Election Results: Daily Beast Columnists React

Dan Rather, John Batchelor, Reihan Salam, Joe Mathews, Paul Begala, Michelle Goldberg, and more on the GOP takeover, the lessons from 2010, and why the Dems have cause for hope in 2012. Plus, Howard Kurtz on the Democratic bloodbath, Tunku Varadarajan on 10 election truths, and Peter Beinart on last night’s big loser.

Follow the MoneyBy Dan Rather

The HDNet anchor says the biggest story of the election didn’t get covered.

About $4 billion was spent on this midterm election. This follows a 2008 presidential campaign that cost some $2 billion. Brings to mind that old saying that "politics has gotten so expensive that these days it takes a lot of money just to get beat with." And it's a reminder that "money is the mother's milk of politics." Will Rogers is supposed to have said the first sometime in the 1930s; California's Jessie Unruh said the second in the 1970s. If they could only see us now! They would be amazed, disgusted and worried.

But what about us, and the here and now? One of the most important questions to ask, and to keep on asking, about this national election and the next is: who gives how much money to whom, expecting to get what for it--and what DO they get for it? This goes to the vitals of our country and what it is to become. But there is precious little news coverage of it and little public attention paid to it. There is decreasingly little transparency about where the money comes from. More and more it is shrouded in secrecy.

This year's political horse races are over. Time to follow the money.

It's the Jobs, StupidBy Paul Begala

Republicans took the House, but are misreading their mandate. Paul Begala on what the GOP needs to do to show they're serious—and why Democrats have cause for hope in 2012.

It's jobs, stupid. That's the lesson I take from this election. For all the bloviating that Americans hated Speaker Pelosi, or opposed Obamacare, or wanted to shrink the federal government, this election was about jobs. If the unemployment rate had been 4 percent instead of 9.6 percent (and by the broader U6 measure, 17 percent), Obamacare would be beloved. If we were creating jobs by the hundreds of thousands there would be no Tea Party. If the economy were humming like it was under President Clinton, no one would be wringing their hands about President Obama's inability to emote.

The 10 Biggest Election Wins Howard Kurtz: A Democratic Bloodbath Republicans don't read the results the same way. Instead of talking about jobs, they seem focused on cutting spending. Okay. Let's put them to the test. Fiscal responsibility, like charity, begins at home. Tell us which construction project in your district you're going to cancel; which bridge in your hometown you're going to oppose; what military base in your state you want to close. Don't just blather about "waste, fraud and abuse," tell us which teachers in your kids' school you want to lay off; call for closing the police station and firehouse nearest to your home. And if newly-elected Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, they can start by refusing to accept the generous government-guaranteed health care which members of Congress receive.

If the Democrats focus on jobs and Republicans tie themselves in knots pretending to be for spending cuts, Election Night 2012 will be very different than 2010.

Elections are OverratedBy Dayo Olopade

The noisy failures of democracy in America are a shame—but with two months still left on the clock, Democrats ought to shut up and drive.

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Firing squad. Bloodbath. Armageddon. Pick your analogy—Tuesday was a disaster for the Democratic Party. As return after return trickled in from the thousands of contested races, large and small, the conventional wisdom also suffered a blow: Liberal firebrand Alan Grayson lost badly in his Florida district; Tea Party candidates actually prevented Republicans from taking control of the Senate; and threatened Democratic incumbents in Washington, California, and Massachusetts somehow held on. Republicans elected two African-Americans to the House, and two minority women to governorships—but former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin endorsed four “Mama Grizzlies” who failed.

The losers may be tempted to embrace the glum platitude that “elections have consequences.” Instead, they should realize that votes don’t have consequences—at least not in the traditional sense. How else to explain the defeat of three Indiana Democrats who refused to vote for the health-care bill? Or the victory in Nevada for the wooden, wearied majority leader Harry Reid? How else to excuse the loss of Russ Feingold, a reliable independent whose foresight on the Patriot Act and the misguided wars in Iraq and Afghanistan tracks closely with the opinions of most Americans? Or that of Congressman Joseph Cao, a Vietnamese-American Republican who voted once for the health-care bill in the interest of his lower-income minority district, yet was unceremoniously bounced from office last night? Even laughably unqualified South Carolina Senate candidate Alvin Greene won 36 percent of the vote.

These outcomes suggest that elections, however hallowed, are also overrated. Some officials—say, the judges who legalized gay marriage in Iowa—felt democratic cause and effect more acutely. But the average Democrat in Congress was just as likely to be fired for the ugly housing market than for taking any single, controversial vote. And that’s among the 40 percent of the country that actually turned out to the polls.

The 111th Congress—particularly Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives—passed some gravity-defying laws. Banking and health-care reform stand out. But other important initiatives, from energy action to small business tax relief, were grounded by Republicans—and also by Democrats fearful that they might lose the next election. Worrywarts like Senator Blanche Lincoln bled the health-care bill dry. Retiring Democrats like Chris Dodd fought for credit-card reform. As of January, they’ll both join Alvin Greene and millions more unemployed Americans. Who has more to be proud of?

This isn’t a particularly novel insight, but one lesson of 2010 is that one’s stay in Washington can be nasty, brutish, and short. The noisy failures of democracy in America are a shame—but with two months still left on the clock, Democrats ought to shut up and drive. The last days of their historic majority could reform immigration law, repeal Bush 43's tax cuts, and dismantle the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. Why not a climate bill while they’re at it? If Democrats learn anything from last night, let it be that it is better to err on the side of boldness.

Thanks, Palin!By Michelle Goldberg

Sarah Palin's conviction that Americans are on her side cost her party dearly on Tuesday night.

Tuesday was, as expected, a thoroughly hideous night for Democrats. But the Tea Party lost, too. Thanks to rightwing insurgencies during the primaries, the Republicans' forfeited a number of races they might easily have won, or at least competed in—the Delaware Senate race, the New York governor's race, and, above all, the Nevada Senate Race. The Tea Party saved Harry Reid, and the Democrats' Senate majority.

Certainly, there were Tea Party victories, but they were concentrated in districts that were already deeply conservative, and that would have gone Republican anyway. The Tea Party may have made the GOP more conservative, but it also made the party's national margin smaller than it might have been.

Peter Beinart: The Biggest Election Loser Lloyd Grove: Capitol Hill’s New Ruling Class Of course, it was still distressingly large. But there were hints of consolation in the defeat of wretched Tea Party characters like Ilario Pantano, a House aspirant in North Carolina. A former Marine, Pantano faced charges of premeditated murder after killing two Iraqis; an investigating officer called his actions "morally and ethically wrong" and a "disgrace of the armed forces." Naturally, the right saw him as a hero against the Islamist menace: Sarah Palin described him as a "dedicated patriot," while Muslim-baiter Pamela Gellar called him one of the "great Americans who understand the grave threats facing America in the twenty-first century." His loss is a cheering bit of evidence that even in our lunatic political environment, there is still such a thing is too crazy.

So while ugly, the night could have been even worse. It's almost tempting to be thankful to Palin, and her baseless conviction that a majority of Americans are on her side.

Why State-by-State Results MatterBy Reihan Salam

New Republican governors and legislatures decide on redistricting that will benefit GOP congressional candidates. Plus, there’s a good chance the 2012 ticket will come from a governor’s mansion.

Rather than bore you with deep thoughts, I’ll stick to a few narrow observations. Results at the state level are more important than you might think, not least because they’ll help determine the shape of the next national election. As of January, Democrats controlled twice as many state legislatures as Republicans. That’s changed. Republicans have secured control of both houses in six states, including several key swing states in the Midwest. Expect the legislatures in these states to devise redistricting maps that give Republican congressional candidates an edge.

Shushannah Walshe: How Did Palin’s Candidates Do?Republicans also performed very well in gubernatorial elections. Charlie Baker, a bright and capable executive, was defeated in Massachusetts, thus denying the national Republican Party a potential bright light. But Republicans were elected in Wyoming, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan. Well into the wee hours, Rick Scott was running ahead of Alex Sink in Florida. Right now, all of these women and men are completely obscure outside of their states.

Yet it’s worth remembering that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was considered an absolute dud after running a vacuous, ultracautious campaign in 2009. Within months, Christie emerged as a conservative folk hero, celebrated for his wit and his willingness to bright the fight to his state’s entrenched public sector unions. In a similar vein, Mitch Daniels of Indiana has earned a reputation as a can-do budget-balancer that has made him a very serious presidential contender. Expect at least one of the Republican governors elected last night to build a significant national profile. Though I certainly wouldn’t put money on it, my guess is that the next Republican nominee will be drawn from the ranks of the party’s governors. And I’m excluding former governors like Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and the soon-to-retire Tim Pawlenty.

A Nation DividedBy John Batchelor

The next two years hold the promise of an epic partisan blood battle, says radio talk show host John Batchelor.

The 2010 midterm results resemble a fantastic scene of King Solomon ordering the child cut in half, except in this modern interpretation the warring parties of the Democrats and the GOP raise their fists and scream, "Cut!" The overwhelming victory of the Republicans in the House, sweeping Democratic seats aside like dross from New Hampshire to Arizona, was matched sweatily by the Democratic Party holding off the robust Tea Party and holding on to pugnacious Harry Reid and his majority of Immortals in the Senate. Neither party has cause to celebrate; neither party has cause to grumble. The nation is left like the Congress, divided in half between two relentless adversaries who are not given to negotiation. In the House, the quarrelsome Blue Dogs are banished, leaving the most progressive, most uncompromising liberals in charge of the conversation. In the Senate, the Republicans gain the ideologically gifted Rand Paul and Pat Toomey. The child, America, awaits the righteous sword of both sides. What happens next, after a decent interval of the White House muttering about "common ground," is that both sides will seize their weapons and have at it fiercely. For what I do on talk radio, the next two years promise epic palaver, ruthless collision, and the sort of exuberant cleansing of the Republic’s ranks for purity that has not been seen on this planet since the Inquisition. The blood is how we will keep score. Macbeth’s last speech to MacDuff comes to mind. “Lay on, MacDuff, damn’d be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'”

Money for Nothin'By Joe Mathews

Despite record spending by Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in the California races, both women were defeated at the polls—by unpopular septuagenarians.

Message to Silicon Valley types seeking new ventures: California politics is a bad investment.

Former CEOs Meg Whitman (eBay) and Carly Fiorina (HP) spent their own money and more than a year of their lives pursuing, respectively, the governor's office and a U.S. Senate seat in California. They ended up losers, defeated by two 70-something Democrat politicians that Californians weren't even fond of.

Post-election analysis will talk about Whitman's record spending (she put in $140 million of her own money, the most ever by an American politician) and raise questions about why corporate executives don't make good candidates. But Whitman and Fiorina also ran up against a hard fact of California life.

The Golden State—dynamic and ever-changing in its technology, culture, and food—is totally stagnant when it comes to politics and government

The Golden State—dynamic and ever-changing in its technology, culture, and food—is totally stagnant when it comes to politics and government. In a year of dramatic national political change, the make-up of California's Congressional delegation and legislature didn't change. In the year of the outsider, California elected a former governor who is the son of a governor to office.

Californians chose the status quo, even though polls show record-high levels of discontent with government here. The vast majority of California's citizens didn't even bother to vote. Taken together, these results offer a snapshot of a state that, at least when it comes to government and politics, has given up on itself.

Obama: Get In Touch With Your Inner BushBy Dana Goldstein

George W. was more committed to the GOP than Obama’s been to his base. It’s time for the president to stop appeasing everyone—or health-care reform will become watered down and unrecognizable.

In 2008, Barack Obama campaigned against the Bush administration’s executive over-reach on issues such as torture (practicing it), stem cell research (limiting it), and the environment (making it easier for corporations to pollute). The irony is that now—when facing down a Republican House of Representatives and an ever-more recalcitrant clique of Democratic moderates, like West Virginia’s new senator, Joe Manchin—Obama might have to embrace the aggressive, agency-level activism that Dubya perfected.

Take health-care reform, Obama’s signature’s legislative achievement. His conciliatory stance toward corporate interests and Blue Dog Democrats saved the bill, but it also vastly weakened the resulting law, which lacks many of the cost containment and equity measures that health policy experts recommend.

The success of health reform now depends on how faithfully this imperfect, yet crucial, bill is implemented. To realize the new law’s promise, Obama will need to ignore the inevitable complaints from Congress and the spurious investigations Republicans are sure to launch.

A crucial first test of the president’s fortitude will be the Department of Health and Human Services’ effort to define a coverage “floor”—the list of medical services insurers must cover in plans sold through the new health insurance exchanges. Will controversial but cost-effective treatments such as birth control, voluntary sterilization, and drug addiction therapy be included?

So far, the administration hasn’t been very tough. In July, it told states not to offer abortion coverage in a new insurance program for individuals with pre-existing conditions, even if consumers paid for such coverage with their own money. And last month, the White House granted 30 large corporations and unions exemptions from the employer responsibility aspects of health reform, allowing companies like McDonalds and Jack n’ the Box to continue to offer their workers sub-par “health insurance” that would be useless to any family suffering from a real medical emergency or chronic health condition.

A president as committed to his progressive base as George W. Bush was to his conservative one would have made different regulatory choices. Whether Obama will become such a president remains to be seen.