Just two short years ago, President Obama cruised to an easier-than-expected national victory; Senate Democrats expanded their majority; and House Democratic candidate received a million more votes than their House Republican counterparts. The results led much of the political world to accept some basic truths.
Republicans, whether they liked it or not, would have to come up with some kind of coherent policy agenda. They'd have to stop alienating minority communities. They'd have to stop alienating women. They'd have to stop defining themselves by their contempt for the president. They'd have to try to govern. They'd have to stop creating dangerous, self-defeating crises on purpose. They'd have to start dealing with their demographic problems by reaching beyond the right-wing GOP base. They'd have to at least consider striking compromises on some key issues.
They'd have to honor the voters' will, respect the fact that elections have consequences, and try to work in good faith with the Democrats who'd just won a national mandate.
These weren't suggestions, so much as they were obvious, unavoidable certainties. The assumptions were foregone conclusions -- if Republicans are to be a national party in the 21st century, they would have to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, learn from their failures, and grow up.
With all of this in mind, last night offered a powerful reminder: each of these precepts -- literally, each and every one of them -- was wrong. Republicans didn't have to do any of these things. They didn't need to govern or compromise. They didn't need to keep the government open or pass bills.
In one case, they didn't even need to avoid being indicted on multiple felony counts.
As an objective, quantifiable matter, GOP lawmakers created the most right-wing congressional caucus in modern American history, they created the most unpopular Congress in modern American history, and they created the least productive Congress in modern American history.
And it didn't make a bit of difference. Voters decided to reward Republicans anyway.
Early last year, even the Republican National Committee itself seemed convinced that the party was badly off track and would need to make some common-sense adjustments to broaden its appeal. The "rebranding" campaign was immediately ignored, with Republican lawmakers doing pretty much the opposite of what the RNC recommended.
And yet, here we are.
There's never just one explanation for election outcomes like these. Much of yesterday's GOP victories were the result of structural, geographic factors that created a playing field tilted in Republicans' favor. Some of this was the result of President Obama's low approval rating and his party's decision to distance itself from the White House. Part of this is the fact that many Democratic voters tend to forget that federal elections are held every two years, not four, and that midterm elections actually matter.
But the takeaway remains the same: congressional Republican acted about as irresponsibly as any party in post-Civil War America and voters neither knew nor cared.