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They Fielded Stronger Candidates

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by Charles M. Blow

The Republicans proved Tuesday that the establishment still knows how to win.

They fielded stronger candidates. They had few gaffes and little going off script. Extreme views were couched in softer language or played down altogether.

Candidates adopted a faux rustic aura, like a strip mall Olive Garden. The campaigns were savvy in their simplicity: anti-Obama, anti-Washington. Republicans damaged the Obama brand as best they could, then attached all Democratic candidates to it.

As the Weekly Standard reported last week:

According to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), Republicans ran nearly 12,000 anti-Obamacare ads in Senate races during the week of October 13-19. That’s almost twice as many ads as they ran on jobs/unemployment, more than twice as many as they ran on international affairs, and more than three times as many as they ran on taxes. In fact, it’s more than they ran on jobs/unemployment, taxes, and social issues combined. It’s also more than they ran on jobs/unemployment and immigration combined.”

Over the same period, but to a far lesser degree, Democrats focused more on issues like education, Social Security, prescription drugs and social issues.

And outside money played a large part in it. As Nicholas Confessore reported in The New York Times, “All told, Republican outside groups spent about $205 million on television advertising, according to a Democrat tracking media purchases, while Democratic groups spent $132 million,” and “the political network overseen by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch appeared to be the largest overall source of outside television spending on behalf of Republicans.”

The nearly dimwitted, Goober-esque affectations came together with an ocean of dark money in a midterm where the map and the math already favored them to give Democrats a drubbing.

It didn’t help that the Republican strategy pushed Democrats so far back on their heels that they never found enough footing to trumpet their own successes. Many were so busy running away from an association with the president that they never got around to running on Democratic principle.

This was a huge mistake. When someone from your party occupies the White House, you are shackled to them no matter what you say. Better to move together than chop off your own leg trying to free yourself.

Now the president has to determine if there is common ground to be found with a newly ascendant Republican legislature, and Republicans have to determine if they want to squander their victory on vengeance and if they can quash their own internal civil war.

One could certainly make the argument that the president, with an eye toward legacy and posterity, would want to find some areas of compromise, possibly on tax and energy policies. Part of a presidency is judged by which major bills are passed during it, and the present obstructionist do-nothing Congress has certainly hampered the Obama presidency in that respect.

Taking the next few months, before the 2016 presidential race truly sucks all the air out of Washington, to make some headway might be good for him.

However, during a news conference on Wednesday, the president was not contrite or cowed. He presented as a man hopeful for a little compromise but bracing for a lot of fighting. He didn’t tuck his tail as much as bare his fangs.

This defiant stance could actually stiffen the spines of some staunch progressives who are already looking at a list of promises by Obama, only about half of which have been kept in full, according to PolitiFact (some compromises were made and some efforts were simply blocked), and feeling some commingling of betrayal, buyer’s remorse and battle fatigue.

There may even be a compromise to be had on immigration. The president reiterated Wednesday that he would issue an executive order first but, if Congress could pass comprehensive legislation afterward, the order would be supplanted.

On the Republican side, they have a conundrum. As the saying goes: “Be careful what you set your heart upon — for it will surely be yours.”

Republicans ran against Washington, but now they are Washington. Now that they control both houses of Congress, they must demonstrate that they are capable of solutions, and not just sullenness. They have to pass actual legislation and not just demonstration bills that the president will be sure to veto.

Obama has vetoed only two bills in six years. That’s the fewest since James Garfield, who held the office for only 200 days. Obama’s pen has plenty of ink, and I’m sure he’s itching to use it.

The American people, for their part, are eager to have their faith reaffirmed that Washington is not irreparably broken and that our politicians aren’t implacably insolent.

There is only a small window for politicians in Washington to provide some proof.

(This column originally appeared in the New York Times Nov. 5, 2014 under the title “Looking Back, Looking Forward“)

Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.”

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