The Bigger Picture
Published on December 1st 2010 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
In my last column I discussed the lessons President Obama and the Democratic Party need to take away from their disastrous showing in the 2010 midterm elections. But the Republican Party appears to be in even more danger of misreading the results of the most recent national elections than President Obama and his fellow Democrats.
Thanks to a 2009 US Supreme Court decision that invalidated a law designed to control political campaign spending by anonymous individuals and corporations, conservative groups outspent their liberal counterparts by better than a 2 to 1 margin in the 2010 midterm elections. The ultra conservative billionaire Koch brothers led the conservative assault through their Americans for Prosperity political group, pushing the spending by non-candidate conservative groups up from a record $19.6 million in the 2006 midterm elections to an astounding $187 million in 2010. So is it any wonder Republican candidates were big winners this year? Hardly!
But Republicans and their far right allies like the Koch brothers masquerading as Americans for Prosperity, need to remain cognizant of the fact that, despite the enormous advantage money provides political candidates, it won’t necessarily win an election for them. For example; the former US Ambassador to Ireland Thomas Foley, who was made Ambassador as a reward for his political donations to George W. Bush’s Presidential campaigns, poured more than $10 million of his junk bond fortune into his campaign for Governor of Connecticut and outspent his Democratic opponent by more than a two to one margin. Well guess what? He lost!
So if outspending your opponent by a two to one margin won’t get you elected in a midterm election environment that favours your out-of-power Republican Party, then surely you will get elected if you outspend them by an overwhelming six to one margin, right? If you think so then you may want to ask Meg Whitman how she feels after contributing over $141 million of her eBay riches to her effort to become Governor of California, only to lose by a million votes to a Democrat who spent a grand total of only $25 million. Or ask Carly Fiorina how she feels after giving over $6.5 million of the golden parachute she received from Hewlett-Packard to her Republican Senate campaign, and still coming up on the short end by over 700,000 votes.
The lesson here for Republicans is that while wealthy Republicans may look very attractive as potential political candidates, the substance of what they propose to do if they get elected matters more than their ability to blanket a state with radio and TV advertisements. Republicans also shouldn’t assume that the huge fundraising advantage they enjoyed in the midterm elections will carry over into the 2012 elections when the US Presidency will also be at stake. Liberal advocacy groups are likely to come much closer to matching the outlays of their conservative counterparts because of the greater risk that they could lose control of both the Senate and the Presidency in 2012. Furthermore, President Obama has already shown that he is more than capable of raising as much or more money than his opponent. Just ask John McCain.
But the biggest risk for Republicans going forward is misreading the results of the 2010 midterm elections and interpreting them as an endorsement of the Republican Party and the obstructionist legislative tactics it has been using in Congress for the past two years. Republicans have made this mistake before such as in 1994 following their takeover of the US House of Representatives thanks to their sweeping midterm election wins during Clinton’s first term.
However, it would appear that the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, has already determined that this is exactly what America’s voters meant. At his first post-election news conference he told the press; “We're determined to stop the agenda Americans have rejected and to turn the ship around.” Incoming Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner likewise claimed, “It's a mandate for Washington to reduce the size of government and continue our fight for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government.”
I have no doubt that voters were sending a message to President Obama and the Democratic Party to slow down and focus on rebuilding the economy rather than on healthcare reforms and new environmental legislation. But that’s not the same thing as endorsing a continuation of Republican Congressional opposition to compromising with their Democratic counterparts on legislation designed to address America’s numerous problems.
In fact, a series of exit polls showed that the independent voters, who swung this year’s midterm elections to Republicans, actually don’t have a very high opinion of Republicans. 57 percent of independent voters said they viewed Republicans unfavorably and 58 percent said they viewed Democrats unfavorably. That doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement to me.
Maybe I’m totally wrong about this, but now that the Republicans are in control of the House of Representatives, I think voters are going to expect them to work with President Obama and the Democrats in Congress on a number of pieces of important legislation that are currently stalled in Congress. Chief among these is Obama’s promise to renew the Bush era tax cuts for middle class workers, but not for those bring home more than $250,000 a year. But Republicans have balked at this and want all of the tax cuts, including those that benefitted the wealthiest Americans renewed. If Republicans continue to refuse to compromise on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, then I would expect President Obama will let the cuts expire and tell voters they can blame Republicans for their higher tax bills.
Even though independent voters expect them to work with Democrats, by embracing the Tea Party movement, Republicans in Congress have also left themselves with very little room to maneuver when it comes to striking compromises with the President and Democrats in Congress. Since independent voters are the key to winning elections, I will discuss the implications of the Tea Party embrace in my next column.