The Obama coattails of 2008 are gone. The expansion of the electorate, the excitement of the young, came in uniquely propitious Democratic circumstances and amid unparalleled enthusiasm for electing the first African-American president.
November '08 was one-shot, one-time, never to be replicated. Nor was November '09 a realignment. It was a return to the norm -- and definitive confirmation that 2008 was one of the great flukes in American political history.
Now this may be true. But one may also say that with unemployment climbing to more than 10% of the population no incumbent party can expect to escape a backlash. GDP may have grown at 3.5% last quarter and the job-loss rate slowed, but these are still pretty bleak times for the American economy. Just as I didn't think it was George W Bush's "fault" in 2008 so I decline to blame the current President for these more recent grim numbers.
So, if unemployment remains so frighteningly high and confidence hasn't returned by next summer then, yes, the Democrats will take an even greater hammering at the mid-terms than is customarily the case for the incumbent party. (2002 was an obvious, largely 9/11-related exception to this otherwise iron rule).
But that doesn't mean that the GOP is then favourite to triumph in 2012. Apart from anything else, all Krauthammer has really proved is that Obama is more popular than his party. But, guess what? Obama will be on the ballot - like, you know, in person and for real - in 2012. He wasn't this week and nor, despite the temptation to believe otherwise, will he be on the ballot next year.
In other words it is, to be charitable, vastly too early to call his election "one of the great flukes in American political history".
Krauthammer may be right to think that the US is and always will be a "centre-right" country. But if that's true then the emphasis should be on the "centre" part of that notion, not the "right". To repeat: only one Big-C conservative has won the White House in the past 70 years. And that victory came after four years of perhaps the most hapless President since poor old Warren Harding. In other words, if Obama's victory was predicated upon a set of extreme and unusual circumstances - which, in some ways, it was - then so was Ronald Reagan's. Oddly, we rarely hear about this...
Krauthammer, however, would doubtless like the GOP to think more about the "right" than the "centre" bit of centre-right. There's not too much evidence to support the notion that this is where the public wants to be. At least not yet. This, like so much else, may yet change. But at the moment Krauthammer's breezy assumption that everything will revert to "normal" and the GOP will soon be back in control seems based on not too much more than wishful thinking.
I dare say that after the 1994 mid-terms conservatives thought they would win back the Presidency. But Bill Clinton didn't turn out to be a one-term President. That doesn't mean history will repeat itself but it also doesn't mean that it won't.