With the midterm elections behind us and 2012 ahead on the horizon, it is best for Republicans not to rest on their laurels nor get too ahead of themselves. The first order of business is to negotiate this lame duck Congressional session and mine it for clues as to the Democratic/Obama strategy moving forward. Remember that outgoing Representatives are no longer beholden to the voters NOR their party. If there was any justice in the world, they will rebuke Pelosi one last time on their way out the door. In the Senate, their numbers are only weakened by one so stopping the liberal agenda in the House is important.
Regarding the new Congress in 2011, a lot depends on the tenor and tone coming from the Democrats on Capitol Hill and the White House. Try as they might to portray a battle in the GOP, the Democrats have bigger problems. Pelosi's impending minority is left even more liberal than before and there are some very vulnerable Denocratic Senators come 2012 who will be wary of their votes.
How Obama plays his cards in the coming two years with the new Congress will help determine the outcome of the 2012 Presidential sweepstakes. This Congress was elected to effect change and start solving the problems facing this Nation. That frustration was taken out on the Democratic Party in 2010. There is no reason to believe that voters will not take out their frustrations on the Republicans in 2012. It will boil down to the economy and the perceptions of the voters regarding the Obama/Democrat-Republican dynamic on Capitol Hill. Don't forget that many Republican winners in swing districts did not win with huge margins. There are pieces of legislation where compromise acceptable to both sides exists. Extension of the Bush tax cuts- already signals that Obama is caving in- is one example. I may get some heat on this one, but extension of unemployment benefits provided they are paid for may be another example. Perhaps some areas of defense spending could also be addressed.
There are four possibilities for the new Congress and Obama/Democrats. In the first scenario, Democrats make a midcourse correction and moderate while the GOP, for whatever reason, moves further to the right. This Congress was elected to get things done and when push comes to shove, they really don't give a rat's ass about ideological debate. Practically every article I have read in support of Republicans this year concludes that this election was a message to the Democrats and Obama. If so and they get the message and moderate (a big IF all things considered) while the GOP moves too far right, then it will benefit the Democratic Party in 2012. To the electorate, it then appears that the Democrats are trying while the Republicans are being ideological and those swing districts can just as easily swing back to the Democratic column in 2012. Republicans need to guard against the fatal error of Democrats- thinking the electorate is stupid.
A second scenario, and the one i believe is more likely, is that Republicans do not move radically too far to the right while the Democrats move more to the left. I say more likely because Pelosi's minority caucus is more liberal now. With half the Blue Dogs swept from office, she is less to apt to compromise within the caucus for votes. Meanwhile, down the street, Obama is a liberal dolt firmly entrenched in his beliefs- Bible clingers and gun toters be damned. If this scenario plays out, it will benefit Republicans in the 2012. They can then portray the Democrats and Obama as being out of touch with the majority of Americans, as extremists, as a Party that failed to get the message in 2010, and as uncompromising. The White House then moves closer into view and this year's Congressional gains can be consolidated in the House while the Senate flips.
The third possibility is that the Democrats move too far to the left while the Republicans move too far to the right. This will create not only procedural gridlock but also ideological gridlock and debate. It would be like a battle for the political soul of the Nation. However, very little gets accomplished in this scenario and vulnerable Republicans in swing districts are at risk, as are Democrats. The net effect may be near offset in numbers, but the battles will be hard-fought and nasty. The electorate will be turned off. The American people want results, not finger-pointing, not gridlock, and not partisan battles. Overall, I believe the incoming Republicans realize this and despite the smattering of staunch conservatives elected, many would rather enact legislation that moves this country forward. I can foresee more partisanship coming from Pelosi and Obama than I do from the Republicans.
The best scenario for the country as a whole is that Republicans remain right of center, allowing the more conservative voices a say if not power, while the Democrats and Obama moderate. However, this would then force the Obama White House to compromise on policies they hold near and dear, especially health care. Since he has not publicly backpedaled in this area, it is highly doubtful he will re-invent himself a la Bill Clinton circa 1994. Why? Because he has no executive experience like Clinton did in Arkansas. Second, Clinton's health care reform debacle never faced a Congressional vote, let alone passed. After a year of debate and deal-making, and over 100 speeches and interviews regarding health care reform, Obama and Pelosi's Democrats have invested too much political capital in Obamacare to backpedal now.
And this will be Obama's downfall moving forward. The recent poll results released by the Kaiser Foundation indicate that a majority of Americans oppose it in whole or part. Obama's mea culpa's regarding communication notwithstanding, there is actually nothing to really communicate beyond, "Sorry- we messed up and passed a really bad law." So essentially, unlike Clinton, Obama has triangulated himself into the proverbial corner by railroading Obamacare through Congress. Hence, the Republican strategy of slowly dismantling Obamacare is a winning strategy and one with good implications for the economy overall.
Therefore, if Republicans play their cards right and Democrats play them wrong, the GOP benefits. If they both play their cards right, it comes out to a de facto Republican advantage. If they both play them wrong, 2012 becomes a battle royale decided by coin tosses. If the Democrats play their cards right and the Republicans play them wrong, then the GOP has not learned any lessons of the past and do not deserve the reigns of power in Washington (in which case, I move to Canada). Either Obama is a one-term President who holds true to his liberal principles and mindset, or he can truly act in a bipartisan manner. Given the fact that it did not take Obama too long to jump the shark and reveal himself as the liberal shill he is, things are looking good come November, 2012.