Nearly half of all American voters are going to have backed a loser. Some of them fully believe that this is the most important election in decades.
They are correct that this election is very important. Critical decisions about public policy will flow from the election results we learn about tomorrow night.
I don’t want to minimize the importance of the election at all.
But I also want to tell the losing side, in advance, to cheer up a bit.
In the immediate future, unless the polls are wildly wrong, Congress will remain divided. At the very least, neither party is getting to 60 votes in the Senate. That means that most policy choices in the next two years, and likely the two after that, will be compromises. Again, it matters quite a bit whether those compromises lean strongly toward what Democrats want or toward what Republicans want; as I said, I don’t want to minimize the importance of the election. Recall, however, that Republicans didn’t get all they wanted from 2002 through 2006, while Democrats didn’t get all they wanted in 2009 and 2010. But, yeah, what’s going to happen in the immediate aftermath should be cause for some unhappiness if you’re on the losing side.
But that’s about it. You’re also going to hear a lot of triumphant talk from the winners that this proves that they have an enduring majority. If Mitt Romney gets a surprising win, you’ll hear a lot about how the combination of the 2010 landslide and then a rejection of Barack Obama for reelection proves that his 2008 victory was a fluke, and that the natural Republican majority in the nation has reasserted itself. On the other hand, if Obama wins, even by a small margin, Democrats will point out that this marks the fifth of six presidential elections in which the Democratic candidate won the national vote plurality, and that future demographics make future Republican victories even more difficult.
If you’re on the losing side, I have an important message for you: It’s all bunk. If the parties aren’t at dead-even parity right now, they’re close enough that little pushes one way or another will make up for it. Another recession, a poorly planned overseas adventure, even a lousy candidate, and we could easily see a landslide in the other direction next time around — starting with midterms just two years from now.
There are no permanent majorities in U.S. politics. There aren’t even long-term majorities, for the most part. If you’ve fought hard for the losing side, take a few weeks or a few months off, and then start working for the next cycle; midterms will be coming soon, and the presidential nomination battle is, for better or worse, already underway. Stay involved. Democracy hurts when you lose, but there’s always another fight worth having.