A deficit of capital
In the last few hours of prognostication, one thing has become painfully apparent: regardless of who wins the election, they’ll have very little political capital to work with.
As poll numbers have solidified as we’ve gotten closer to the election, it’s become clear that the next president will still be facing a divided congress. The House, even with some Republican losses, is going to stay Republican. The Senate, whatever the final numbers are, will be held by Democrats. That division in congress was going to be a problem no matter what. It’s nearly impossible to get significant legislation passed without a super majority. That’s the reality of American politics at this point.
Perhaps an even bigger hurdle for the next president will be a withering deficit of political capital. All the numbers suggest the 2012 election will be a close one. Is it possible for a gap to appear in the electoral college numbers? Absolutely. Is it likely? No. And in addition to those close numbers, the next president is going to have to face a reality where in all likelihood, more than half of the country didn’t vote for him.
That reality won’t buy the next president much power in Washington. That means regardless of the agenda floating around the White House at the end of January, it’s going to be very difficult to accomplish anything on that agenda.
For the next president, Wednesday morning (if we have a winner by then) could bring about a whole new battle – convincing supporters to lower their expectations. Looking to repeal health care? That could be tough. Looking for immigration reform? Better hope Washington bucks the trend and creates something bipartisan. You’re itching for a conversation on the Defense of Marriage Act? Don’t count on it.
The next president will have to live with a very uncomfortable reality. In a nation divided, nobody is king.