It was impossible not to smile as the results rolled in late Tuesday night. In state after state, Republicans handily defeated their Democratic opponents. Voters almost everywhere came out to express their displeasure with the Obama White House, and Democrats in Congress took the brunt of the anger. Looking at exit polls, I have to wonder though: was it the economy all along?
Republicans ran a campaign destined for the record books. Fresh off an inexcusable loss in 2012, the GOP went into these elections with a take-no-prisoners approach. They hammered liberals on everything from illegal immigration to gun control to ISIS to Ebola. They slammed Obamacare. They took advantage of every embarrassing misstep by their opponents and – critically – made none of their own. They nationalized the election and turned it into a referendum on Obama himself, a strategy the president was all-too-happy to oblige. If the midterms had gone any other way, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus would have had some soul-searching to do.
But as the exit polls show, voters came out on Tuesday with one thing in mind above all else: the economy. According to Fox News, roughly 70 percent of polled voters said they rated America’s economic status as either “not good” or “poor,” a fairly damning rejection of Obama spin. 77 percent of voters said they were at least “somewhat” worried about the future of the economy, and 70 percent claimed their family’s financial situation was either the same or worse than it was two years ago.
Did all of this concern about the economy make Republican triumph an inevitability? Voters nationwide tend to vote according to their wallets, so it’s not an unreasonable theory. There is unquestionably deep concern about a number of Obama’s policies, but nothing short of another terrorist attack is going to displace economics as the number one factor at the polls. The question is, can Republicans do anything to get us back to our pre-recession levels?
First on the Senate agenda are those bills that have been blocked by the obstructionist Democrats. Getting the Keystone Pipeline deal through and removing the medical device tax from the ACA will likely be the first, easy measures. From there, a lot of it will depend on where Mitch McConnell decides to focus his energies. If he’s wise, it will be on putting Americans back to work. Voters aren’t impressed with Obama’s recovery, even as the White House continually trumpets its successes. If McConnell wants to set the stage for another dominant election in two years, he’ll need to prove that his party can fix this lagging economy.
There are other concerns, to be sure, and not all of them are unrelated. Obamacare, the fight against ISIS, and Obama’s executive action on immigration are all big concerns among conservatives. They also pose ominous danger for the economy. If the Republicans can address these issues while putting together some strong economic legislation, Hillary Clinton will be a non-starter in 2016.