As pundits and politicians muse about whether President Obama “gets it” after the shellacking that Democrats took on election night, the same question might be asked regarding the winners. Do they really believe that the electorate has taken a sharp turn to the ideological right just two years after the Democratic sweep of ‘08? What, exactly, did they think that outcome meant? Did they believe then (and let’s not forget ‘06 while we’re at it) that voters had registered a strong endorsement of activist government and large deficits? Probably not, judging from their opposition to Obama’s every move over the past two years. So why was 2008 not a policy mandate, but 2010 is? Why was the former election not a repudiation of the losing party’s ideology, but this one is?

Politicians are like athletes: When they win it’s because they played well, and when they lose it’s because they played badly – not because the other side was better. Similarly, when a candidate or party wins an election, it’s a mandate; but when they lose – especially if they’re the incumbents, turned out of office – it’s never a mandate for the other guys, but rather a verdict by voters that they (the vanquished) failed to implement their ideological game plan properly. If only they had remained faithful to the party’s core values, all would surely have ended well.

On election night this year, one of the network talking heads kept insisting that the result wasn’t an expression of voter anger – it was a rejection of the Democrats’ lurch to the left under Obama. Excuse me? The Tea Partiers and others of their ilk (at both extremes) notwithstanding, most Americans are not ideologues. No, they don’t like huge deficits or expensive programs that don’t work properly no matter who is in office. But they also like many of the programs that generate deficits, and tax rates that are much lower than they used to be. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game GOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight Rubio's pragmatic thinking on China MORE is correct: The electorate did not embrace Republican policies on election night, they simply gave the GOP another chance to clean up what is perceived to be a mess both in Washington and around the country.

Is there any reason to believe that Republicans possess the vision it will take to make that happen? Based on how most of them appear to view what happened on November 2, and on their actions the last time they were in this position (remember the Contract with America, which ultimately helped to re-elect Bill Clinton in 1996?), one can’t help but have doubts. An academic colleague of mine, Larry Diamond of Stanford University, suggests that we have two bankrupt political parties that together are bankrupting the country. Perhaps one or the other of them will finally “get it,” or maybe a third-party movement (presumably of the center) will emerge that offers voters a different path. Alternatively, and probably most likely, we can look forward to another election night some number of years down the road when victorious Democrats insist that they have been given a mandate by voters who are sick of continued Republican failures. If Americans are not angry now, just think how not angry they will be then.

Stephen C. Craig is a professor and director of the Political Campaigning Program in the department of political science at the University of Florida.