With Charles Krauthammer warning Republicans not to underestimate President Obama in connection with 2012, it's worth also recalling that certain legislative victories and personnel placements are hard to reverse even after elections. Generally I'm not big on insect metaphors, but it's been suggested to me that a President Obama who loses elections in 2010 or 2012 might be something like a male praying mantis who dies after sex but who nonetheless keeps his line alive.
Who is going to staff all the new bureaucracies created by ObamaCare and financial reform? People the Obama team hire, with civil service job protections that will keep them in place for a long time. In less than two years in office, President Obama has already had as many Supreme Court picks (Sotomayor and Kagan) as President George W. Bush had in eight years (Roberts and Alito).
And look at the historical precedents. Republicans won control of both houses of Congress in 1946, for the first time since 1928, but the institutions and legislation established by FDR's New Deal — the Securities and Exchange Commission, Social Security — remained intact. President Reagan was elected in 1980, ushering in a 12 year period of Republican control of the White House, but the institutions and legislation established by Johnson, Nixon, and Carter — Medicare, the Environmental Protection Agency, the federal Department of Education — survived. And the Republicans took over Congress again in 1994. They managed to reform welfare, cut capital gains taxes, and balance the federal budget, significant achievements, all, but in terms of rolling back the sprawl of government, they did not succeed.
There have been examples of elections or politicians or courts undoing what previous politicians have enacted -- welfare reform is one example, as is the repeal of prohibition and the destruction of high-rise public housing projects. And just because large-scale repeals have been rare in the past doesn't mean they won't happen more frequently in the future: past performance is no guarantee of future results, as they say in finance. But just as President Obama has found it difficult to get out of President Bush's Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the post-September 11 national security programs that the Washington Post is highlighting in its big series this week, any Republican who follows President Obama is going to be seriously constrained by his predecessor's actions.