“Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.”-Rahm Emanuel
Is there any question that Obama’s presidency is in crisis?
Biden’s observation that Republican victory in 2010 would be “the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do” is telling. It is an excellent argument for voting GOP next year. However much the Republicans may deserve to lose yet again, the country does not deserve to have done to it what Barack and he are trying to do.
What Barack and he are trying to do is steamroll through Congress radical and destructive changes in policy: government takeovers of the medical industry and labor-management relations and massive taxes on energy in the name of combating so-called climate change. One may surmise that Barack and he expected to have accomplished much of this already.
All told, 49 Democratic House members sit in districts which voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain last November, while only 34 Republican congressmen sit in districts won by President Obama. Given the magnitude of Obama’s victory, these numbers understate the problem Democrats face, since some normally Republican districts were swept along in the Obama tide, but will likely return to their GOP roots in 2010 (and possibly in 2012, too).
Where, then, does each party stand? Republicans are rightfully optimistic in predicting gains in the House, since Democrats will be forced to play more defense than offense. However, that optimism should be tempered by Obama’s approval ratings, which have fallen, but still remain in the 50 percent range according to recent polls. If even these modest ratings continue for the Democratic president, it is hard to imagine a GOP landslide occurring at 2006 or 2008 levels, when Democrats capitalized on the unpopularity of Republican President George W. Bush, whose approval ratings were hovering a full twenty points lower than Obama’s. This lukewarm presidential approval, however, does create a set of conditions in which Republicans can certainly pick off a few incumbents while winning a number of open seat contests.
After examining all 435 House races for 2010, the Crystal Ball projects that Republicans will gain between 20 and 30 seats. While this is nothing to sneeze at, especially given that it would be the largest gain for congressional Republicans since 1994, it still puts them short of the 40 seat pick-up they need to take back the House.
The question is prompted by the new release from the Gallup organization, which showed that the gap in party identification is now the smallest it has been since 2005. Democrats are still in the lead, but not by the double-digit margins they often enjoyed the past two years.
The report was the second in a month from Gallup to suggest that, eight months into the Obama administration, Democrats are losing favor with at least a portion of the electorate. Republicans are cheering the findings as a sign of a potentially important change in the political landscape. Democratic strategists offer cautionary notes about what is actually happening.
What’s behind the narrowing of the gap? The whole shift has come among people who do not initially identify with one of the two major parties. Some are stubbornly independent, but many of these people lean toward one party or another. Over the past few years, more of these leaners have tilted toward the Democrats than toward the Republicans. Not today.
In the first three months of this year, Gallup found that 17 percent of all adults were independents who leaned toward the Democrats, and 11 percent independents who leaned toward the Republicans. Since then, however, Democrats have lost ground with indpendents and Republicans have gained ground. Gallup’s third quarter data showed that 15 percent of adults were Republican-leaning independents, and 13 percent Democratic-leaning independents.
The point to remember about those citizens in the political middle who decide every national election is that they’re the least philosophically committed, issues-oriented voters in the electorate. Interviews and conversation make it obvious that many citizens describe themselves as “moderate” because they feel uncertain of their place on the political spectrum, less engaged with the roiling controversies of the day. Moderates famously respond to personalities or atmospherics (“hope and change” or “compassionate conservatism”) more than they react to nine-point plans or detailed position papers. They also dislike strident, the other-guy-is-Hitler rhetoric because such appeals seem like a rebuke to their own uncertainty.
Republicans can’t win without rallying the plurality of Americans who prefer conservatism to liberalism, but they also can’t triumph (anywhere) with that group alone. Like Democrats, the GOP needs moderate votes for victory, and the only way to get them without sacrificing principle or core conservative voters involves deploying the same combination that has worked before: maintaining clearly conservative positions, but with those values presented in a manner that’s optimistic, constructive, reasonable and, yes, moderate.
“A Democrat congressman last week told me after a conversation with the president that the president had trouble in the House of Representatives, and it wasn’t going to pass if there weren’t some changes made … and the president says, ‘You’re going to destroy my presidency.’ “– Senator Charles Grassley
Oh, but it’s not about him. It’s ALL about him!
“I don’t want Obama to fail; I want the country to succeed! I want Obama’s policies to fail. But Obama’s failure to implement his policies is good news, the best news possible for this country. That’s all I’m saying.”– Rush Limbaugh
“yes, of course, I want him to succeed, but that means he’ll govern as a conservative…”–Ann Coulter
Medved contends that a GOP takeover in 2010 won’t destroy Obama’s presidency; it would rescue it:
Republicans can plausibly argue that a GOP comeback would help President Obama find a pragmatic, unifying path rather than continuing to pursue the shrill hyper-partisanship of a shallow hack like Harry Reid. If he continues with big Democratic majorities, he may go the way of over-reaching, imperious, ultimately discredited presidents like Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter (whose 292 House seats gave him a veto-proof, two-thirds majority) or even, arguably, George W. Bush. If his supporters want President Obama to enjoy the consistent popularity of practical, deft, consistently popular chief executives like Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton, they should welcome a GOP takeover of one or both Houses of Congress in 2010.
A Republican comeback a year from now wouldnt destroy the Obama presidency and it may, in fact, promise the best hope for saving it.