1) The Democrats lost.
Badly. This wasn't just a tough map. Democrats lost Senate seats in Iowa and Colorado. They lost governor races in Florida and Wisconsin. Hell, they lost governor races in Illinois, Maryland, Maine, and Massachusetts! Democrats really can't blame losing elections in Illinois, Maryland, Maine, and Massachusetts on the map. (See the results from key races here.)
2) The night had few bright spots for Democrats.
But there were some for liberals. The personhood ballot initiatives lost in Colorado and North Dakota. Marijuana was legalized in D.C. and Oregon (and we're still waiting on Alaska). The minimum wage was raised in Arkansas, Illinois and Nebraska (though the Illinois initiative will still require ratification from the legislature). Washington state expanded background checks on guns. "So voters want a higher minimum wage, legal pot, abortion access and GOP representation," tweeted FiveThirtyEight's Ben Casselman. "Ok then."
3) Democrats told themselves the wrong stories about this election.
There wasn't a secret rush of Latino voters the pollsters had simply missed. Focusing on cultural appeals like "the War on Women" didn't work. For all the Obama campaign hype, the Democrats hadn't actually discovered dark arts of GOTV that allowed them to survive a GOP year. The polls were wrong — but they were wrong because they undercounted Republican support. As often happens, Democrats fooled themselves after the 2012 election into believing they had unlocked some enduring political advantage. They learned otherwise.
4) The Republican Senate wins were largely expected.
But the scope of the GOP's gains in gubernatorial races wasn't. That makes Chris Christie, as head of the Republican Governors' Association, one of the election's big winners. He can now argue not only that he has personally won elections in a blue state but that he led a bunch of other Republicans to win hard elections in blue states. That's going to be a powerful argument to make to Republicans in 2016.
5) Hillary Clinton is arguably also a winner here.
A more Democratic year could have led to some new stars who might have been able to challenge her in 2016. Instead, some potential challengers were cut down. Gov. Martin O'Malley, for instance, saw Anthony Brown, his lt. governor and handpicked successor, defeated in Maryland. That's not going to help him make the case that he can appeal to voters she can't.
6) Republicans just got a big general boost for 2016.
They retained control of governorships in Ohio and Florida. They have a lead in the Senate that will make it much harder for Democrats to recapture the chamber even given the fact that Republicans look to be defending 24 seats to the Democrats' 10.
7) Don't expect much on immigration.
On election day, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that President Obama would go forward with his executive action to legalize an unknown number of unauthorized immigrants. But...really? Republicans just won overwhelming victories in the House, the Senate and the states, but Obama is going to go ahead and announce a major executive action all of them disagree with? At this point, if the action happens at all, my guess is it will be a lot smaller than supporters are expecting.
8) The Senate is about to get a lot more polarized.
Political scientist Alan Abramowitz put it flatly in a discussion with the Washington Post's Greg Sargent: "We'll have a Republican caucus that is more conservative than it is now, and a Democratic caucus that is more liberal than it is now, [because] you're subtracting moderates from the Democratic caucus, and adding very conservative Republicans to the GOP caucus." If one of the problems voters had with Washington was that nothing got done, it's not going to get better after this election.
9) There are a few policies that might be easier to pass after the election.
A trade deal, for instance; Republicans are friendlier to giving the president fast-track authority over trade negotiations than Democrats are. And even some Democrats think the Keystone XL oil pipeline will pass now that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can bring it to the floor. But overall, Obama's final two years in office are likely to be his hardest yet, at least when it comes to Congress. He's got little to no leverage over the rising Republican class, and after this election, he's not going to have as much influence over congressional Democrats, either.
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