This should be the best of years for the Republican Party.
It holds its largest majority since 1928 in the U.S. House of Representatives. It controls the governor’s chair and both houses of the state legislature (there only one in Nebraska) in 24 states.
If you add up the popular vote for House members across the country, the GOP reportedly won 40.1 million votes compared to 35.6 million for the Democrats.
In the U.S. House, its majority of 247-188 gives it control of the agenda, as does its Senate majority of 54-46, though neither has enough Republicans to override a presidential veto.
The Democrats are in bad shape. They control the governorship and both houses of the state legislature in only seven states. They cannot be assured that President Obama’s picks for federal office would be confirmed.
Why have the Republicans been so successful? Among the answers are their efforts to win state legislative races. They have poured far more money into the effort than have the Democrats.
Also, there were far more Senate seats held by Democrats contested in 2014 than those held by the GOP, though the situation will reverse in 2016.
Finally, as in most mid-term congressional elections, the president’s party lost ground. But the losses were deeper than usual, because of Obama’s low popularity.
Both the races for state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives were heavily affected by redistricting moves made after the 2010 census. A party in power can shape the legislative districts for the next ten years, and the GOP made sure to gain as much control as possible in state legislatures carrying out redistricting.
To be sure, in those states where they control or in the 19 divided states, the Democrats can influence legislative decisions. With their House majority, Maine Democrats will be in this position, facing a GOP governor and Senate.
Above all, the political balance will provide Republicans with an excellent chance to demonstrate their capacity to govern.
Many in the GOP had thought the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan as president would open the way to a lengthy conservative era, but the Democrats have won the presidency and legislative control in much of the period since then.
The Republicans have the opportunity in the next two years, by compiling a strong record and paving the way for the party’s 2016 presidential candidate, to resume their effort to install conservatism for the long haul.
The key to its success may depend on being able to shift from opposition to Obama and the Democrats to taking positive steps to govern. In other words, the GOP will have to be more than simply being known as “the party of ‘no’.”
Take just three examples. Republicans have persisted in going through the motions of trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, though they knew they could not succeed. With a Democratic president, they still could not override his veto.
But they could come forward with proposals for revising Obamacare, taking into account its positive elements and the increased coverage for millions of Americans. It is unrealistic and probably bad politics to propose revisions that will strip people of coverage.
In fact, something less than a comprehensive reform might pick up support from Democrats, making it difficult for Obama to veto a bill. And that could show the ability of Republicans to work across the aisle, which many voters say they want above all from the two parties.
Much the same is true for immigration. While some Republicans believe the approximately 11 million undocumented people could all be deported, many, perhaps most, GOP members of Congress recognize this is impossible and politically unwise.
Obama’s unilateral immigration move could open the door to bipartisan legislative solutions, far more desirable than his broad use of presidential power. But his action may stand if Congress fails to agree.
Then, there’s tax reform. The tax extenders bill, the last major piece of legislation signed by the president in 2014, was mostly a collection of big breaks for large corporations. These loopholes reduced the supposedly high corporate tax rate.
The parties ought to be able to agree on eliminating loopholes and lowering the corporate tax rate. According to their rhetoric, they could even try to simplify the increasingly complex tax code.
What about the Democrats? For one thing, they should avoid becoming “the party of ‘no’.”
They need to offer positive policies and not mimic the GOP. And they need to make their case much better than they have in recent years.