This Time Will Be Different?

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?

7 thoughts on “This Time Will Be Different?

  1. mid-August till the early September, Gallup had numbers that were similar to Rasmussen. I don’t know if they changed the questions and sample, to get numbers to agree with their trends – but the results look suspicious (a multi-week spike then a return to normal). Could be a lot of liberals were on vacation.

  2. “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.”

    I agree that they haven’t done much that is different, but I wonder if we are starting to see just that tiny flicker of glowing orange ember in the ashes of Obama economic policy.

    The economy has performed incalculably ybetter since Obama took office — expansion versus contraction, job growth versus steep losses, trillions of dollars of wealth created in the rebounding capital markets and the inching forward housing market, etc. Yet the strange thing about this election cycle is that the Democrats cannot capitalize on that improvement, because under- and unemployment remain so high, leaving too many people unready to dole out credit for the fix. Republicans have somehow managed to create a message out of almost nothing that Obama caused all this economic mess, as opposed to merely failing to fix it, as was their message until six months ago.

    If I were the president’s advisor, and I’m sure he thanks his Christian God that I am not, I would tell him to pound away incessantly on that one message: “We have lifted the tide; stay with us and your boat soon will float, too.”

    It will be an interesting mid-term election, that is for sure. Thanks for an interesting read.

  3. The Gallup poll has been swinging so wildly that I think it can safely be ignored–in any event, its a registered voter poll and the key determinant of the election is likely voters, where everything I’ve seen gives Repubs a comfortable lead. Although I will say a lot of Republicans this year have a provided a textbook example of what my mama used to call “counting your chickens before they hatch.”

  4. Marc,
    I think you’ve hit it right on the head. I’m a non-partisan — I like to vote for the candidates with the best ideas (as far as that goes in politics), and this year I’ve got … almost no one to vote for in any party.

    The Republicans are, I think, going to blow a golden opportunity. My local candidates (in any party) aren’t giving me much desire to vote for them.

  5. I think the problem is that independent voters–the ones who determine elections–don’t in general like Republican ideas and Republican candidates know this. Furthermore, they know that Democrats are highly skilled at peeling away votes from the middle by warping Republican ideas. Take, for example, Social Security. Even modest reform proposals to put SS on a more sustainable path will be used by Democrats to scare moderate voters into thinking that SS in its entirely is under threat.

    I think Republicans have been successful in the past because they capitalized on Democratic excesses in terms of government size and social issues (e.g., gay rights) and because Republicans used to own the national security issue. It wasn’t because of Republican views on entitlement reform, free trade, school choice, free-market environmentalism, supply side economics or other ideas.

    So, politically, Republicans are playing the right strategy, I think. The anti-Obama, populist, anti-government rhetoric is the best play (for better or worse). Putting forth a slew of specific ideas would just give the Democrats cannon fodder for attacking Republicans.

    Should the Republicans gain more power, I think we are going to see less of the egregious pork that we saw under Bush and NO new spending initiatives. I doubt we are going to see any significant initiatives.

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