Republicans are basking in the glow of a coming Senate majority and electoral gains across the board, but the public’s rejection of President Obama is a leading factor that gives the GOP a chance to prove it can lead over the next two years.
Frank Donatelli was political director in the Reagan White House. He is now chairman of GOPAC, a Republican organization designed to train and elect Republicans at the state and local levels.
Republicans picked up at least seven Senate seats to claim the majority in the coming Congress. They may have nine new seats by the time the new Senate convenes in January. Even more surprising than the gains were the margins of victory in states that were considered too close to call. The GOP’s Tom Cotton defeated incumbent Republican Mark Pryor by 16 points in Arkansas, Republican leader Mitch McConnell cruised to a double-digit win over Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, Cory Gardner enjoyed a comfortable win over incumbent Mark Udall in Colorado and Joni Ernst won by eight points in Iowa.
Republicans dodged a runoff in Georgia with a convincing victory by David Perdue. The lone endangered Republican, Pat Roberts of Kansas, ended up winning re-election by 10 points.
Donatelli said there’s only one way to describe the results.
“It clearly was a wave because the Republicans did better in virtually every targeted race than the polls said they would do. What that shows is that, in the end, undecided voters broke for Republicans. That’s the classic definition of a wave,” he said, noting many factors were at play but one dwarfed the rest.
“Republicans had very good candidates, but the theme of this election at the federal level was clearly that the country was not satisfied with the progress of the current administration or that the current administration is making on solving the country’s problems, and so they tried something else,” Donatelli said. “Something else was the Republicans. I mean it’s pretty simple in that regard.”
The huge gains were not limited to the Senate campaigns. House Republicans are adding at least 14 more members to their majority with several races considered too close to call. The GOP also dominated the governor races. Democrats worked feverishly but failed to oust Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida or Rick Snyder in Michigan. Greg Abbott dominated the Texas governor race over Wendy Davis, and the party even scored convincing wins in the deeply Democrat states of Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts.
Donatelli said the frustration with the Obama administration even translated to the state races.
“To defend in purple states or swing states or, even in some cases, blue states, Republican governors and Republican state legislatures is very impressive,” he said. “I think it does speak to the scope and breadth of the Republican win last night.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Frank Donatelli:
The GOP clearly achieved its congressional goals Tuesday night, but Donatelli said that’s just the first step.
“It’s an opportunity for Republicans at the federal level,” he said. “They now have a majority in both houses, and it’ll be up to them to perform for the next two years and convince the voters that Republicans have better solutions to the country’s problems.”
As McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner navigate the new waters, they face the challenge of satisfying the base of the party who showed up in huge numbers on Tuesday and appealing to middle-of-the-road voters who are needed for a national victory in 2016.
“It’s a balance,” Donatelli said. “Political parties are coalitions of people with hopefully like-minded interests but have differences and certainly have difference in tactics as to how they want to proceed. A lot of this is herding cats. You’ve got to listen to everyone, hear their concerns and put majorities together.”
Donatelli believes the balance will be successfully struck as a result of experienced leadership in both the House and Senate.
“Republicans are lucky to have Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, two experienced legislators, and coalition builders leading those chambers,” he said. “We’re very, very fortunate to have those individuals.”
As for the likely GOP agenda, Donatelli said Republican leaders need to decide what they can get done and what they can’t over the next two years.
“I know that Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner are very anxious to see what issues they can find common ground on and then try to move them through the legislature. I think a major change of direction is going to have to take a new president and a new election in 2016,” he said, but he urged Republicans to be aggressive in pursuing what does have a shot at becoming law.
“There’s certainly no reason why we need to waste these next two years,” Donatelli said. “There is a possibility to find common ground and move forward incrementally to show the public that the federal government can still work.”
Donatelli expects a GOP-controlled Congress to pursue free trade deals, tax reform, an energy package including authorization of the Keystone XL Pipeline, retirement security and at least partial repeal of Obamacare on aspects such as the medical device tax and the employer mandate.
“There are a lot of things out there that I see you could possibly put Democratic support together with the Republican majority to see if we can get workable solutions,” he said.