Free Markets, Free People
Charlie Cook, who is very astute politically, made this observation about the election that I think is pretty spot on, and it reinforces what we’ve been talking about here for the last few days:
Watching politics for 40 years now, I have seen the two major parties tend to leapfrog each other in terms of political sophistication. This state of the political art, when one party is firing on all eight (or, these days, six or even four) cylinders, seems to happen when the other party is in desperate need of a tune-up.
Democrats had a lousy economy, made some rather dubious policy choices in the past four years, and had an incumbent who chose to skip the first debate. But when it came to just about everything else, they handled things expertly, or developments went their way. Republicans had a bright candidate, but one who lacked the dexterity to handle a very challenging set of circumstances, and a party that was well out of touch with the demographic, generational, and ideological changes quietly transforming the electorate.
The emphasized lines make the bottom line point, in my opinion. “Tune it up” or continue to push the same tired line to an electorate that is transforming and you’ll see similar results the next time too. Deny it all you wish, “them’s the facts”.
What was it that Einstein said we should call trying the same thing over and over again while expecting different results?
Charlie Cook is a greatly respected political analyst who works mostly for the Democrats. But he knows the business and he has a great track record. He said something in a recent column about the GOP field that just rings true to me. I wanted to get it out there a) for discussion and b) for the record. I’m interested to see if his prediction comes true for the reasons he advances:
Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that, just as in a marathon, things like stamina, preparation, discipline, and focus matter. To win this marathon of a presidential nomination contest, one might add money, organization, depth, and layers of campaign expertise and skilled manpower to the list of what actually matters in this race. Even the grassroots efforts of George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Howard Dean had some degree of infrastructure. Each of them also had a brain trust that existed beyond what resides under one head of hair and between two ears. That’s why I remain very skeptical that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will end up being the nominee, and will be pretty surprised if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney doesn’t. Exciting or not, Romney is the only one who has carefully put together the building blocks necessary to construct a winning nomination campaign.
Obviously there’s the possibility of a surprise here … personality and charisma (and no mistakes) overtaking good organization and money. But there’s also a history that tells us that’s not often the case. And we are talking about Newt Gingrich here, who can implode in a heartbeat as we’ve all observed over the decades he’s been in the public eye.
I’ve read a number of reports that the Gingrich campaign is not the model of organization and it lacks a significant grassroots base. As the race nears the primaries of next year, those are going to be increasingly important to Gingrich’s chances. Meanwhile, Romney, regardless of your thoughts about him as the candidate, has, as Cook points out “carefully put together the building blocks necessary to construct a winning nomination campaign”.
Note the specifics of his point: he’s constructed a “winning nomination campaign”. This is a drive and an organization tailored to a specific goal – the nomination. He’s been building it for years. Gingrich, on the other hand, has been pretty much campaigning on a wing and a prayer. Cook is of the opinion that will come to hurt him as this process goes on and I tend to agree with him.
There are polls and then there is Charlie Cook – probably one of the most respected of Democratic election analysts. And he’s earned that respect by being one of the most accurate Democratic election analysts in the past. As the Wall Street Journal notes, Cook and his staff probably spend more time analyzing individual House and Senate races than anyone in the business.
And Charlie Cook says Nov. 2nd looks bleak for House Democrats. The GOP needs a minimum of 39 seats to take back the House. Cook says that the range he predicts is a gain of 35-45 seats with the chances of reaching the high side much greater than reaching just the low side.
He points to 53 seats as key since these were seats held by Republicans just 4 years ago.
In the Senate, the chances of the GOP taking control are much less probable. They’d have to take 16 of 18 contested seats and that’s probably an electoral “bridge too far”.
So why does he think the first Tuesday in November is shaping up to be a bad day for Democrats? History is the teacher:
The basis of his analysis is simple: This doesn’t look or feel like a normal midterm election. "There are two kinds of elections," he said. "There’s sort of the Tip O’Neill all-politics-is-local, and then there are wave elections. We’re seeing just every sign in the world that this is going to be a wave, and a pretty good-sized wave."
What Cook is seeing is all the signs pointing too a 1994 wave election where a fed up electorate sweeps the majority party out of power. I’d add that another way to explain it is whether or not the election is nationalized (voters have an axe to grind with national leadership) or localized (no real national issues over local ones). In this case, it is all about national issues and the majority party’s agenda. And that’s not good news for the Democrats since a large majority of those polled consistently point out the country is on the wrong track.
The open question is will the Democrats find a way to convince voters that what they’ve done with their time in Congress is beneficial and something for which they deserve reelection:
On the other hand, Democrats might figure out how to do a better job convincing the nation of the wisdom of their policies. The apparent return of General Motors to health after President Barack Obama’s bailout might help. Mr. Obama, who, despite his problems, remains far more popular than his party’s congressional leaders, stands the best chance of making that case.
And Democrats’ money advantage, which Mr. Obama was working to enhance this week with a fund-raising tour, will help in the stretch run.
Above all, Democrats might finally get their base more excited.
All indications point to a less than excited base – in fact, there’s open warfare between the White House and the “professional left”. “Exciting the base” also means women, latinos and the young turning out for Democrats as they did for Obama. I simply don’t see that in the cards. And every poll I see says the independents, the most sought after demographic in party politics, going increasingly to the GOP side.
As for Obama’s personal popularity, we may all like someone for many often indefinable reasons – but that doesn’t mean we consider him competent or we’d reelect him or those like him again. I think many times, popularity is very overrated in polling. And you see that when you compare popularity with job performance numbers. Obama has very good popularity ratings while also having very high job disapproval ratings.
All in all, I think Cook will be proved right again. Dems are going to lose the House and we should finally be rid of Nancy Pelosi. At that point, we can at least quit worrying about Joe Biden’s health since she’d no longer be third in line for presidential succession.
According to Chris Cilliza of The Fix, Charlie Cook, one of the best of the Democratic Party election handicappers, isn’t high at all on the chances of House Democrats of retaining the majority. Watch the video – he immediately says the same thing I’ve been saying – there is no “communication problem” with President Obama. Instead he’s sees what has happened to Obama and the Democrats as being “fundamental and total miscalculations” on their part.
Cook also finds it hard, after discussions with what he calls the brightest of House Dems, he finds it very hard to “come up with a scenario in which the Democrats don’t loose the House”.
Interesting comparision: Bush/Iraq = Obama/Health Care. Now, I don’t know if I’m as pessimistic as Cook seems to be (and trust me Cook knows this infinitly better than I do as he’s proven election after election), but it is certainly true that I think House Democrats will loose a significant number of seats and their easy majority will become a difficult one next January where they’ll actually have to take Blue Dogs seriously since it might be that bloc that provides the swing votes necessary for either side to have their way.
Cilliza finds another respected election handicapper who disagrees slightly with Cook – not with Democratic losses, just with the amount:
Stu Rothenberg, another noted political handicapper in Washington, has pegged Democratic House losses as between 24 and 28 seats. He writes: “We currently expect Republicans to fall short of the 40 seats they would need.”
In a polarized House, the loss of between 24 and 28 (I think it could actually be a little higher than that) is significant. The health care bill passed the House by 3 votes if my memory serves me correctly. As I point out above, controversial bills would have to be toned down and take a much more conservative tone to pass the House if those gains above are realized.
But to this point, all of the above is idle speculation. In terms of an election 9 months is an eternity. What I think will help cement either Rothenberg or Cook’s prognostications, however, is if the Democrats manage, by hook or crook, to pass health care legislation – especially with no Republican votes for it. Then I think Cook has it right. I think the voter’s wrath will be such that any name on the ballot with a “D” after it will be fair game.
Charlie Cook, one of the more respected political analysts, has a piece in the National Journal that patiently explains what the left and Democrats still don’t seem to understand – they won, but they didn’t win what they think they won.
In fact, they won much less than that. “Change”, as defined by many independents who put Barack Obama and the Democrats in office, had little to do with expanding government. And within a span of a few months, the entire political dynamic changed, but apparently the left missed it:
Independent voters — fired up by the war in Iraq and Republican scandals — gave Democrats control of both chambers of Congress in 2006. Two years later, independents upset with President Bush and eager to give his party another kick expanded the Democratic majorities on the Hill. Late in the campaign, the economic downturn, together with an influx of young people and minorities enthusiastic about Obama, created a wave that left the GOP in ruins.
That was then; this is now. For the seven weeks from mid-April through the first week of June, Obama’s weekly Gallup Poll approval rating among independents ran in the 60-to-70 percent range. But in four of the past five weeks, it has been only in the mid-to-high 40s. Meanwhile, Democrats and liberals seem lethargic even though Republicans and conservatives are spitting nails and can’t wait to vote.
Why? Cook explains the basics of what has happened:
While political analysts were fixated on last fall’s campaign and on Obama’s victory, inauguration, and first 100 days in office, two other dynamics were developing. First, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression scared many voters, making them worry about their future and that of their children and grandchildren. And the federal government’s failure to prevent that calamity fundamentally undermined the public’s already low confidence in government’s ability to solve problems. Washington’s unprecedented levels of intervention — at the end of Bush’s presidency and the start of Obama’s — into the private sector further unnerved the skittish public. People didn’t mind that the head of General Motors got fired. What frightened folks was that it was the federal government doing the firing.
Many conservatives predictably fear — and some downright oppose — any expansion of government. But late last year many moderates and independents who were already frightened about the economy began to fret that Washington was taking irreversible actions that would drive mountainous deficits higher. They worried that government was taking on far more than it could competently handle and far more than the country could afford. Against this backdrop, Obama’s agenda fanned fears that government was expanding too far, too fast. Before long, his strategy of letting Congress take the lead in formulating legislative proposals and thus prodding lawmakers to take ownership in their outcome caused his poll numbers on “strength” and “leadership” to plummet.
These fears haven’t been allayed one bit. In fact, they’ve been ignored completely as Democrats continue their approach to the issue of health care. Americans are telling them, in every poll and every townhall meeting, to back off the direction they seem to be insisting on taking. One of the implications in Cook’s assessment of why Republicans were kicked out in 2006 and again in 2008 was a growing frustration with the deafness of the Repubicans. They weren’t listening. They moved ahead with their agenda and never seemed to consider what their constituents were saying.
The Democrats are in exactly the same sort of loop. They’ve finally got the power, they’ve either misinterpreted their mandate or are simply ignoring the people for the chance to pass what they’ve long wanted to pass and are very close to paying a huge political price for doing so. Cook addresses that point:
With 14 months to go before the 2010 midterm election, something could happen to improve the outlook for Democrats. However, wave elections, more often than not, start just like this: The president’s ratings plummet; his party loses its advantage on the generic congressional ballot test; the intensity of opposition-party voters skyrockets; his own party’s voters become complacent or even depressed; and independent voters move lopsidedly away. These were the early-warning signs of past wave elections. Seeing them now should terrify Democrats.
If you take an objective look at the situation under which the Republicans lost their power, Cook’s formula was precisely how it played out. If you take an equally objective look at how this situation is forming up, you can indeed see what Cook is talking about repeating itself for Democrats.
And that brings us to the Obama health care speech on Wednesday – many are calling it a “make or break” speech. I’m of the opinion that it is more likely to be too little too late. Popular support for any bill is trending down. Popular support for the Democrat’s version(s) has been trending down. Obama’s approval ratings concerning health care have been falling.
Unless Obama has some startling new ideas, never before discussed which will be introduced and promise to be pleasing to both sides, he’s stuck with attempting to repackage and spin the same old tired arguments which have, to this point, been pretty well rejected.
Wednesday’s speech could indeed still be a “make or break” speech, but not for health care. Instead it may make or break Democratic support (depending on the President’s stance on the public option) and sound the death knell for Democratic Congressional control and, possibly, the presidency. It is indeed an important speech – but not for the reasons Democrats think.