The Bigger Picture
Published on November 26th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Happy Thanksgiving Day (in America)! Last week I noted that the number lesson Republicans could learn from this month’s mid-term elections was that the surest path to electoral victory was to run in favor of things like economic development rather than against proposals such as President Obama’s reforms of America’s healthcare and energy policies.
Avoiding debates about controversial social issues like abortion or gay marriage and instead focusing on job creation was a strategy that worked for Republican gubernatorial candidates’ Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey. On the other hand, national Republican’s support for Doug Hoffman’s attacks on President Obama’s policies and moderate Republican candidates who don’t agree with the Party’s social conservatives, led to the loss of a staunchly Republican New York legislative seat in Congress.
Fortunately for the Democratic Party’s future election prospects, many Republicans, especially those who are members of the social conservative class, have failed, or simply refuse, to see the bigger picture (sorry, no pun intended). While there are some Republicans at both the national and state levels who are very concerned about the Party’s future prospects, nary a one will discuss their concerns on the record for fear of invoking the wrath of right wing TV and radio pundits like Sean Hannity.
The Republican Party also continues to suffer from the lack of any real national leader other than Sarah Palin. Talk show demagogues like Rush Limbaugh love Sarah Palin and continue to extol her virtues as a potential successor to President Obama in 2012. Other Republicans gripe about her but dare not do so publicly for fear of provoking outrage among Palin’s slavishly devoted social conservative followers.
While McDonnell and Christie have both announced that they plan to have centrist administrations, social conservatives are revving up their attacks on more moderate Republicans like Florida Governor Charlie Crist. But if social conservatives do indeed win these intra-party battles with more moderate Republican politicians, they will also lose most of the general election wars their standard bearers will also have to wage.
That being the case, should Democrats really be concerned about their electoral chances in 2010 and beyond? I would suggest that Democrats shouldn’t take too much solace from the civil war Republican social conservatives are waging against their party’s moderates. Doing so only allows President Obama and his fellow Democrats to continue to avoid dealing with their own shortcomings rather than coming to terms with them.
Pinning one’s chances for success on the failures of your competition is hardly what one would call a “winning” strategy in business, politics or any other field of endeavor. A winning strategy takes advantage of mistakes made by one’s opponent, but it doesn’t depend on them slipping up. President Obama and the Democratic Party need to recognize that while the Republican Party’s internecine war may leave some of their candidates bloodied and weakened going into a general election, they could still win it.
I think it is foolish for Republicans to cite the results of 1994’s general election to herald this year’s mid-term election victories as predictive of a Republican drubbing of Democrats in 2010, 2 years into another new Democratic President’s first term. What Republicans fail to acknowledge is that much of their success in 1994 was due to the fact that an unprecedented number of Democratic lawmakers chose not to run for re-election that year. Open seats are always the ones most likely to be won by the other party, yet less than 10 Democrats have announced plans to retire in 2010 versus almost 50 in 1994.
But it is just as reckless for Democrats to use past history to spin the results of the Virginia and New Jersey mid-term elections as being indicative of nothing more than these state’s voters’ contrariness and low voter turnout. Granted, voter turnout was much lower and these states do have a history of electing governors from whichever party doesn’t hold the White House. However accurate these historical analogies may appear to be though, they still can’t obscure the fact that the soft underbelly of the Democratic Party was also exposed in this month’s elections.
Although only a handful of Democratic seats will be up for grabs in 2010 due to legislator retirements, there will still be another 50 Democrats running for re-election in historically Republican leaning Congressional districts. These moderate and conservative Democrats originally won those seats thanks to support from disenchanted Independent voters during the waning years of the Bush administration. As a consequence these Democratic officeholders are particularly concerned about the sentiments of Independent voters in the US and their respective districts. They should be!
Exit polling in both Virginia and New Jersey showed the same worrisome trends for Democrats among those Independent voters who strongly supported Democratic candidates in the 2006 and 2008 general elections. In both Virginia and New Jersey Independents voted for the Republican candidates by almost a 2 to 1 margin and for those who were most concerned about economic issues, the margin was almost 3 to 1. So what explains such a remarkable shift by Independent voters?
While the general public and many Independent voters still have favorable opinions about President Obama, the results of the mid-term elections signal a growing concern, particularly among Independent voters about the mounting federal budget deficit. To their political credit, Republicans have seized on these concerns, using them to try to stymie Congressional Democrats healthcare and climate change legislation by telling voters these bills will push America even deeper into debt.
While Republican claims that President Obama’s policies are pushing up the nation’s budget deficit shamelessly ignore their own budget busting actions while they held the reins of power, President Obama is at least partially to blame for giving Republicans some of the ammunition they are now using against him. I strongly believe President Obama should have never allowed Democratic Congressional leaders to take the lead in crafting such landmark healthcare reform and climate change legislation. I’ll explain why next week.