Constitutional historian Richard B. Bernstein* writes in a Facebook post:
Friends keep asking me what I think about the nation's political future after the shutstorm. OK, here are some thoughts, submitted for your approval in the political version of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (where we've all been living for the last three weeks):"First, a week is a long time in politics, as the late Sir Harold Wilson noted, so trying to predict the future nearly three years ahead is a mug's game.
That said, right now the GOP has given itself such a dreadful beating that it will be a long time before it recovers fully from the Tea Party spasm. Indeed, what we're seeing is the product of a Faustian bargain. Rich corporate-minded donors such as the Koch Brothers thought that they could foster and thus control the Tea Party crowd, only to discover that they can't. The GOP is suffering a civil war within its ranks, as Tea Party true-believers and their self-anointed leaders (Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, and company) square off against establishment Republicans (John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and company). Rumors are rife of GOP primaries featuring amateur Tea Party true-believers challenging such establishment types as McConnell, and Tea Party funders targeting the establishment types.
The spasm has not only made government look better in the eyes of most voters, and the GOP look rotten, and Congress look worse, but it has bolstered the popularity of President Obama and the Democrats.
And yet we know a few things to be worried about and not to be complacent about:
(1) Too many GOP Representatives (fully half of them elected in 2010 and 2012, and thus amateurs with anti-government mania and no respect for the institution in which they serve) are in gerrymandered districts. Now, maybe voter wrath will overcome such gerrymandering, but that will be tricky. Against that truth is the other truth that lots of the Democrats who lost seats in 2010 were in purple districts that could easily flip back into the Democratic column, and in those districts (enough to flip control of the House back to Democrats if they all toss out incumbents in 2014), the incumbent GOP Representative is trailing a generic Democrat.
(2) The Senate is tricky, too, for different reasons. GOP strategists were long salivating at the chance of retaking the Senate -- but they felt that way in 2010 and 2012, also, and each time, GOP candidates self-destructed, resulting in the narrow election or re-election of Democrats, including in seats that experts had written off as GOP gains.
(3) Voters often forget spasms of political ineptitude, but this one may have staying power, and the Democrats stand ready to remind voters of the 2013 spasm.
(4) The parties have reversed conventional stereotypes of organization and disorganization -- the Democrats are standing firm and united, and tolerating ideological and political diversity among their ranks, while the Republicans are shattered, divided, and forming circular firing squads.
(5) The Democrats have a good bench of potential presidential candidates for 2016 (I remain skeptical of Hillary Clinton's chances for reasons including her age and health and the dreadful mess she and her advisers made of her 2008 run). The GOP has the same collection of clown-car idiots, but so far with no sign of a serious adult in the room or even half-an-adult. And the party's schismatic character suggests that any adult or even half-an-adult who tries to run will be sorely weakened by a divisive, bitter, vindictive, and ridiculous campaign that will make the eventual nominee the leader of a suicide mission.
So ... though nothing is guaranteed, and lots of things can change in the next two-plus years, we may have reason to hope for change in a good direction in 2014 and 2016."
*Constitutional historian Richard B. Bernstein, who writes under R. B. Bernstein, is a distinguished adjunct professor of law at New York Law School and adjunct professor of political science and history at the City College of New York. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he has authored and edited several books on American history, the constitution and the founding fathers. His most recent endeavor is a biography of Thomas Jefferson and he is currently engaged in writing about the life of John Adams.