In theory...Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, having survived his own election-day near-death experience, should be able to muster 53 votes if he keeps his troops in line.
But life is never that simple in the Senate and certainly won't be now. Among the Senate Democrats, 23 will face re-election in just two years, and, having just witnessed the drubbing some in their party took at the polls, they likely will be even less willing now to toe the party line. Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who caucuses with Democrats, often leans rightward, anyway.
More important, among those 23 Democrats who face voters in 2012 are a handful of incumbents from the kind of moderate to conservative states where Democrats took a beating last week: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Jon Tester of Montana, Jim Webb of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Joe Manchin, who just won a Senate race in West Virginia by separating himself from President Barack Obama and his party's congressional leaders, also faces voters again in two years because he was elected only to fill out an unexpired term.
On selected issues, that means Mr. McConnell actually might find it at least as easy as the Democrats' Mr. Reid to assemble a working majority...Moreover, lest Mr. McConnell be tempted to feel cocky about his position, he has internal problems of his own.
The real upshot may be that, in a Senate where neither party really has a clear majority on every issue, party discipline means less and the opportunity for free-lancing and interparty mash-ups grows. Nobody will really be in charge. Let the fun begin.
One of Sen. McConnell's "internal problems" within his caucus is the fight already brewing over Sen. Jim DeMint's proposed earmarks ban. The United States Senate will soon be fraught with power struggles, political defections, and strange bedfellows. As Seib writes, "Let the fun begin."