I sure hope, for the sake of the G.O.P., that the New York Times is engaging in liberal mischievousness today, with its report that Republicans are so confident of gains big enough in the 2010 midterm elections that they may even take back the House:
“I have no doubt that we will,” said Representative Tom Price, the Georgia Republican who leads the conservative Republican Study Committee. “TheAmerican people want checks and balances, and the way to do that is to put Republicans back in charge.”
Publicly and privately, Republicans have been upbeat about the midterm outlook, saying voter unrest demonstrated at meetings this summer coupled with strong candidate recruitment have them highly optimistic about capturing 40 or more Democratic seats and resuming command of the House.
I would tell you all the many, compelling reasons this is utter fantasy –whether you agree that the 2008 election marked a once-in-a-generation political realignment leftward or not — except the Times has been good enough to do it itself:
At the moment, Democrats have not experienced a wave of retirements, sparing them from having to protect numerous open seats in competitive House districts — typically the best opportunity for a takeover by the opposition.
While Democratic fund-raising is down, the House committee has still outraised its Republican counterpart. Republican standing remains low in public opinion polls, and the party continues to struggle to resolve the gulf between its conservative wing, which is ascendant, and the remaining moderates.
Further, it is impossible to predict what the public mood will be a year from now or what the response will be if Democrats are able to pass a health care overhaul or the economy improves and unemployment decreases.
Things have got a bit better for the right since the nadir of the 2008 Presidential election. They’ve found, in Obama’s economic stimulus and health care reforms, a rallying point that has boosted their morale, and they’ve received a fair amount of media coverage over both. The bad news for them is that they’ve appeared to confuse the coverage of the Republican base with genuine voter sentiment.
It’s true that the American public has its doubts about health care reform. They’re nervous. But they also remain behind the goals of the reform — expanding coverage and reducing costs — and remain happy to increase taxes to see this done. Democrats are unpopular in Congress, but Republicans are even more unpopular, and voter identification continues to side with the Democrats. This suggests the midterms are unlikely to swing toward a Republican party offering itself up as a mere alternative to an unpopular government. That worked in 2006, when the governing party really was on the nose. Today, voters are frustrated with the government, but they’re still listening. The Republicans have wandered into a hall of mirrors and, staring at their own reflection, are convinced they’re in the midst of a revolution.
It is true that governments most often fail not when they offer bad solutions to their constituents concerns, but when they don’t recognize those concerns as problems at all. This is what happened in Australia in 1996 and 2007, and in the United States in 2008 and 1968. The Democrats should pay heed to American voters’ worries about high deficits and expanding government, lest someone else come along and pay heed for them. But right now the Republicans are offering very little in the way of solutions, and it is difficult to see them turning the current situation to their advantage.
Steven F. Hayward in the Washington Post expands on some of the background to this problem:
During the glory days of the conservative movement, from its ascent in the 1960s and ’70s to its success in Ronald Reagan’s era, there was a balance between the intellectuals, such as Buckley and Milton Friedman, and the activists, such as Phyllis Schlafly and Paul Weyrich, the leader of the New Right. The conservative political movement, for all its infighting, has always drawn deeply from the conservative intellectual movement, and this mix of populism and elitism troubled neither side.
Today, however, the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas. The leading conservative figures of our time are now drawn from mass media, from talk radio and cable news. We’ve traded in Buckley for Beck, Kristol for Coulter, and conservatism has been reduced to sound bites.
President Obama has done conservatives a great favor, delivering CPR to the movement with his program of government gigantism, but this resuscitation should not be confused with a return to political or intellectual health. The brain waves of the American right continue to be erratic, when they are not flat-lining.
Basically, the right has a lot in the way of gas-bags willing to complain, but no one coming up with new ideas to turn those complaints into policies, and subsequently, votes. Right now, voters concerns are still centered on solidly Democratic issues: health, employment, the environment even. Republicans can’t afford to get cocky.
Yet right now in the cycle is the time for parties to get cocky. They do need to get the base excited and donating time and money. Closer to the election will come the time for management of expectations, and this should prove very interesting indeed. The Democrats likely will lose seats in the House, since they’re picked up numbers the past couple elections and many of these are in districts that naturally lean Republican. Not to mention that it’s tough being the party of any President half way through a cycle.
But this will not be 1994. Republicans have no Contract with America, and they’re not about to come up with one. The battle for the Republicans will be to make the gains they do make look substantive enough to seem like a victory; for the Democrats it will be to make their losses look mild and inevitable rather than a rebuke of their policies. The Democrats understand this game. If the Republicans keep talking about taking back the House, they will find the victories they do gain will look insufficient after their big talk.