Is anyone out there a marketing specialist? What do you think of the seal?
Karl Rove, architect of George Bush’s 2000 and 2004 election victories, spoke in a messianic manner about a permanent Republican majority, built up a Republican base of economic conservatives, Iraq hawks, gun-loving libertarians, and evangelical Christians, augmented by peeling off from the Democrats a percentage of Hispanic voters and working-class women.
In a Rovian view, this process began with the 1994 seizure of Congress under the leadership of Newt Gingrich and was crowned by the election of Bush in 2000, the post-9/11 takeover of the Senate in 2002, and Bush’s reelection accompanied by further gains in the Senate in 2004.
The 2006 Congressional elections de-railed Rove’s plan as Democrats comfortably took back the House and narrowly—in the electoral equivalent of successfully drawing to an inside straight—took back the Senate as well as making dramatic gains in state legislatures. Like the Hitler’s 1000-year Reich, Rove’s permanent Republican majority lasted only 12 years.
Democrats look to expand their rollback of the Republican control in 2008. Gains in the House, Senate, and state legislatures are virtually certain. The only significant contest is that at the very top of the list, for the White House. As of now, I can plausibly envision outcomes ranging from McCain winning in a squeaker to Obama winning in a landslide and everything in between.
But McCain’s campaign, fitful and sputtering, is notably lacking an enthusiastic response, raising the question, have Bush, Rove, and the philosophy of Bushism fatally wounded the Republican party?
Like an exotic chemical compound that includes a noble gas, such as xenon difluoride, the Rovian coalition merged elements that did not coexist together easily. John McCain is having problems with attracting the evangelical vote; I predict he will get a lower share of evangelical vote than Bush. The economic conservatives, such as the Club for Growth, have shown no love for Bush and little transfer of affection to McCain, who at one memorable point during the primaries said something along the lines of “economics isn’t his thing.” Mitt Romney was the candidate to make America safe for multimillionaires. Many of the libertarian-leaning voters are as outraged about the Bush administration’s stance on domestic spying, a cause that McCain endorses as well; I expect quite a few libertarian-leaning Republicans will vote for Bob Barr. The only faction of the GOP that McCain has well in hand in the nationalistic, jingoistic, pro-Iraq (and Iran and any other country that can be bombed with relative impunity) war crowd.
Meanwhile, many culturally moderate and even some culturally conservative Democrats are turning to Obama with one degree of enthusiasm or another, pushed by economic conditions and the unpopularity of the Iraq war.
Looking at the polling numbers, the Republican party is in danger of becoming the party of White Southern Men, a far cry from the “Permanent Majority” envisioned by Karl Rove. To survive, the Republicans will have to have to go beyond a base of “War and More War.”
The political philosophy of Bushism will not survive George Bush. And in the end, after securing two presidential victories in the short run, it may have killed the Republican party in the long run. If John McCain does lose to Barack Obama this year, the fight for the soul of the Republican party will become intense in the years immediately ahead. Mitt Romney has staked out a position as the leader of the Republican party’s mainstream economic conservatives, Mike Huckabee currently holds title to the would-be ayahtollahs among the evangelicals. I don’t see who, lurking among the Republican office holders, can transcend the factionalism and re-unite the Bush coalition. Moreover, a McCain loss and the attendant Democratic gains in the Senate and House will make the core of the Republican party even more purist, more hard conservative, more Southern, reducing the pool of future candidates and exacerbating its difficulties in reaching beyond that base, setting up a vicious cycle leading to future losses.
Nature abhors a vacuum. If the GOP does wither away by, say, 2020, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a split in the Democratic party between its Progressive and Centrist wings, leaving the US with two parties similar to the Social Democratic and Christian Democratic parties of Europe, the latter of which is far more liberal than the Republican party in the United States has been.
# # #
An underlying assumption about tempered expectations is that the Republican campaign will, at some point, launch into high gear in a nasty but effective manner we’ve come to expect. Certainly, Obama’s current bump in the poll numbers and all the dizzy expectations within the echosphere are partly an artifact of McCain’s campaign not making any significant demonstration of force. It can certainly be argued that McCain has squandered–in terms of time, money, and message–the advantage he’s had since clinching the Republican nomination.
So outside the echosphere we’re waiting for reality to hit and expectations to become a bit more sober but it’s a fair question to ask: when and how will McCain and the various 527 allies start hitting back effectively? So far, they aren’t. The shots at Obama have been almost desultory, ill-coordinated, and with little effect. McCain also hasn’t set a grueling pace as a campaigner.
After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, which took about a month to wrap up with the Russian back-stab from the East, the War in the West was one of Sitzkrieg, just sitting behind fortified lines, until April of 1940. Only then did the Blitzkrieg (with a full out assault of the right wing!, to extend the metaphor) carve up Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and France in short order.
So ordinarily one would expect to see signs of the gathering storm from the Republicans. Charlie Black, one of McCain’s chief campaign consiglieri is a nasty piece of work but he’s a pretty effective nasty piece of work. And then there’s the RNC, which is the only regular party organization that’s raising more money than its Democratic counterpart and has all its Rovian micro-targeting tools at its disposal. But there, too, it’s pretty quiet so far.
It’s still fair to expect that the Republicans are going to get their act together and mount a determined, focused assault on Obama. But right now he has a lull that he can take advantage of, defining himself and campaigning against weak opposition. I’m glad to see him doing so. (And does anyone else still get steamed at Michael Dukakis for going on vacation in the middle of the 1988 campaign? Or Mondale taking a week off after the Democratic convention? And, speaking of Dukakis, does anyone else recall that he lead in the polls by 17 points over Bush senior?)
The way to bet, the way to plan, is that the usual Republican assault will come. But I find myself occasionally wondering, what if it doesn’t? Someone remind me of this in October, would you?
There’s little doubt that this is looking like a Democratic year. Obama has a number of impressive things going for him:
1) Advantage in Democratic registration. Rasmussen currently has it at 41.4 D, 31.7 R, 26.9 I…the largest gap since they began tracking party I.D. six years ago. [Nov. 04: 38.8D, 37.1 R, 24.1 I; Nov. 06 37.5 D, 31.4 R, 31.2 D. ]
2) The right track/wrong track number is 17/79. [Rasmussen]
3) Bush’s approval rating is at a new low, 31 percent. [Rasmussen]
4) The contrast between Obama’s energy & youth vs. McCain’s doddering & age is spectacular.
5) Obama’s staggering fundraising, along with Democratic fundraising in general, is killing McCain’s.
6) For all that the liberal/Left blogosphere is consumed by the question of Hillary supporters voting for Obama, there is a lot of lack of enthusiasm for McCain in many parts of the Republican party. Note: I’ll wager right now that evangelical vote for McCain is significantly lower than for Bush.
7) Democratic control of Congress will let Democrats set the agenda for votes that are ugly for McCain.
8.) Bob Barr on the Libertarian ticket is probably going to siphon off some of the Club for Growth economic voters away from McCain in protest. I figure 2-3 percent by election day. In contrast, while Nader is on the ballot, I have a hard time constructing a picture of a Democratic voter who won’t vote for Obama but would vote for Nader.
9) McCain has proven to be a lousy debater.
10) Obama is going to have a far more robust field organization than any Democrat in history.
11) The GOP brand is badly damaged. People want change and it’s difficult for McCain to position himself as a advocate for change, especially since his voting record for the past two sessions of Congress are 100 support for Bush one year, 95 percent the other.
12) Due to a combination of several of the preceding factors, the GOP campaign to date has ranged from tepid to desultory.
13) Hillary didn’t make enough of an inroad with her “experience & security” arguments through the Democratic primaries; it’s an open question as to whether McCain will have any better luck with the same pitch in the general.
In aggregate, all that suggests an Obama landslide in November.
However, there are some cautionary signs for Obama.
1) John McCain has a reputation as a maverick, a moderate, and a straight talker. All three propositions are demonstrably false. Yet all three propositions are deeply embedded in the public narrative about John McCain. If McCain manages to sustain that narrative, his appeal to moderate swing voters will be significant. Elections are often won and lost in the middle.
2) The last Democratic candidate whose base was youth, college-educated voters, and black voters was: George McGovern.
3) The last Democratic candidate who campaigned as an outsider and promised to transform Washington was: Jimmy Carter, who only narrowly edged Jerry Ford in the post-Watergate election.
4) I don’t know what’s more impressive, the fact that Obama could outspend Hillary 3-1 in Pennysylvania or that, with the spending and the momentum, he could still lose by 10 points. This suggests that having a financial advantage may not be sufficient in a close election, that there’s a certain inelastic quality to his support, a threshhold that may be difficult to push past in several key states.
5) Polling continues to indicate softness for Obama support among both white men (20 point lead McCain) and white working class women. [Note: While I don’t know that it would be the best thing for Hillary or the best thing for the country, she adds a quality as VP that no other candidate does. All the others are political pygmies in comparison. ]
6) McCain leads Obama on polling on national security issues 49-41, as a better leader 43-38, and is essentially tied with Obama on values 43-42. The broad outline of McCain’s campaign is clear: in one sentence, it will boil down to, “You may not like me on all the issues but you can’t trust him.” Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are going to be the staples of the GOP campaign and their 527 allies.
7) The state-by-state electoral map isn’t as comforting as the general picture. My own analysis, based on current polls but tweaked by experience & gut feel is:
Bush to Obama states:
Virginia (13) Northern Virginia D.C. suburban vote & black voter turnout carries the day for Obama; Warner winning in a landslide helps.
Colorado (9) Obama has consistently polled well here and the bluing continues
Iowa (7) Obama’s primary field organization pays off
New Mexico (5) Obama locks up state that was narrow Kerry loss.
Kerry to McCain:
New Hampshire (4) Obama lost in New Hampshire, McCain won. McCain has a strong appeal to independents. May be a lot of ticket splitting as Shaheen handily beats Sununu in the Senate race.
Michigan (17) Today’s poll notwithstanding, tough sledding for Obama. He took his name off the primary ballot for a very good reason: he wasn’t going to do well vs. Hillary. Michigan goes against the grain in that the state is fairly soured on Gov. Granholm and here the Democratic brand is damaged goods.
Republican toss-ups held:
Florida (27) Hillary had a good chance; with Obama, it’s out of reach.
Ohio (20) A bluing state but Obama got whipped by Clinton. Hillary would have taken it. It’s going to be a contest between elevated black turnout in Cleveland and white working class defections across the state. Right now, I think it winds up going for McCain. Ohio is the most conservative of the Rust Belt states, the victories of Strickland et al notwithstanding.
Nevada (5) Not as liberal as New Mexico. I think McCain plays better here than many other places and polling currently bears that out.
Democratic held toss-ups:
Pennsylvania (21) Damn, I can’t tell you how annoyed I am that Democrats are going to have to expend resources to keep this in the Democratic column. We should prevail but this one shouldn’t even be on the boards.
Wisconsin (10) A swing state, I think Obama will do better here than Kerry did.
Minnesota (10) See Wisconsin.
Notes on some others: I think there’s some serious use of recreational pharmaceuticals by folks who think Obama can take North Carolina or Mississippi. What Obama and elevated black turnout will do is turn a lot of 20 point losses from previous years into 10 point losses this year.
So there’s my take. A lot of issues raised: philosophical, demographic, strategic, tactical. Have at it.
An echosphere is a bubble of like-minded people who share thoughts and ideas that bounce around the bubble reinforcing each other and resistant to, or excluding, information and ideas to the contrary. The result is a largely unexamined set of beliefs shared by the inhabitants of the echosphere, beliefs at a variance with those outside the echosphere. The existence of an echosphere says nothing about the truth or falseness, wisdom or foolishness, of the beliefs. But like any conventional wisdom, they bear examining.
The current Bush so-called administration is one example of an echosphere. It’s remarkable–breathtakingly staggering actually–just how much that echosphere manages to get wrong. But the echosphere that I’m interested in probing is that of Obama supporters, with an eye to getting analyzing on the 2008 presidential campaign from here on out.
Disclosure: I’m a Hillary supporter who will be voting for Obama less than enthusiastically. For all the sound and fury of the primary campaign, the two are reasonably close on the issues and on that basis I could live with either. But I don’t think Obama has the experience to be president. And I don’t buy the central premises of Obama being able to transform Washington, the push for “unity” without having a body politic that is in agreement about goals, methods or philosophy, that his “New Politics” are different from the “Old Politics.” I’ve listened to Obama many times, wanting to find something I could get a handle on if he got the nomination, and I’ve never found it. I don’t like the American Idol-style “rock star” phenomenon in which his campaign resembles nothing so much as a religious movement. I’m not inspired by Obama; I find listening to Obama almost as painful as listening to Bush. But after eight years of a Republican I can’t stand in the White House, a Democrat I don’t like is a big step forward.
My next post will be: “Is the glass 7/8 full or 1/2 empty for Obama?” By any number of metrics, this should be a great year for Democrats. And indeed, I think the Democrats will pick up 5-7 seats in the Senate and 10-15 seats net in the House. But there are a number of worrisome signs that the Obama echosphere seems disinclined to contemplate. I’ll start with some in the next post.