The new Gallup generic ballot for Congress shows that things are tightening as the midterm elections approach. In August, Republicans enjoyed an unprecedented 49% to 43% lead. As of today, the lead has dwindled to 46% to 45%. Assuming that the change in the polls is accurate, what explains the tightening numbers? Certainly, the Democrats have done nothing in the last month to show that they are any more capable of governing than they were in August. The economy remains mired in a sluggish recovery and the largest legislative accomplishment of the past two years—health care reform—remains unpopular.
Democrats have made the case that the Republicans have no positive agenda. They are simply the “party of No.” They have made the case that a vote for the GOP would be tantamount to a return to the Bush years. Republicans have countered these claims by… And this is the problem.
For decades it appeared that the Left had lost the war of ideas. The Right, in contrast, seemed ready to make the intellectual case for bold changes in public policy in areas ranging from education to trade. In 2000, candidate Bush promised to cut taxes and reduce the size of government to 16 percent of GDP. This would be combined with the promotion of further trade liberalization, deregulation, and a host of market-based reforms including social security privatization and school choice. In the end, under unified Republican control, all that remained were tax cuts. When combined with expanded entitlements, the final product was a growing debt and an expansion of government from 18.2 percent of GDP to 21.7 percent of GDP.
Can Republicans expect to offer a credible alternative to the Democrats—can they make a credible claim that this time will be different—without making an assertive intellectual argument in support of a positive agenda?