Now that the question has been answered — who will be the 44th president — there are seven more questions which will consume politicians, strategists, pundits, and voters for the next few years.
1. Will President Barack Obama govern as a moderate centrist or a liberal extremist? As the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, with a background seeped in far-left activism, he does not seem naturally inclined to head to the center without a looming election to force him to accommodate moderate voters. Certainly he now has every opportunity to push through the redistributive agenda he spoke about so fondly in his now-infamous 2001 radio address. He has healthy majorities in both houses of Congress and a wish list built up over eight years — with everything from universal health care to abolishing secret ballot union elections to the Freedom of Choice Act.
It would seem to require Herculean strength for a president, especially one relatively new to Washington and with a record of subservience to party orthodoxy, to resist the strong leftward pull. Certainly, Obama presumably wants not just one, but two terms and wants to retain that Congressional majority. And the lesson of 1994 when President Bill Clinton lost his Democratic Congressional majority remains fixed in Democrats’ memories. But it is hard to imagine, even with the financial crisis — and the resulting mound of debt and revenue shortfall — that Obama will now transform into a protector of free markets and balanced budgets and a bulwark against the phalanx of Democratic special interest groups.
Bottom Line: Expect Obama the liberal to trump Obama the equivocator.
2. Who will get blamed for the Republican wipeout? The list of potential culprits is long: President Bush, Treasury Secretary Paulson, John McCain, Sarah Palin, the entire McCain camp, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and, of course, the MSM. Those on the right with a specific agenda (e.g., less populism, more technocrats, and activist government) already have their guns pointed at the corresponding culprit (e.g., Palin). The conservative punditocracy got an early jump on the circular firing squad with many isolating Steve Schmidt as the tactician run amok. Others fingered their own candidate.
Bottom Line: After months of fighting, the conventional wisdom will be to blame Bush, banish the McCain campaign team, and conclude that the absence of any viable economic message was a significant factor in the loss. And expect conservatives in the base to rally around Palin in the face of an onslaught by the punditocracy which will label her selection as McCain’s biggest error.
3. What will the Republican Congressional minority do? They can’t do much given their reduced size. The argument will be over whether to accommodate the new administration or to resist at all costs. More importantly, the struggle will be to identify a new agenda comparable to the Contract with America which could re-energize the party and gain back lost seats.
Bottom Line: Look for a “Heck, no!” strategy while young Turks like Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) strive to develop a comprehensive alternative agenda.