This is the time of "spin." The Democrats sound as if they were victims of an IED blast, delighted to have only lost an arm and a leg instead of two of each. The Republicans sound like roosters believing that the sun rose because they crowed.
The reality check is more complex. The Democrats were sharply defeated, losing the House of Representatives, but not as catastrophically as was predicted earlier in the summer. And, they retained control of the Senate, saving their vulnerable majority leader Harry Reid. Moreover, Democrats gained a great, oft unmentioned prize: the governorship of California, which will assist them substantially in the 2012 presidential election.
The Republican victory was substantial--very much so--but again with caveats. The party victorious in the presidential election almost always loses seats in the subsequent "off year" mid-term election. Additionally, a good number of Republican victories were "reclama" events; the massive Obama sweep of 2008 elected Democrats in traditional Republican districts. Victories against such newbie Democratic representatives reflected the pendulum returning toward equilibrium. So some gains were simply the consequence the Obama tidal wave receding.
And knowing U.S. predilection for litigious approaches some contested elections probably won't be decided until July 4.
Nevertheless, contradicting predictions from 2008 when various observers believed the Republicans were dead for a generation, the corpse arose. And for this resurrection, the "Tea Party" deserves substantial credit. Unorganized, amorphous, chaotic, multifaceted, the Tea Party provided the proverbial "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" galvanic energy that disinterred the Republicans. Reacting against the imperial overstretch and snide condescension that epitomized the Obama administration, Tea Party acolytes, in and out of office, sparked the opposition. But demonstrating that every positive has a negative, they adopted more-conservative-than-thou semi-litmus tests probably costing Republicans victories in senate races that would have won both houses of Congress. Now the Republicans have the problem of trying to live in the same structure with a more than infrequently furious "adolescent" with tremendous energy and commitment, but who believes his parents are idiots. For now, the Republicans are happy with the energized results and hope Tea Party fury will continue focused against Democrats and not prompt a third party movement.
The core of the American political problem, however, is deep and serious dissatisfaction with its government. Significant majorities appear to believe that government is not as good as the people, and a majority would have been willing to see all congressional members (including their own) replaced. Levels of popular support for Congress and for both major political parties are exceptionally low. Thus the "Republicans" did not win the 2010 election; Democrats (and particularly incumbents) lost it.
The obvious prospect in Congress is for gridlock. There will be ostentatious professions of "outreach" and "across the aisle" bipartisanship which should be taken with a dump truck load of salt. Any outstretched hand will be wacked off at the wrist; we will see two years of political thrust and parry with Obamaites deflecting efforts to undo flagship health legislation while praying that the economy/employment will rebound sufficiently to gainsay Republican charges of disastrous debt/deficit Democrat doings. We can expect nothing but conflict until the 2012 election either makes Obama a Carter/GHWBush one-termer or returns him victorious for "four more years."
But the 2008 Obama mystique is clearly dead. The "hopey/changey" slogan is past passé. Democrats are using athletic metaphors to the effect that the president must "pick up his game, etc. Obama's once attractive "cool" image has too frequently appeared frostily insensitive--no Bill Clinton, he doesn't "feel your pain." He has seemed to blame the people for not understanding and appreciating his efforts--and in doing so has lost the Independent (and substantial numbers of women) voters that provided his 2008 victories.
But the Republicans must find a candidate. The old saw remains: you can't beat somebody with nobody. And today Republican "wantabes" far outnumber "could be" candidates.
Democrats would like to see foreign policy on autopilot for two years. Republicans will support "stay the course" action in Iraq/Afghanistan which are our most neuralgic international problems but did not intrude on the midterm election. Of course there are always "events" that force policy action, but do not expect sweeping (successful) international relations initiatives--certainly nothing foreign observers would conclude as contingent on Obama's reelection.
And, in microcosm, I participated as an election official in a county precinct: up at 4:00 a.m., returning home at 10:30 p.m., helping to manage voting in a district where a "dead dog" Democrat would be elected-- one that Obama would wish reflected the USA.