Apocalypse Now? Democrats Get Wrecked in the 2014 Midterm Elections

Last night’s midterm election results were weird. Not because the pendulum of Congressional control swung back to the Republican Party; the tick-tock cycle of midterm power shifts been the standard in the United States for decades. Not because Senator Mitch McConnell refused to answer the phone when President Obama called to congratulate him on his landslide reelection victory. Not even because Karl Rove went on national television dressed like a fucking cowboy.

A real thing that happened

A real thing that happened

No, last night’s midterm election results were weird because Americans voted to legalize marijuana, to have better access to abortions, to implement a higher minimum wage… and to operate under a new set of GOP overlords.

In the wise words of Big Bird: One of those things is not like the other. One of those things just doesn’t belong.

But here we are, and here’s what happened, and here’s what it means for you.

Republicans now control the House and the Senate

House Republicans won at least nine seats last night, which means they’ll take up 245 spots in the 114th Congress, compared to the the Democrats’ 174-ish. (Some votes are still being counted and some run-offs will be necessary.) According to the New York Times, that’s the largest Republican majority in the House of Representatives since Truman was president. The GOP also snagged seven Senate seats, giving them their first majority since the good ol’ Bush administration.

What does that mean for the waning days Obama’s presidency? It depends on who you ask, obviously.

NYT thinks it’s pretty awful news for his legacy:

Democratic midterm losses during the Obama presidency now rival those of both Richard M. Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1994 as the most destructive to his party’s political standing in Congress in the post-World War II era.

BuzzFeed thinks it’s no big deal, to be honest:

The flip of the Senate will be remembered for one thing: It will be the first time in history that a major party took control of both chambers of Congress and absolutely nothing changed.

Vox thinks a whole lot more of nothing is going to get accomplished:

We’ll have a Republican caucus that is more conservative than it is now, and a Democratic caucus that is more liberal than it is now, [because] you’re subtracting moderates from the Democratic caucus, and adding very conservative Republicans to the GOP caucus. If one of the problems voters had with Washington was that nothing got done, it’s not going to get better after this election.

And New York Magazine‘s Daily Intelligencer thinks everyone should just calm down:

For the last two decades, neither party has held control of the Senate for more than eight years. For all the rhetoric you’ll hear in the coming days from Republicans that this is a mandate, it isn’t. Republicans still have a real challenge putting together a winning coalition in presidential campaign years. Democrats still have a hard time putting one together in the midterms. None of that appears to have changed on Tuesday night.

The GOP won lots of gubernatorial seats too

Wisconsin reelected Scott Walker. Florida reelected Rick Scott. Michigan reelected Rick Snyder. But those victories were mostly expected. My girlfriend is a native Wisconsinite and last night she said she thinks Scott Walker could punch a baby in the face and still win votes. The surprise GOP governor victories came in liberal bastions like Maryland, Illinois, and Massachusetts. And then there were states that were on the purple fence but learning Democratic — states like Iowa — that ultimately tilted Republican in their gubernatorial elections.

Maine also failed to elect Mike Michaud, who would have been the first openly gay person to be elected as governor. (New Jersey mayor Jim McGreevey came out in 2004, but he did so in his resignation speech.)

These victories are actually a more alarming than the Congressional ones, because it’s governors and state legislatures that do the most damage with conservative social policies these days. Abortion, immigration, LGBT rights, gun control: Watch as more red states than ever try to legislate these issues with medieval morality.

What’s next? Hillary? Equality? Total doom?

All eyes are now on the 2016 presidential election. When and how is Hillary Clinton going to announce her candidacy? Is Elizabeth Warren going to step up to the plate to challenge her?

Are Republican candidates going to do that dumbass thing again where they run wildly toward the Tea Party spewing anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-logic bullshit only to try to turn around in midstream when the general election arrives and the majority of voters force them to act like it’s 2016 and not 1600? Or are they going to get their shit together and acknowledge they can’t win national elections with their homophobic rhetoric and legislation? Marriage equality seems like a done deal at this point as it barrels its way to the legal system, but will all these Republican lawmakers allow anti-equality legislation to reach the floor of their assemblies?

If history is any indication, we’re only a few months away from the start of the next presidential election. Gird your loins, dial in Rachel Maddow, and get ready to get busy with grassroots campaigns.

Edit: Based on projections at the time of posting, the original version of this article stated that Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper lost Colorado’s gubernatorial race, but the election has since been called in his favor. Yay! 

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


  1. I think we’re looking at another term of gridlock, nothing new there, just with a more republican (crazy) spin on things. But remember how hard it was to get anything done when the senate was blue? I have full faith that the minority democrats are going to return the favor, and we’ve still got a democrat in office to veto and really crazy shit. Yay checks and balances, boo any chance of realistic growth and progress. Really sucks for everyone who wants a government that works, but it also serves as a wake up call for rich liberals who only donate money during presidential elections and to the younger generations of this country that you have to actually go and vote, and not just in presidential elections.

    • Thank you for the update, Mira! I’ve made the change. Pollsters were ruling out Hickenlooper at the time I posted; I’m glad they were wrong!

  2. I find it interesting that this Republican sweep is being hailed by many as another Tea Party takeover, when it seems to me that the new group that just won doesn’t seem nearly as extreme (i.e. slightly more traditional establishment Republican in rhetoric) as the 2010 wave.

    Also, it seems like the newly elected Republicans are (at least for Republicans) slightly less old, slightly less white, and slightly less male.

    I’m not saying that makes any of their policies any less hell-ish. I just find the trajectory much more complex than most people are acknowledging.

    I’m a democrat through-and-through, but I believe that this country needs a robust political system (not necessarily 2 party, but I’m not seeing any way of changing that, especially with Ormand losing). And the Republican party has been stuck for so long in its old male whiteness that it’s been on the verge of becoming obsolete. Again, not saying that I agree with the policies or ideologies of this new bunch of Repubs, but I do think that it’s a slightly hopeful sign for the country overall if the demographic makeup of the one of the two major parties is beginning to shift. If it keeps shifting, maybe, just maybe, the GOP will finally give up the ghost of fighting for the social issues clung to by old white dudes. Maybe we can have robust debates about economic and foreign policy issues without without cries of “baby-killers” and “abominations” drowning out any constructive dialogue.

  3. I may have my feminist card revoked for this but i would much rather see Elizabeth Warren elected president than Hillary, and I’m mixed as to how I see who would do better in a general election.

    On another note I watched no less than 5 people turned away from my polling place for lack of id (which is not legal even in Louisiana) and i was only there for like 10 min so id say last nights landslide says more about the failings in the voting process in this country and less to do with some mandate for change. Remember, the less people able to vote the more likely republicans are to win elections.

    • I don’t think either has a chance to win. I’m hoping Hillary has the sense not to run. Obama’s legacy is not going to give us a democratic president.

      • It truly is a shame that President Obamas legacy isn’t so much based on fact but Republican bullshit. 63 straight months of economic recovery, 2 women appointed to the supreme court, unemployment is down, the GDP is up, we have a major healthcare reform program that is working, don’t ask dont tell was repealed, he was the first President to even say the word transgender. Is he perfect? No. But its been an uphill battle for him and he’s done the best he can with a do nothing Congress. I wholeheartedly believe that the reason liberals don’t vote is because no one on our side is actually liberal anymore the Republicans have dragged us so far into the center and taken away the votes from so many people that it’s inevitable that they’ll keep winning elections.

    • Sadie, that is a really good point about voter ID rules and election of Republicans. I’m in Vancouver Canada and we have a municipal election coming up. The same issues are being raised here about how access to voting ‘rights’ (through location of polling stations and ID rules) will impact the election results and skew towards the right.

  4. Did anyone else notice that the media has suddenly changed from a “majority” in the Senate being 60 votes to it being 50 votes. Different rules for the Republicans apparently.

    • The Senate changed the rules earlier this year to allow for a simple majority to pass certain laws. I believe that’s why the networks used 51.

    • Usually the 60 vote thing is referred to as a “Super-majority” required to get past a filibuster. The Repubs are definitely in the majority now, but the Dems can still filibuster stuff and, no matter what, Obama can veto most things. Also, while the Dems just changed some filibuster rules, those are for confirming Presidential appointees (not including Cabinet and Supreme Court appointees). So if anything the lack of filibuster may still help Dems as they will need to peel off fewer Repubs to get Obama’s appointments confirmed.

  5. We must all be delusional if we think Hillary is actually good for us. She is T E R R I B L E. Terrible for the working poor, because I don’t even know if middle class actually exist. She is terrible for Latin@s, she is terrible for undocumented people. She is terrible on foreign policy as she likes bomb the shit out of everyone and make shitty treaties on how to screw Latin America over.

    Y’all this election is telling, TELLING us that we must wake up and really actually start thinking about building a 3rd party. Democrats continue to appeal to more conservative folks, they continue to look for endorsements from major corporations. I mean yes I voted Democrat this last election but I think we, queers, working poor, people of color, women, and all need to start thinking of ways of how we can organize an alternative fucking society. Because no.

    • I think a lot of why people are pro-Hillary comes from a very ‘white feminism’ viewpoint –>”Yay, a woman in the white house! She totally understands about oppression and will be a great leader”
      Yes, she is for reproductive freedom and equal pay. But, she is also quite hawkish and seems to have very little (political) consciousness about US neocolonial and ecological imperialism, and institutionalized classism and racism.

    • Thank God someone said it. Democrats are better than the alternative but if you look at the global political spectrum, they are an economically far right, socially centrist political party that is full of hawks and deeply in bed with big business. I would not have a clothespin big enough to put on my nose to get rid of the stink of the Democrats to bear campaigning (or voting) for them in many cases, but sometimes you have to. I would never vote for Hillary though. She is just a moderate Republican.

  6. I don’t know about any other colleges/universities, but the school I go to was TERRIBLE about getting people to vote. I had an absentee ballot from my home state, but ended up driving people to the polls who had no other means of getting there. And unlike 2 years ago, no one was around in the last couple weeks reminding out of staters to request absentee ballots, so I would be surprised if a significant number of people on my campus voted in yesterday’s elections.
    Any other anecdotes along those lines?

    • I attend a southern, rural university and no one at all mentioned voting to us. If I didn’t watch the news in our dining hall (or go on social media), I wouldn’t have even known there were elections going on.

  7. I would love to see Elizabeth Warren go up against Hillary, just because it seems like something that would be super healthy. Let’s not settle for having any democratic woman for president! Only whoever deserves it the most! That’s what would happen in a healthy democracy. CHOICES FOR FEMALE DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTS YESSSS.

  8. For a brief moment, I thought the Democrat was going to win in MA and it got my hopes up (because despite what everybody, including this article thinks, MA is notorious for electing Republican governors. I mean, we elected Mitt Romney). Then she lost and I was sad again.

    On the plus side, MA companies are now required to give paid sick time.

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