Rose-Colored Glasses and the (Unintended) Consequences of Elections


The 2012 election presents us with a bit of a quandary. Conventional wisdom states that America is a center-right country and has been drifting further right since the Reagan years. In addition unemployment is high, the economy is struggling and the majority of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. 2012 should be a banner year for Republicans and a disaster for the incumbent Democratic president. And yet the polls show Obama beginning to widen his lead over Romney and the odds for Republicans capturing the Senate dwindling.

Republicans – and Democrats – are left wondering how such a thing is possible.

The answer may be the rose-red colored glasses through which the far right views the world.

Every setback is blamed on the liberal media, skewed polling or candidates that didn’t run as “true conservatives.” Every victory is a mandate for the far right’s agenda and a purging of moderate elements within the Republican Party. The latest example is the 2010-midterm elections. The far right’s mantra became, “elections have consequences.” Sometimes, as the Republicans are learning, those consequences are not what they intended.

House seats lost by president's party in first-term, midterm elections

Midterm Elections


As the chart above shows, in a non-rose-colored reality, the results of midterm elections during a president’s first term appear to have no value as a predictor of his likelihood of being reelected. Ignoring history, the far right claimed the 2010 elections as a great repudiation of Obama, the “Liberal Agenda” and even moderate Republicans.

The results are a paralyzed and unloved (10% approval rating) Congress and a string of extreme-right presidential candidates (Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich and Santorum) whose only distinction was their inability to win even within the Republican Party. What they did accomplish was to convince more electable candidates that 2012 wasn’t a good year to be remotely moderate within the Republican Party.

And so the Republicans are left with Mitt Romney whose efforts to find love among a base that refuses to embrace him has alienated many of the moderate voters he needs to be elected. It’s not too late for him “go rogue” and to turn things around but, in the Republican Party of 2012, truly going rogue would mean a sharp turn towards the center and I don’t see that happening.


  1. What this graph is telling me is that President Obama’s party lost more seats in the House during his first mid-term election than any President at least as far back as Truman.

    I will agree that mid-term election results don’t necessarily determine the President’s re-election chances but no election occurs in a vacuum.

    And while you’d like to paint the 2010 election as something that was ultimately bad for the GOP, you seem to be denying the obvious fact that it absolutely WAS a repudiation of the liberal agenda of the Democrats in the House. Its not like you lose 84 seats in a single election because your agenda is popular and well supported.

  2. 2010 may indeed have been a repudiation of Obama’s policies BUT that doesn’t mean it was an endorsement of the far right agenda which, if polls are to be believe, is even more unpopular than Obama’s policies.

    In midterm elections, you can run against the sitting president. In a presidential election you have to at least prove that your party offers a credible alternative, something Republicans have apparently failed to do.

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