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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Will Republicans Lose Because They're Not Conservative Enough?

If the predictions hold true, Republicans will lose substantially in both Houses of Congress and in many state races this November.  As is inevitably the case, media "analysts" will attribute the election results to something simple enough to be repeated in a half-sentence soundbite.  Probably the analysis will involve some sort of claim that the elections represent a repudiation of the policies of the Bush Administration including, in particular, the Iraq conflict.  As Ethan has pointed out, analyzing the election in terms of an affirmation of Democratic principles would be difficult, as nobody knows what those principles are.

The conventional wisdom is that general elections are won by the party or the candidate that can appeal to the center of the electorate.  That theory, however, may be seen as less wise as a result of the last couple of presidential elections, which demonstrated the importance of turnout among the party "base."  (I am not an expert on these matters, so I do not offer these claims as necessarily representative of what scholars have concluded.  They do, however, reflect my anecdotal recollection of the type of analysis I derided in the last paragraph.)

Every election, it seems to me, is a balance between those two attitudes: Will an appeal to the extremes win enough votes from the base to compensate for alienating a certain number of voters in the center?  Will a move to the center pick up enough votes there to compensate for the number of party faithful who will stay home?

So in what direction have Republicans miscalculated in the past few years?  I think a good case (by no means certain of course), can be made for the theory that the Republicans have not been conservative enough.  The relevant voters are the ones that might be persuaded to vote Republican under some circumstances.  Accordingly, the fact that the far Left opposes all of the Administration's policies isn't relevant because the Republicans would not pick up the votes of the far Left even if they made an effort to appeal to the center.

Are there many potential Republican voters who are alienated by the Administration's most conservative policies?  Maybe, but I have my doubts.  I hardly see moderates and conservatives clamoring for the rights of suspected terrorists in Guantanamo or anywhere else.  Anti-gay policies may be losing their electoral power, but still, I think, are positive overall for Republicans, at least as regards marriage.  Conservative positions on other issues involving religion seem to benefit Republians electorally.  Judicial selection likewise seems to benefit conservatives, and most moderates and conservatives are perfectly happy with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.  Affirmative action?  Crime?  I don't see many potential Republican voters complaining that the administration is too conservative on these issues either.

So what policies will hurt the Republicans at the polls?  Reckless spending.  Sure, they're guilty, but that's hardly a condemnation of a conservative ideal.  Too lenient on illegal immigration?  Perhaps, but again the criticism is mostly from the Right.  Even the criticism over entering Iraq  can be seen (though it need not be seen) as reflecting the isolationism of the Right, and their indifference to the human rights violations occurring in other parts of the world.  Mismanagement of the various military conflicts is another story, but that doesn't fit easily on a left-right spectrum.

It's striking to me that in an election where Democrats are poised to pick up many seats throughout the country, their issues are largely absent.  The economy has been bad but is much better than it was in 2004 or 2002, and that issue seems to preoccupy Democrats in most election cycles more than any other.  Women's rights, civil rights, abortion, etc., just don't seem to be talked about at all.  What am I missing?  Maybe I just haven't been paying enough attention.  Are we going to have elections that are even more devoid of issues than in the past?  Perhaps the answer is that there is a general mood that the Administration is too conservative, even if few people really care about many of the Administration's policies by themselves.

What is it about the Administration that will cause potential Republican voters to stay home or vote Democratic?  My guess is that more are alienated by the Administration's betrayals of conservatism than by the President's fidelity to it.

Posted by Michael Dimino on October 22, 2006 at 01:20 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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What do you know, Newt Gingrich agrees with me:

"If the president had decided to replace Secretary Rumsfeld he should have told us two weeks ago ... I think that we would today control the Senate and probably have 10 to15 more House seats ... It's inappropriate to cleverly come out the day after an election to do something we were told before the election would not be done ... [T]he timing was exactly backwards and I hope the President will rethink how he engages the American people and how he communicates with candor."

Posted by: Simon | Nov 10, 2006 2:41:13 PM

I think you're right about the Virginia and Montana margins especially when you consider the high number of retired military in both states. I bet Rove advised Bush not to can Rumsfeld because it would be seen as weakness before the election.

Posted by: Bart Motes | Nov 9, 2006 8:31:51 PM

As to whether making the announcement before the election would have helped or hurt . . . as pointed out above, it might please voters who wanted a "fresh start" on Iraq. But wouldn't it also be an admission that the president and Rumsfeld had made lots of mistakes[?]It's not really as much a question of admitting mistakes in Iraq as it would have been an affirmation that Bush understands that he and Rumsfeld have made some pretty serious mistakes. And I really think that doing so would please those voters whose gripe over the war is how it's been run, rather than that it has been run, and who do want, at least, a fresh face and a fresh approach. Would that have made a difference to the outcome? Well, what was Webb's margin in Virginia? About eight thousand? Tester's? About three thousand? If my argument above is right (about the split in people who were voting about the war), even if firing Rumsfeld didn't help with any the folk who were against the war from the start, maybe it would have convinced three thousand Republicans in Montana, seven thousand in Virginia, that this administration understands that there have been mistakes made and is going to get serious about doing something about it. And those votes have become the difference between a Senate in which Diane Sykes becomes the Junior Justice, and one in which no one to the right of Bill Brennan gets a hearing.

However, with all that having been said:That admission ... sure wouldn't be pleasant for Bush, who apparently thinks such things are signs of weakness and thus politically harmful.Stubbornness, arrogance, hubris and machismo bullshit are, unfortunately, the trademarks of this administration. So unfortunately, I think you might be right about this one - Bush's past pattern seems to be that he gets more and more stubborn when under pressure, and does appear to be allergic to anything that might be seen to be bowing under pressure. I know I seem to keep mentioning this lately, but the Miers fiasco was a perfect example - even when it became clear that the nomination was causing massive damage, Bush simply wouldn't back down, and in the end, I doubt he would have pulled the nomination even if it became clear that he (and,of course, Hugh Hewitt) were the only Republicans left in the country who supported the nomination.

Posted by: Simon | Nov 9, 2006 6:27:19 PM

In regards to what, if anything, the president lied/spinned about at the press conference regarding when it was decided that Rumsfeld would go: He said that the election didn't matter and Rumsfeld was going to leave win or lose. Maybe that's actually true, because Bush met with Gates the Sunday before the election, he says. So why then did Bush tell reporters just last week that Rumsfeld was in for the duration? He admits he made that up, to get the reporters off the topic!

Here is the transcript:
THE PRESIDENT: . . . And as I mentioned in my comments, that Secretary Rumsfeld and I agree that sometimes it's necessary to have a fresh perspective, and Bob Gates will bring a fresh perspective. He'll also bring great managerial experience.

And he is -- I had a good talk with him on Sunday in Crawford. I hadn't -- it took me a while to be able to sit down and visit with him, and I did, and I found him to be of like mind. . . .

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Last week you told us that Secretary Rumsfeld will be staying on. Why is the timing right now for this, and how much does it have to do with the election results?

THE PRESIDENT: Right. No, you and Hunt and Keil came in the Oval Office, and Hunt asked me the question one week before the campaign, and basically it was, are you going to do something about Rumsfeld and the Vice President? And my answer was, they're going to stay on. And the reason why is I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. *And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer.*

The truth of the matter is, as well -- I mean, that's one reason I gave the answer, but the other reason why is I hadn't had a chance to visit with Bob Gates yet, and I hadn't had my final conversation with Don Rumsfeld yet at that point.

. . .

. . . And so the decision was made -- actually, I thought we were going to do fine yesterday. Shows what I know. But I thought we were going to be fine in the election. My point to you is, is that, win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee.

* * *

As to whether making the announcement before the election would have helped or hurt . . . as pointed out above, it might please voters who wanted a "fresh start" on Iraq. But wouldn't it also be an admission that the president and Rumsfeld had made lots of mistakes. That admission might not sit well with the Bush faithful, and it sure wouldn't be pleasant for Bush, who apparently thinks such things are signs of weakness and thus politically harmful.

Posted by: AB | Nov 9, 2006 2:26:55 PM

I think that the people pushing these theories – and there’s another, absolutely frickin’ crazy idea being pushed by Hugh Hewitt that this is all John McCain’s fault – are just attempts to honor the Democrats’ tradition of coming up with a crazy conspiracy theory to assign blame for the loss. ;)

I didn't hear the announcement, so if Bush tried to spin Rumsfeld's departure as being unrelated to the election, that's totally and obviously bullshit. But for the same reason as I'd say it's bullshit to say that Rumsfeld is going for any other reason than the elections, I must also call bullshit on the suggestion that Bush lied prior to the election about Rummy's departure.

Don't even get me started on the Miers nomination. ;)

Posted by: Simon | Nov 9, 2006 10:34:43 AM

The notion that Bush, et al wanted to lose the Senate and the House so they could push through a moderate (on the presumption that Stevens is out, retains lingering party loyalty, and wants to see a moderate replacement, which split control guarantees), is insane. I know that you don't subscribe to this, Simon, but the general conservative rationalization of what is, by any account, a stunning defeat, reminds me of this classic, written by a conservative over the Harriet Miers nomination:

Shit Sandwich Suprisingly Tasty; I Give It A B+

I know what you’re thinking: “Why should I try a shit sandwich?” I might have felt the same way a few days ago, but now I’m a believer.

I was chatting with an administration insider over the weekend. During a sidebar in the conversation, it was intimated to me that President Bush’s favorite late-night snack was a “shit sandwich” with tartar sauce on the side. That encouraged me to give it a shot with an open mind. I know the president is intuitive yet discriminating in his choices, and isn’t afraid to go against the conventional wisdom. He also needs a lot of energy to get up early and fight the GWOT each day.

So I tried it. The verdict? Earthy, no-nonsense flavor. The tangy contrast of the tartar sauce is initially off-putting, but like Bush, I’m in this game for the long term. I’ll give it some time to grow on me. It’s easily a B+ snack.

UPDATE: My insider friend just called me again; apparently I misheard his end of the conversation, it was a fish sandwich. Well, that shouldn’t surprise me. In addition to introducing bold new ideas, Bush has always shown an appreciation for the traditional eating values that made this country great in the first place.

On Rumsfeld, I think its possible that Bush did not want Rumsfeld to go a week ago. A week ago, he may not have known how badly Republicans were going to lose. He certainly did not decide on Rumsfeld leaving after the election, however. The sequence of events that resulted in Robert Gates being ready to go were certainly set into motion more than thirty-six hours ago. Bush did however, lie, in saying that Rumsfeld leaving had nothing to do with the election.

Gates' selection, is, I think, the first thing that Bush has done since commencing operations against Afghanistan that I think is actually a sensible, encouraging development. Gates is obviously a surrogate for Baker, Scrowcroft, and the other pragmatic, competent members of the first Bush administration. This is good. I think the quagmire is impossible at this point, but at least honest, competent people will be working on the problem now. The best hope is that Gates can be the Clark Clifford of this administration. It certainly had no George Ball. (Ok, maybe Richard Armitage.)

Posted by: Bart Motes | Nov 9, 2006 9:45:38 AM

He's already lied to the American people about Rumsfeld telling us last week he will be with Bush for the duration, knowing that Rumsfeld would be leaving.I doubt very much that it's a lie. Politicians usually tell lies to avoid the revelation of information that might damage their chances in elections, but if Bush had announced last week that he was firing Rumsfeld, I think we'd have held the Senate.

Here's the pitch. The Democrats worked very hard to turn this election into a referendum on Iraq, and in large part, they succeeded. Now, obviously that wasn't the only factor, and I think you're absolutely right that there was a strong element of, as Mike Pence has noted, punishing the House Republicans for six years of heresy, which is why quite a few Republicans are fairly sanguine about losing the House. But in any event, the elephant in this room was Iraq, the Democrats worked hard to put it there, and it worked. And it worked because, as I said above, in my October 23d comment, you have two groups to whom that tactic appealed - "people [who are] are spitting mad about the war[:] either that we went to war in the first place, or an increasing number of those who supported (and/or continue to support) the war who are angry at the way the war is being run." Those two groups add up to a majority, which is the major reason why we lost. But firing Rumsfeld a week ago would have gone a long way towards mollifying the second group, because it would indicate a shift in policy, an awareness on the administration's part that things are not going well in Iraq, and that we need to get serious about figuring out what's broken and how to fix it.

Given the margins in Missouri, Montana and Virginia, I would suggest that if the President knew a week ago that Rumsfeld was going, he'd have announced it on the spot. I don't think Bush wanted Rumsfeld to go, because we've already seen that Bush's loyalty to his people overwhelms what one hopes is his better judgment, so I think that Rumsfeld looked at the election returns and gave them the most natural reading I think they support: a damning national rejection of a policy that he superintends. His continuance in office after last night was politically untenable, so he left.

Of course, I could be wrong - but you're going to argue that Bush lied about Rumsfeld's continuing tenure, what motivation do you offer for that lie? What was he hoping to achieve? Or are you buying into the emerging conspiracy theory that Bush and Rove actually wanted to engineer a GOP defeat in the Senate, in order to nominate someone in the order of Gonzales or Callahan to the Supreme Court (for strategic political reasons), candidates unacceptable to the base in a Republican-controlled Senate?

Posted by: Simon | Nov 9, 2006 8:39:32 AM

I think what you are missing is that people want to see a change in direction. Corruption, ethics issues, mediocre progress on domestic issues and of course the lack of significant progress in Iraq has taken its toll. I also believe there is a misconception that the Dems don't have an agenda. They have ideas. It's just that the Republicans have been squashing attempts by the Dems to say what their agenda is. The Democrats produced a 528 page Security plan but that was cast aside by the Republicans. The Republicans have also been playing hardball with the Dems during congressional meetings and special sessions where the Republicans would schedule meetings then change them at the last minute, leaving Democratic staffers wandering the halls of Congress wondering where they should be. The Republicans would abrubtly end meetings by turning off microphones and turning off the lights while a Democratic speaker would be in the middle of a discussion.

I also don't expect to see much change in behavior on Bush's part. He will work with the Democrats so long as they do what he suggests. He's already lied to the American people about Rumsfeld telling us last week he will be with Bush for the duration, knowing that Rumsfeld would be leaving.

But in answer to your question I believe the American people wanted to see a change and that is what was reflected in the outcome of the election.


Posted by: Chip | Nov 9, 2006 12:33:35 AM

I cannot believe you are debating whether or not the issues as they stand are not enough to bring Americans to vote out Republicans. A war that is costing our country 250 MILLION dollars a day, our country men dying for a cause which we were lied to about, an administration that has shown no change in course either to win the war-which is never going to happen, or pull out immediately. This administration has spent so much money fighting a losing war with no strategy to win that our children's children will be paying for this blunder. What a nice thing to pass onto to our kids. Oh yeah and to boot giving tax breaks to the rich. The bottom line is the middle class is being screwed by politicians who are taking corporate money and influencing policy based on these companies needs. I may be a liberal but I would not be unhappy at all if America just sent a message to all politicians that they are working for us and if they don't make our lives better you are out of a job. I'd sacrifice every last Democrat in congress if every last Republican went with them too. And what's wrong with cut and run? We provided no security to Iraq when we went in. Leaving them with a mess would be just what they would expect from America. The Republicans have given Democrats all the issues they need. We have no reason to debate affirmative action, gay rights or abortion. Unchecked spending and this war is all they need to mobilize their base and the middle. It is working. Right or Left there are many unhappy Americans. Also these issues will last not only in the 2008 election but probably for at least 20 more years, which is about the time it will take to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. America will start to forget and then vote in Republicans once again. Long live the Republic!

Posted by: Melissa | Oct 25, 2006 2:14:50 PM

Mark Warner thinks it will be an issue in '08.

Posted by: Bart Motes | Oct 23, 2006 9:38:24 PM

Is it a certainty that the war will not be an issue in '08 ?It's a certainty that Bush won't be, although I gave up making predictions about Iraq 18 months ago.

Posted by: Simon | Oct 23, 2006 8:45:11 PM

Is it a certainty that the war will not be an issue in '08 ?

Posted by: c | Oct 23, 2006 7:38:43 PM

I think that Glenn Reynolds basically hit it on the nose here. You have a perfect storm. In the one hand, you have conservative dissatisfaction with Congress that has been a dismal failure by any measurement; I think that a lot of conservatives aren't happy with the idea of the Democrats getting the House, but they want to see the Congressional GOP taken to the woodshed and given the beating of its life. As Reynolds points out, this Congress has managed to irritate almost every pole in the Republican tent. And in the other hand, you have an electorate where a lot of people are spitting mad about the war, either that we went to war in the first place, or an increasing number of those who supported (and/or continue to support) the war who are angry at the way the war is being run. Both are looking to take the administration to the woodshed, but with Bush's absence from the ballot have no direct way to punish the administration.

The bad news is that two years is that a Pelosi-led House has the ability lasting damage, principally on immigration; the good news is that they shouldn't get too comfortable in the majority. If this election is a referendum on Bush and the war, that majority isn't going to last when those issues evaporate in the '08 election.

Posted by: Simon | Oct 23, 2006 5:01:54 PM

I don't think this is accurate. My response here: http://termofbart.blogspot.com/2006/10/bush-not-conservative-enough-ha.html

Posted by: Bart Motes | Oct 23, 2006 11:24:22 AM

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