that. And what does your panel have to say? Where should the Democratic Party go with this?
ZERNIKEWell, I think part of the problem is that the Democrats had a difficult message to sell. What the White House was trying to say particularly -- or on the economy was it could have been worse. That's not a very inspiring message. You know, they were arguing that without the stimulus -- which, you know, became sort of an albatross around Democrats' neck -- we would have lost even more jobs. Unemployment would have been higher. So, it could have been worse, is not -- is a difficult message to sell. I think you're right that they did not do a very good job of selling healthcare. Actually, Harry Reid was on television this morning making what I thought was a fairly compelling case for healthcare, outlining all the things that people do agree. And again, I think polls have shown this.
ZERNIKEPeople who don't like the idea of healthcare, they think, oh, government takeover. But then when you get down to the things in the actual bill, people do support them. But it's very hard to beat the messaging on the right, which has basically been, this is all socialism. It's very hard. There's no snappy turn that the Democrats can come back with.
REHMKate Zernike of The New York Times. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So how can Democrats come back from this with, as our caller said, discontinually divided message? So many different messages coming from Democrats, hard to define.
KOHUTWell, I think there's one lesson from history, and that is the Democrats are not likely to get their message together and their support back until we see a turn in this economy, just like in 1983 -- '82, '83, the Republicans and Ronald Reagan had a very difficult year. It was until 1984, when the economy began to show some signs of recovery, that Reagan looked like something like -- as a viable candidate for reelection. And I would bet that Obama's fortunes are largely linked to this movement or lack of movement in unemployment.
KOHUTFifty percent of American households have been affected by unemployment.
REHMBut the question becomes, really, how quickly people expect change to take place and how quickly in reality that change can take place. John.
DICKERSONThat's right. Now, so -- and it's hard to play through all the permutations. But if people have the same kind of change expectations over Republican takeover as they seem to have invested in this campaign -- in this recent election, we'll get to a period where perhaps the electorate will say, well, we -- you know, Obama couldn't do it, the Republicans do it -- couldn't do it. They'll be frustrated. But as -- what we had going into this election was Obama couldn't do it, maybe this other team can.
DICKERSONWell, now there will be a period if nothing gets done where they won't have another third option, unless there's a third party, where they can -- where voters can invest hopes slightly detached from the reality of actually having to create and produce legislation and also will have the fact that Republicans will be on the hook for some of these things. All of which gives the president an opportunity to make what he tried to do in the last -- this last election and failed to do, which is make it a choice between two sides as opposed to merely a referendum on his administration.
ELVINGThe economy must come back. That's the most important thing. The second most important thing is that the other side get a piece of the ball so that they can fumble a little bit. You know, I mean, it -- right now, the Democrats do all the fumbling because the Democrats have all of the footballs. Now, the Republicans are going to have some of the footballs, and we'll see how well they do with them. That has, historically, been the other way, that a party that is falling out of favor comes back into favor.
REHMLast word, Kate Zernike.
ZERNIKEWell, I think a lot of Democrats may be worrying, too, that the economy may start to recover. But what's going to happen is that the Republicans who won last night will actually get to enjoy the credit for it, which is, of course, not what the Democrats who voted for the stimulus had in mind when they took that difficult vote.
REHMKate Zernike of The New York Times, Ron Elving of NPR, John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS and Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, thank you, all. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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