Amid the last-minute wrangling over a “fiscal cliff” deal, it’s important to remember one overlooked fact of the 2012 election: Republicans in the House and Senate have absolutely no political incentive to compromise with President Obama.
The numbers are stark.
Of the 234 Republicans elected to the House on Nov. 6, just 15 (!) sit in congressional districts that Obama also won that day, according to calculations made by the Cook Political Report’s ace analyst David Wasserman. That’s an infinitesimally small number, particularly when compared with the 63 House Republicans who held seats where Obama had won following the 2010 midterm elections.
The Senate landscape paints the same picture — this time looking forward. Of the 13 states where the 14 Republican Senators will stand for reelection in 2014 (South Carolina has two, with Lindsey O. Graham and Tim Scott up in two years time), Obama won just one in 2012 — Maine. In the remaining dozen states, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won only one, Georgia, by less than double digits. The average margin of victory for Romney across the 13 states was 19.5 percentage points; take out Maine, and Romney’s average margin was 22 points in the remaining 12 states.
The picture on the Democratic side is less clear. Although 96 percent of House Democrats in the 113th Congress will hold seats Obama won in November, according to Wasserman, fully one-third of the 21 Senate Democrats who will stand for reelection in 2014 represent states that Romney won.
While Obama narrowly lost North Carolina, where Sen. Kay Hagan (D) will run for a second term in November 2014, the president lost the other six states where Senate Democrats will be running by double digits. Here’s that list: Alaska (lost by 14), Arkansas (lost by 24), Louisiana (lost by 18), Montana (lost by 13), South Dakota (lost by 18) and West Virginia (lost by 26). Obama’s average margin of defeat across these seven states? A whopping 16 points.
Even the most cursory analysis of those numbers makes two things clear.
First, with the exception of a dozen or so Republicans in the House and Maine’s Susan Collins in the Senate, the number of GOP members of the 113th Congress who see cutting a deal with the president — in the fiscal cliff or, frankly, anything else — as politically advantageous is close to zero.
Second, while House Democrats are equally de-incentivized to working across the aisle, there is a large-ish group of Senate Democrats who must find ways of showing their bipartisan spirit if they want to win reelection in states that didn’t favor their party — or even come close to doing so — in the 2012 election.
Those twin political realities make the ground on which the fiscal cliff fight — and future scuffles over gun control measures, etc. — less heavily tilted toward Democrats than you might think.
Yes, Obama won the election and did so quite convincingly. And, no, he doesn’t ever have to worry again about being reelected, which should, in theory, embolden him. But he is the only person involved in the fiscal cliff talks who has that luxury. Everyone else needs to keep one eye (at least) on their next race.
That mentality means that for the vast majority of Republicans in Congress, a deal is more dangerous than no deal. A deal creates the possibility of a primary challenge from their ideological right in districts and even states that, by and large, went heavily against Obama in November. No deal means they might — with the emphasis on “might” — face some blow back from constituents who want them to get something done for the good of the country and put the partisanship and politics aside.
And so, if you are wondering why congressional Republicans won’t, in the words of Obama, just “take the deal,” now you know. They have every political reason not to.