According to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, the Republicans have a 57.6 percent chance of winning a majority in the Senate and are odds-on favorites to increase their majority in the House. So, for the next two years, at least, there is a strong likelihood that our Democratic president will face an increasingly hostile and belligerent Congress. For those embittered by the flawed strategies of the Democrats in Congress and disappointing record of unfulfilled promises by the president, there is a tinge of self-righteousness in feeling that Democrats deserve this defeat and a grudging recognition of the Republican strategy of "just say no."

The flip side of that, of course, is that should the forecasts be accurate, Republicans will be on the spot because leadership has its consequences. The question is what treats lie in store for the country as the Republicans set up in earnest to recapture the White House in 2016 and how they use their ability to create a legislative track record on which to make their case to Americans.


The inside-the-Beltway types are angling toward tax reform as the policy of choice and one where Republicans and Democrats may have common ground. Since the coming elections are paid for in large part by our corporate citizens, it is very likely that tax reform will center around reducing corporate taxes for the job creators. Next in line is the Keystone Pipeline and the energy independence it will contribute to, followed by pressure to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency, pressure on the Securities and Exchange Commission to lighten up on implementation of the Dodd-Frank policies yet to be formulated, pressure on the Federal Communication Commission to restrict Internet access and bless monopolistic mergers, a stonewalling of almost any presidential choice for attorney general, absolutely no new federal judgeships approved unless there is a quid pro quo for conservative types, a couple of ephemeral attempts at restricting ObamaCare, lip service for immigration reform and lots of threats relating to debt reduction. Oh, and lest we forget, a more "muscular" articulation of our foreign policy and heavy intonations for threats posed by terrorists and pandemics.

There are loser's benefits for the Democrats. Although highly unlikely, Democrats could use their minority status to formulate a political platform and election strategy that doesn't make them look like the milquetoasts they appear to be. It has been laughable to watch the "twisting in the wind" of immigration reform, the stentorian defense of a minimum wage increase unless polling showed it offended their corporate donors, their defense of ObamaCare unless the bumpy startup was an issue, stammering when it came to foreign policy issues or the lackluster way in which they embraced stagnant income for the middle class and the rising level of income inequality.

There is effectively no chance this will happen since the Democratic Party is deeply divided within in its own ranks and has no clear voice. Given that, the chances that Democrats will come away with a presidential victory in 2016 are highly suspect. The divisions within the party include several key issues: over military reengagement in foreign policy, the revulsion of Democratic candidates to "man up" and take on middle class issues, energy policy, fiscal restraints and tax reform.

But Democrats do have some leverage in Congress if they reciprocate with some of the partisan hostility displayed by Republicans for the past four years. If Democrats take a reciprocating attitude toward Republican legislative initiatives by filibustering in the Senate, they can use the election strategy of pointing the finger at a party that "can't make it happen." If, by some chance the president gets on board, he can schedule an endless press conference asking for legislation he can sign rather than veto. The more likely outcome is that this transactional leader will bend over backward to make a deal.

However, it simply may not come to this obstructionist end. There is a great chance Republicans will step on their own shoes when it comes to policy issues. The Tea Party types still number over 80 in the House and, while they got hammered in the primaries, they can be counted on to keep hitting their heads against the wall in hopes that it won't continue to hurt. Moreover, there is now an emerging libertarian surge that is focused not just on deficit reduction and smaller government, but now includes a set of beliefs on social wedge issues: abortion rights, gay marriage, anti-homophobia and minority rights that are at loggerheads with Tea Party patriots of the white dwindling majority type. Then there are the moderate Republicans who see their star peeking up over the horizon and hope to reinstall the businesslike approach to exploiting the treasury. If you can see any consistent legislative production coming out of that mess, maybe there will be some fodder on which the Senate filibuster might chew.

Of course, all of the mature political strategists are going to suggest going forward into a Republican-controlled Congress; that responsible Democratic politicians seek to find areas where they can agree with their Republican colleagues, to work with them in finding areas in the tax code or the military budget or energy policy. The odds are that that is the path they will take and they will continue to lose future elections. If Democrats have not figured out by now that the incredible gap between a 12 percent public approval rating for Congress and a better than 90 percent reelection rates for incumbents has real meaning, they never will. This is not an era in politics where governing is expected; it is a time when the future is being formulated in sound bites, repetitive messaging, featherbedding and deflection. The unfortunate truth is that it will take another generation before the ossification of government becomes so irritating to voters that the country gets to hear demands for effective government.

Russell is managing director of Cove Hill Advisory Services.