The National Political Scene
That scene is incredibly muddled and getting more muddled every day. In some ways, such as the Democrat retirements, it reminds me of the political atmosphere of 1994. Charlie Cook, who knows Democrats and their electoral chances, pretty much writes the Democratic Senatorial majority off as a dead loss after 2010:
Come November, Senate Democrats’ 60-vote supermajority is toast. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how Democrats could lose the Senate this year. But they have a 50-50 chance of ending up with fewer than 55 seats in the next Congress.
When the Republican in the race for Teddy Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts is competitive, you know the electoral landscape has changed and just about anything is possible.
Of course, in terms of divided government, that’s very good news. The fact that it is Republicans, who for the most part, still don’t seem to have a clue, not so much. Of course that obviously depends on who the Republicans end up running, or winning, those seats. Florida’s race between Crist and Rubio is a good example. Crist is the moderate establishment (business as usual, McCain type Republican) while Rubio is more of the Tea Party conservative.
And it is there that the establishment Republican party seems to be missing the boat – again. After a sweeping victory by Barack Obama and the Democrats, the Republicans quite naturally tried to do a little soul searching and, for whatever reason, came to believe that their problem was they didn’t appeal to enough moderates. Yet in the year that has passed since the Obama administration has been in office and the Congress with prohibitive Democratic majorities has been wreaking its havoc, independents, who establishment Republicans choose to characterize as “moderates”, have been abandoning the Democrats in staggering numbers. And they’re looking for a place to go.
Why are they abandoning the Democrats? Because they bought into a myth a compliant and noncritical media aided and abetted concerning the new administration and now they’re seeing the radical truth. And they don’t like it.
However, what they don’t want is a merely less radical replacement. Democrat lite. What independents are in the middle of doing is rejecting, in toto, the Democratic agenda. Rasmussen and others have been providing these clues for months. In the latest Rasmussen poll:
With Democrats in majority control of both the House and Senate, it’s not surprising to find that 79% of Republicans are not confident that their congressional representatives are actually presenting their best interests, but 74% of voters not affiliated with either party agree. Democratic voters are evenly divided on the question.
74% of voters “not affiliated with either party agree” that their Congressional Rep (obviously that includes some Republicans) is not actually representing their best interests. Now that could be for any number of reasons, but on thing for certain, if 74% aren’t happy with their Rep, I’d guess they’re not happy with what the establishment Republicans are selling either.
Enter the Tea Partiers. First written off as brownshirts, angry whites, red-necks, un-American, ‘teabaggers’ and any other pejorative the left-wing thought it could get away with, the movement has grown into a political force. But make no mistake about it – it’s a populist movement. Regardless it has, to a large degree, managed to tap into this unhappiness with what is going on in Washington and give it some structure.
And what continues to astound me is the establishment Republicans seem to think that they “own” the movement – that when push comes to shove, this group will fall in line and vote for them.
There is going to be a war between the Teapartiers and the establishment Republican party. The Teapartiers don’t necessarily support or even like many of the establishment Republicans. As a result that war is going to be waged in primaries. And much like it was on the left (Lamont/Lieberman) it is a war for the soul of that party. Establishment Republicans really don’t seem to understand that – yet. So we see stories like this one where the establishment party is said to have “soured” on Sarah Palin. Love her or hate her, she represents as well as anyone, the populist nature of the movement that the Republicans don’t seem to yet understand. Add the stupidity of the leadership and the visible infighting within the establishment wing of the party, and you hold little hope that they will wake up in time to smell the roses and figure out the formula for electoral success.
Where’s this all headed? To more polarized politics, if that is possible, with the sides much more differentiated – if the Teapartiers get their way. Republicans are going to be moved in a much more conservative direction, come hell or high water, if they want Tea Party support. And the Tea Party movement is going to attract (has attracted?) enough of the independent voters to make the electoral difference.
Conventional wisdom says the electorally successful win by appealing to their base, picking off enough independents to make the difference and then governing from the center. I don’t think that CW is valid anymore. It appears that the public has finally had the scales removed from their eyes with the present administration. The premise that a centrist government is what America wants has been overcome by events. Those events, products of that centrism, have given us the state of affairs with which we’re now afflicted – a welfare state with huge deficits, a debased currency and a behemoth government that is out-of-control. Listen closely to those who spoke up at the summer town halls. It wasn’t just about Democrats and Republicans, folks – it was about the direction of the country and the realization that both parties had participated in creating the horrendous mess we now enjoy.
All of that to say that CW is ready to be turned on its head and, in fact, people (to include independents) are demanding action to roll back government and reduce spending. That should be right in the Republican’s wheel house. Yet instead of really talking their supposed principles and actions to accomplish them, establishment Republicans still insist that it is more important to ensure they have a “big tent”. That is a complete sell out of their principles. The “tent” is established by those principles. What Republicans have to do is fashion a message that makes that tent attractive and brings people to them. That’s what will make it “big”. Compromising their principles to fill the tent is a sure way to lose – and that’s precisely what they’ve proven over the last few elections.
Politically, 2010 is going to be a very interesting year to watch. For libertarians, the best hope is divided government and a Republican party that rediscovers its primary principles and decides to live up to them. I think we’ll get the divided government. However, my concern is the midterms will see enough Republicans elected, despite themselves and their lack of a principled stand, that the important message about principles will continue to be lost on them – again. That will result in a Senate not much different than we have now, where compromise and collegiality are more important than principle and the people. That means big government, more spending and more deficit. And that means Republicans will remain the minority party and out of the White House in 2012.