Roundtable: The GOP Victory — and Obama's Next Steps

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House Republican Leader John Boehner.
Bill Clark/Roll Call via Getty

The Republicans could also try to repeal health care reform.
Gergen: We're in a situation in which each side has a veto. Jim Schlesinger, who served as secretary of both defense and energy, once said that everybody in Washington has the capacity to say no, but nobody has the capacity to say yes. That makes for gridlock, and paralyzes government. That's a very real possibility we face — one that will hurt both sides heading into 2012. If joblessness is still high, you've got a wounded Obama, you've got an angry Tea Party, where are we then? We're a country in decline — and that, to me, is the biggest fear.

Hart: Despite all the seats Republicans picked up, there are still three gaping holes in their image. First, their image remains as negative as it was after the election in 2008 — 41 percent of registered voters have negative feelings toward the Republicans. Second, half of those who identify with the Republicans care more about the Tea Party than the GOP, and they're going to hold the leadership's feet to the fire; John Boehner is about to get some electroshock treatment. Third, as the victories of Jerry Brown in California and Harry Reid in Nevada underscore, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate is the Hispanic vote. Democrats had a 22-point advantage among Hispanics in 2004; today that has grown to a 38-point advantage. Anti-immigration rhetoric may have driven Republican voters to the polls this year, but they will pay a price for it in 2012.

Taibbi: You would certainly think that if the Republicans spend the next two years screeching about immigration and Medicare and Social Security, they would lose votes with Hispanics, the elderly and, well, people in general. But you never know how American voters will react when you take their benefits away. I can envision a scenario where the Republicans push for steep cuts in social services in the name of balancing the budget, then just keep the social cuts and leave out the balancing-the-budget part, which is what they did in the Bush years. And then the dingbats in the Tea Party will throw a parade for them in 2012.

Speaking of 2012, which of the Republican presidential hopefuls benefited the most from this election?
Gergen: There's no question that Sarah Palin has gained more from this as a Republican kingmaker. But I imagine there's going to be a search for someone else to serve as the bridge-builder I mentioned earlier. To me, the leading possibility, if he can overcome the brand-name problem, is Jeb Bush. Two years ago, you would have said, "Impossible." Today, quite possible. He's a much more viable candidate today than he was two years ago, and he's one of the few people I know who could bridge the various factions within the party and hold people together. So I'm putting my money on Jeb Bush as a potential star who might emerge and unite the party.

Taibbi: Whew. I was already depressed this morning, but thinking about another Bush as the better-case scenario in an either/or political future makes me want to douse myself with kerosene and jump into a blast furnace.

So where do we stand? By splitting control of the House and Senate, have voters doomed us to two more years of partisan gridlock?
Gergen: The looming, transcendent question is whether we can govern ourselves as a people, or whether we're going to just drift into a serious decline. My hope is that Obama will head to the center and the Republicans will be a constructive opposition. It would be good if they could actually get things done as we did in the latter Clinton years, like balancing the budget and welfare reform. If the Republicans play an obstruction game for the next two years, it is possible that they could succeed in 2012, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory. It would be taking over a country that is almost ungovernable by that point, a nation that is going to be ever closer to the edge.

Hart: David draws an eloquent picture, as he always does, of how we would like the world to be. But during the Clinton period in the late Nineties, there wasn't Fox News. Fox not only demonizes everything the president says and does — it has become the major vetting group for Republicans, and it will not allow any kind of compromise to exist. It's like the ending of The Sun Also Rises, when Lady Brett Ashley nestles in the arms of Hemingway's hero and imagines what their life together might have been like. She says, "Wouldn't it be nice?" It would be nice, but I don't think we're going to get there.

The following is an article from the November 25, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone. This issue is available on newsstands Friday, as well online in Rolling Stone's digital archive. Click here to subscribe.

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