Temper Your Enthusiasm
By: Craig Chamberlain
The biggest Congressional victories for the GOP came in 1894, when the Republican party gained 130 seats, It was a year with an unpopular President in Grover Cleveland, and a weak economy. The Democrats were running scared and the Republicans swept in, there was a major realignment in the nations politics, and for the next 40 years the United States was under GOP control, excepting the Woodrow Wilson years when the GOP divided itself.
To hear some pundits and pollsters talk about the upcoming elections on Nov 2nd(as of this writing 60 days away) they expect nothing less than an Republican wave from sea to shining sea that will bring another major realignment with it. The Democratic party will be crushed, and will be forced to spend decades as an impotent minority party. The problem with such euphoric thinking is that it’s never accurate. Just four years ago the Democrats were crowing about how they had crushed the evil right wing Republicans, and had reduced them to an irrelevancy. This thinking was further compounded by their victory in 2008 that saw the election of President Obama, and further gains in Congress for the Democrats.
Now here we are, poised on the edge of a GOP victory. How much of a GOP victory is the question. Dick Morris, and others, are saying that both houses of Congress will fall to the Republicans,and that the Republicans could gain as many as 70 seats in the House of Representatives. The GOP hasn’t made that kind of gain since 1938 when the picked up 78 seats. I haven’t spent decades in politics like many of the pundit class has, but I am weary of calling for such a victory.
First of all, realignment elections, like the one being predicted, are very rare in American politics. In the history of the American republic there have been very few realignments. There was the election of 1800 that saw the Federalists banished from power, and brought the Democrats in. There was the election of 1860 that established the Republicans as a major force in American politics. There was the election of 1894 that ended the back and forth elections that had been part of American politics since the Civil War. There was the election of 1932 that brought FDR and the Progressives to power, and there was 1994 that ended 40 years of Democrat rule and was the high water mark of the conservative movement. So the notion that we are on the cusp of a major victory to solidify conservatism as the governing principle, and make America permanently a center right nation should be abandoned.
Secondly, if there is any party capable of blowing a big lead it’s the Republicans. To take a metaphor from football it’s the third quarter, the Republicans have a big lead and are already celebrating their inevitable victory. Someone needs to tell them that there is still a fourth quarter to be played. It’s happened before. Both in sports and in politics, where big leads have been blown. Yes, right now, the GOP has a ten point lead in the generic poll. Will that hold for two months? Considering that polls tend to narrow the closer you get to election day it probably won’t. The voter who, right now, is saying: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” might find himself reluctant, if not unwilling, to cast a vote for the GOP come election day.
Thirdly, the Republicans should not construe success in the polls with popularity for their party. Just as the Democrats were the beneficiaries of an anti Republican sentiment in 2006 and 2008, the Republicans are finding themselves riding a wave of ant incumbent populism. This doesn’t mean the the GOP has suddenly become the party of choice for the voter. I believe that if there were a viable third party in America, one that could appeal to the center(say the Federalists, or the Whigs, had never folded up shop) they would be making major gains in November. Right now the voters look at both the Democrats and the Republicans and are thinking “a pox on both your houses” The Republicans just don’t need to campaign well, they need to govern well or they will find themselves going out in a few years.
Next, we should not discount Democratic mischief. The media will do everything in its power to scare the daylights out of the voters and get them to vote Democrat. Watch out for close races, which, if trends hold, there could be many this year. Remember the Senate race in South Dakota in 2002? Senator Johnson had seemingly lost the election until then Majority leader Tom Daschle swooped in with an army of lawyers to make sure the vote wen Johnson’s way. Johnson won by 500 votes. Or the 2004 Governors race in Washington? Dino Rossi had a lead until, miracle of miracles, the Democrats found a bunch of votes in Seattle that went to the Democratic candidate, Christine Gregoire, who went on to win by a few hundred votes. Or the Senate race in Minnesota in 2008? The Democrats took that vote to court, and made sure that Al Franken was made the next Senator. Can we expect endangered Democratic Senators like Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, and Harry Reid to not pull out all of the stops to ensure that their political careers continue?
While a Republican victory in November is probable we should be realistic about what we will achieve. We need 40 seats to reclaim control of the House, and 10 seats to reclaim control of the Senate. It’s not impossible to capture both, but a lot of luck will be involved and everything will have to break the Republicans way. We might, for example, defeat Senator Boxer in California. After all if there is ever going to be a year, this is it. But it’s going to have to be a near perfect night for the Republicans.
The Republicans will take the House of Representatives, at the least. But a more realistic number is 40-50. Not the 60-70 some are predicting. The Senate will see gains for the GOP, and if all goes well it’s possible that they could pick up the ten seats needed to take over. But again, everything will have to break the Republican way. What’s important for the Republicans to remember is that there is still two months before the elections and its best not to predict a Democratic Waterloo if all they might end up suffering is an Antietam that turns out to be nothing more than a temporary setback.