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July 14, 2014 4:49 PM More Post-November Scenarios

By Ed Kilgore

There are two very different prophecies on the Innertubes today about what will happen if Republicans win the Senate, both of which challenge the CW that it would simply replace the bicameral gridlock with gridlock between Congress and a president forced to use the veto pen early and often.

The first, by former Senator Judd Greg in The Hill, is a good example of funny premises leading to dubious conclusions. Gregg thinks a Republican Congress would be chastened by the fear of being blamed for gridlock into offering Obama deals he ought to accept:

The election of a Republican Senate will not be a signal from the hinterlands that people want more of the same. It will be a directive to stop acting like peevish politicians and start governing for the good of the nation.
If this instruction is ignored, it will almost certainly mean that the next time around — the 2016 elections — the Republican Congress will face stiff punishment from voters.

Really? I don’t recall Democrats enduring “stiff punishment” in 2008 for thwarting George W. Bush after it took over both Houses of Congress in 2006, even though disgruntlement with the status quo was nearly as bad as it is right now. And the center of gravity in the congressional GOP right now belongs to ideologues who don’t really think the way Gregg assumes is basic to politicians: giving way via compromises is as bad as giving way via an electoral loss. But then maybe Gregg isn’t really thinking it’s Congress that will do the bulk of compromising:

[T]here are other major policy issues available where agreement can be found, including tax reform, Medicare reform, student loan reform, education reform (generally, but especially in the area of use of the Internet), trade reform, disability reform and even Social Security reform. The opportunities are there.

See any Democratic priorities there, particularly given the code Gregg is presumably using for this or that “reform” measure? I don’t.

A somewhat more persuasive take is by Julian Zelizer at CNN. One of his points about “why the midterms matter” is pretty obvious: a Republican Senate would be a much tougher landscape for Obama appointments, particularly if a SCOTUS opening appears. His other two arguments, however, come close to hinting that GOPers who care most about 2016 ought to take a dive in this year’s Senate contests:

House Speaker John Boehner has proved repeatedly that he is unable to control the 25 to 30 members of his caucus who have continued to push the party sharply to the right and who have refused to enter into any kind of compromises with the Democrats on matters such as immigration.
Impotent as a leader, Boehner has ironically depended on his ability to tell colleagues that they are wasting their time in the House if they adopt tea party positions that the Senate Democrats won’t accept. If Republicans gain control of the Senate in November, he won’t have that check to point to anymore and we can see the GOP shift even further to the right.

Assuming the president keeps this more right-bent GOP from actually enacting legislation, that wouldn’t be the best scenario for Republicans in 2016—not just in terms of the presidential race, but for hanging onto the Senate, where Democrats will have as good a landscape in 2016 as Republicans do this year.

And then there’s this:

If Republicans gain control of the Senate, it will spark a conversation about 2016 that begins with talk of how Democrats have become weaker politically as a result of Obama’s troubles and how Republicans — despite all their own approval rating problems — are on the upswing. This would certainly provide a boost to their party and a good framework for Republican presidential nominees to start their campaigns.

Maybe, though you could argue this “boost” to the GOP’s morale would be most likely to tempt them to believe they can run Sen. Ted Wacko Bird for president and still win.

There are other implications to a GOP Senate takeover, of course. As Zelizer notes, whatever political value the “agenda-setting” ability of the Senate leadership has would be lost by Democrats and—if they can get along with House Republicans, which is not entirely a given—gained by Republicans. More to the point, as I noted last time I wrote about this topic, the twinned investigative powers of both chambers could make it difficult for media to ignore even the phoniest “scandals:”

You could imagine a giant “Remember Benghazi!” banner hanging in the Rotunda.

All in all, it’s a mixed bag, but in the end, if either party wants to remain in shouting distance of actual control of the federal government, they need to maximize their Senate performance this November.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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