In an apparent nod to the old adage “It’s always darkest before the dawn”, Patrick Ruffini today has a post titled, “The GOP: Dawn Breaks?” While I think his argument has some merit, and I agree with him that 2008 is more about discontent than a Democrat wave, I have concerns with our ability to capitalize on that.
If the national environment does improve somewhat, and the nominee starts close to slightly behind, we won‚Äôt have the steady demoralizing drumbeat we had in 2006. Rank-and-file Republicans will be too focused on beating up Hillary. Democrats in red districts could be cross-pressured.
No Bush to Kick Around Anymore: 2006 was the last year in which a Democrat could effectively run against Bush. It is not possible to do more political damage to Bush. People know he‚Äôs leaving.
Is this a case for 2008 as a Republican year? Not yet. But the Democrats‚Äô best-case scenario is probably a muted change election like 2000 or 1976.
The Democrats have – without a doubt – gotten just about all the mileage out of Bush that they can get. They’re in charge now, and the public knows it. Whether the public opinion polls that show Americans with a near-record low approval for Congress are due to their unwillingness to fulfill any of what they ran on, or whether it is simply a distaste for all things political is unclear. What is apparent, though, is a sentiment that Congress, as a whole, is dysfunctional.
It used to be that you could pretty much rely on voters to believe, “My Congressman is ok, but the rest of them are crooks.” That doesn’t seem to hold anymore. I haven’t seen that question asked in some time, but I suspect more and more people would believe there guy is crooked, too.
So what does 2008 look like? I think the likelihood is an anti-incumbent wave. Not anti-GOP and not anti-Dem. I also think that holds true regardless of who the candidates at the top of the ticket are. The fact is, there just aren’t that many people left who vote a straight slate anymore.
My guess is a lot of the internal polling numbers have made that case for a fair number of GOPers who are weighing their re-election chances. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that a slew of Members who likely just benchmarked their races are saying, “Umm… Maybe not.”
Ok, so if that’s true, why aren’t Democrats doing the same thing? Why aren’t we seeing more retirements? Well, to Patrick’s point, I think they’re misreading the cards. I think they’re assuming that this is a down year for Republicans, and the retirements have them giddy with the possibility of big numbers in 2009.
I have bad news and worse news. The bad news is you have two days to live. The worse news is I was supposed to tell you yesterday.
So let’s assume Patrick and I are right, and we are actually looking at an election that we could, under normal circumstances, capitalize on. What’s the worse news?
The worse news is two-fold. First, we have a boatload of seats to protect. Going into the 2008 elections, we have to protect 2/3 of the seats up for election. The house, with a raft of retirements comes a lot of open seats. Open seats are normally harder to keep than incumbent seats, unless the incumbents are particularly disliked. Second, we have a serious problem with our base.
Trouble with your droids?
It’s no secret that the GOP base is unhappy. It’s no secret that they’re not engaging. It’s no secret that a lot of people are unhappy with our slate of candidates for President. It’s also no secret that we have a significant fundraising problem.
Does all of that add up to the Perfect Storm? Will it all conspire to steal what should, under normal circumstances, be an anti-incumbent (and therefore, favorable for the minority party) election? It may well. This is where I don’t share Patrick’s muted optimism. I think he’s right that the tealeaves are more favorable for us than a lot of people are acknowledging, but I think our hurdles are great, and I’m not sure that we’re fast or limber enough to clear them.