It’s an occupational hazard of pundits to see what they want to see in election returns. After the Democrats’ 2008 sweep, any number of liberal commentators (and even some conservatives) consigned the Republican party to Whig status (the Whigs ended with a whimper in 1856). Some were unwise enough to enshrine their predictions in book titles. In 2009, James Carville published 40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation, and Sam Tanenhaus authored The Death of Conservatism. Some conservatives despaired that Republicans had lost women, young people, the cities, New England!
And even now, after Republicans won more House seats than any party has won since 1948, some liberals are suggesting that the really pressing issue for the majority is how they will handle internal tensions between Tea Party activists and establishment Republicans.
This is not to suggest that worries over Republicans’ standing with the voters were totally misplaced. Obviously any party that loses touch with the electorate is in trouble, as President Obama and the Democrats are learning now. But we are clearly in a new political age. Critical independent voters really are independent. In light of recent swings in voter sentiment — and the quite stunning new velocity of political change — grand predictions of realignments seem utterly outdated and silly. Viewed in the light of 2010, the 2008 election looks like a provisional grant. The same may be true of 2010’s results when viewed from the perspective of 2012.
With that caveat noted, let’s examine some of the interesting features of the 2010 results.
Hispanics: Hispanics are the nation’s largest minority, and their share of the population is increasing. They went hard for Obama and Democrats in 2008 (67 percent) and accounted for 9 percent of votes cast. In 2010, they gave almost the same share of their votes to congressional Democrats (65 percent). But the election of three prominent Republican Hispanics — Marco Rubio as a Florida senator, Susana Martinez as New Mexico governor, and Brian Sandoval as Nevada governor — could open the door to greater Republican success with this voter group.
Beyond simple ethnic pride, Hispanic voters may reconsider their suspicion that Republican opposition to illegal immigration is thinly masked hostility to Hispanics. The same Republicans who want the federal government to enforce the borders also tear up with pride when Marco Rubio invokes an immigrant — his own father — who came to this country to ensure that “doors closed to him” would be open for his children. The success of Hispanic politicians who at once patriotically extol the American dream for immigrants and also hold the line on illegal immigration will not erase the Democratic advantage with this group, but it cannot hurt Republicans. If Republicans can learn to talk about immigration with Rubio’s combination of pride in our immigrant heritage and impatience with lawbreaking, they will alienate far fewer members of this constituency.
States: As significant as the Republican sweep at the federal level, gains for Republicans in governorships and state legislatures could position the party for further success. Nineteen state legislative chambers flipped from Democratic to Republican control Tuesday. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans now control 55 chambers, Democrats have 38, and one is tied. Maine, for the first time since 1964, has elected a Republican governor and two Republican legislative chambers.
Additionally, as National Review’s John Hood notes, a number of key battleground states including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Wisconsin now have Republican governors and Republican majority legislatures. Not only will they preside over redistricting in advance of the 2012 elections, they will also provide conspicuous models of Republican governance. That is key. For as President Obama acknowledged, somewhat ruefully, during his morning-after press conference, what the voters want is “results.”