It is only 2014, but 2016 is clearly in sight for Washington insiders. The problem is there is no clear way forward for Republicans if one's eyes are focused in the foreground and the horizon. Let me put the point most bluntly. If Republicans take the Senate this Fall, which many people think they will, it would be a windfall for Hillary Clinton's chances in 2016. If the Democrats keep the Senate, the electorate would more clearly see the case for a Republican president in 2013. It is unlikely that the same party will win in 2014 and 2016, and most Republican strategists understand that their chances are much higher this year, and that is why Clinton looks even more formidable today than she did last year.
Believe it or not, all of this was planned by Madison et al in 1787. The staggering of the constitutional clock, a feature of the constitutional separation of powers, was designed to ensure that no faction, party, or movement could in one fell swoop gain control of all branches of government. At the minimum, a movement would have to strike a win three times in a row to gain control of all branches. The architectonic structure of the Constitution concedes (slyly and surreptitiously) that the people could be wrong once, or even twice; but rarely would they be wrong thrice. And if a movement does that, so be it.
Staggered elections, to be sure, are not enough to create the tension between 2014 and 2016 for partisans of either stripe. They must operate alongside the culture of separationism that the institutions themselves have helped foster. The American people, at least since the 1970s, do not like one party control of government. Separate institutions have created a separationist culture. Voters who want to punish the incumbent president in 2014 can vote the other party in to check his liberal excesses, while voters who fear that one party control of both chambers in 2016 will want a president who will stand up to them with her veto. The same reason why the presidential party is expected to do poorly in the 2014 mid-term elections is also the reason why the minority party in Congress is likely to do well in 2016. (The joint and cumulative result is that nobody has any time to plan or do anything worthwhile for the long-term, but that's a different and longer story than can be told here.)
What are some lessons for 2014, then? Democrats have an uphill battle immediately ahead of them. The Republicans appear to have learned to temper the anti-establishment in-flighting caused by the Tea Party, it will be all too easy for Republican hopefuls to blame Obama for all things wrong, and there are just too many routes available for Republicans to flip at least six Senate seats. But if it is any consolation, Republicans have already started building the case against Hillary Clinton. They are hoping against hope that Benghazi would be her Achilles' heel. Some clearly think that her mental health is fair game. Clinton for her part, should not stump for candidates in 2014. For all her star power, she won't be able to save congressional Democrats headed for the slaughterhouse. Conversely, Senator Rand Paul and other Republican hopefuls have everything to gain by getting into the Fall races, and insinuating that they produce coat-tail effects, which they can then assert in 2016.