Still, Republicans will argue, as McConnell has and incoming Speaker John Boehner did Tuesday night, that the results of the elections are a repudiation of the policies Democrats have pursued and a mandate to cut government spending.
“I’m going to be the leader of a large army after tonight,” McConnell told Republican supporters Tuesday night. He added: “What we’re sensing tonight is a huge case of buyer’s remorse all across America. They told us to change Washington, and we’re going to take our first step tonight, aren’t we?”
Senate Republican ranks are unlikely to be dominated by the tea party-inspired fervor that propelled many House Republicans into office. Most of the GOP class of 2010 is made up of “establishment Republicans,” such as Rep. John Boozman (Ark.), former Sen. Dan Coats (Ind.), former House GOP Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, and Bush-era Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman (Ohio). Portman has also served in the House.
Tea party-backed winners include Rand Paul in Kentucky, Mike Lee in Utah, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and Marco Rubio in Florida.
But centrist Republicans are likely to be in short supply, despite the fact that moderate Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire won her race.
For Democrats, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin is the only centrist addition to the Senate ranks, while several moderates retired or were forced to exit this year. For example, Sen. Blanche Lincoln lost to Boozman in Arkansas on Tuesday night, and centrist Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) retired this year.
There is likely to be serious discussion and disagreements among Democrats in the coming weeks about what they did as a party and a caucus to bring about their current predicament. Just as they have for the past year, Democratic centrists are likely to argue that the party went too far to the left, while liberals will likely claim they weren’t bold enough.
What most Senate Democrats already agree on is that the White House did not provide enough political cover on issues, health care in particular. Earlier this year, Reid made strategic changes to his messaging operation in an attempt to satisfy disgruntled lawmakers who felt the Senate Democratic public relations campaign was not forceful or effective enough.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told MSNBC on Tuesday night that Democrats need to “continue to focus like a laser on the middle class and small business, but we’ve got to do a better job of communicating.”
Democrats also say that Tuesday night’s results change the equation for the “party of no.”
“You can do that when you’re continuously in an incredibly small minority, but you ultimately have a greater responsibility to govern, and so that will be the interesting part,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said Tuesday evening.