It was certainly a tough night for Democrats. But if the GOP believes it has a mandate for the Tea Party agenda, it is sadly mistaken. Most Americans strongly support a progressive middle-class-first agenda. And most important, with the mid-term elections behind us, the 2016 political battlefield completely transforms the political high ground.
With the loss of the Senate and Republicans continuing to control the House, Democrats and progressives need to dig in for an epic battle with the Tea Party and the billionaires that are now in control of the Republican Party.
One bright spot -- State referenda to increase the minimum wage passed everywhere they were on the ballot and in local jurisdictions like San Francisco that increased the wage to $15 per hour.
Best Possible Playing Field for Republicans in 2014 -- and Massive Amounts of Outside Money from Secret Donors
In the midterms the Republicans had the best possible battle ground -- Democrats defending seats in mainly red states. Since the ratification of White House term limits, five out of the six two-term presidents have lost seats after re-election -- an average of 29 in the House and six in the Senate, according to election analyst Charlie Cook.
This was the worst Senate map any president has faced since John Kennedy. Of the 24 states President Obama lost in 2012, 80% had a Senate race this year. In fact, the President lost six of these states by 19% or more.
And this time the GOP had the additional advantage of many House Districts gerrymandered to their specifications. Dozens of competitive House races were located in states Obama lost.
The Citizens United ruling allowed a few CEO's and big Wall Street speculators to flood the elections with billions of dollars.
And Republicans even had Ebola and ISIL to use to spread fear and panic.
The massive influx of money from secret outside donors not only impacted the Senate races -- but also the many House races imbedded in the states where voters were subjected to constant anti-Democratic messaging.
The Republicans did all they could to suppress turnout- including restrictive "voter ID" laws that disproportionately affect African Americans, young people and other Democratic voters.
To be successful, at preventing major losses, Democrats had to over perform on every parameter -- from money to field to message. The Democratic campaign committees and local campaigns executed well in most areas -- but that was not enough to overcome the structural political circumstances.
Republicans Were Forced to Masquerade as Moderates and Defenders of Middle Class, Since Voters Support Progressive Positions on the Issues
The Republicans did everything they could to masquerade as moderates and defenders of the middle class -- instead of the coalition of corporate CEO's, Wall Street speculators, and Tea Party extremists that currently control the Republican Party.
They tried to hide their opposition to raising the minimum wage, reigning in the costs of student loans, and equal pay for women.
They hoped they could hide their opposition to the Democratic "women succeed" agenda.
They did every thing they could to hide their support for ending the Medicare guarantee and privatizing Social Security.
Of that billion dollars in GOP ad spending, Koch funded entities peddled the Big Republican Medicare Lie -- that Democrats had voted to cut Medicare by $718 billion -- in over 18 congressional districts in 11 states.
Remember- most Americans support progressive positions on almost every issue facing the country.
GOP Faces Dramatically Tougher New Battle Ground in 2016
But now the Republicans will face real trouble. They fought this Election on very favorable terrain. Now the battle shifts to ground that is much more favorable to Democrats -- the Presidential swing states, a set of Senate states where they have to defend incumbents on more Democratic turf, and House seats where Presidential year turnout puts the Democrats in a position to take a majority.
And Democrats running for House won't be imbedded in up-for-grabs Senate states that are magnets for such massive amounts of outside money.
Finally the national conversation will likely be framed by the politics of those new battle ground state -- and especially to issues of interest to women and minority voters.
An historic note: Republicans lost control of the Senate in 1986 in the second mid-term of Ronald Reagan's Presidency, and Reagan's Vice-President, George H. W. Bush, went on to win the presidency two years later.
This election is NOT a mandate for the Tea Party agenda.
Republicans will be in charge of Congress, and will be responsible for actually governing. Republicans need to take a close look at themselves and decide if they'll keep going with their dysfunctional approach or work with Democrats and the President to solve problems. House Republicans won't be able to blame the Senate for their failures, and they'll all have to find common ground with the President. It's a choice -- crises and standoffs, or commonsense problem solving.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's strategy of obstructing positive action and then blaming the President worked for him in the midterms. Now that he is in charge of the Senate, it will be a much harder game to play in the run up to 2016.
If history is any guide the odds are good that Senator Ted Cruz and other Tea Party radicals will actually call the shots -- through a program of legislative hostage taking -- both in the Senate and the House.
In the lame duck and for the next two years, if Republicans behave as if the outcome of this election was a mandate for their radical policies, they will find themselves in deep trouble. They need to understand that appealing to narrow band of Tea Party extremists and a few billionaires is not a winning strategy over the long haul -- much less a program for keeping America strong and defending the Middle Class.
Most Americans support progressive positions on virtually every key issue.
- The voters want Congress to act now to enact policies that raise the wages of ordinary Americans.
- They want action to stop a few CEO's and Wall Street speculators from siphoning more and more of the fruits of our economy and outsourcing their jobs.
- They want action to guarantee that women get equal pay for equal work.
- They want action to lower the cost of student loans so they can send their kids to college.
- They want universal background checks for gun purchasers.
- They want action to defend Medicare and Social Security -- not budgets that eliminate the Medicare guarantee.
- Every state referendum on raising the minimum wage passed -- as well as many local referenda like the one that raised the minimum wage to15 in San Francisco.
- The referendum requiring universal background checks to purchase guns -- that was hotly contested by the NRA -- passed in Washington State.
- And people want leadership on issues like immigration reform, and medical research, gun violence and voting rights.
With both the House and Senate now under Republican control, it will now be crystal clear to American voters in 2016 who is to blame if they don't get the action they want over the next two years.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.