A Way Forward For Republicans

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Dec 03, 2008 at 15:45

Looking through recaps of last night's defeat in the Georgia Senate election, I agree with a lot of what Matt, Kos and Nate Silver have written.

Matt argues that it the country hasn't shifted so far to the left that a progressive has a decent shot in a statewide election in Georgia. Rather, we all knew it was always a longshot campaign, and people didn't want to invest in such a difficult election both after big wins in November and with so much other positive news for Democrats. Even Obama didn't invest himself too strongly, not wanting to risk political capital so recently after his election. So, Democratic turnout and activism were both down, making an already underdog campaign virtually impossible to win. I agree: we have moved the country, but a large, stable leftward shift has not yet materialized. We have more work to do.

Kos makes similar points to Matt about the lack of Democratic activist and voter enthusiasm, adding that special election and runoff elections have frequently swum against the dominant political tide. For example, Democrats won the Louisiana runoff in 2003, while Republicans won it in 2007. Republicans won the CA-50 special election in June 2006, but Democrats won the SD-AL and KY-06 special elections in early 2004. In all of those cases, the next federal election turned in the opposite direction. So, perhaps this result doesn't really mean much at all nationally, and is simply local. Again, I agree.

Nate brings up a more disturbing possibility: Democrats are already in the hot seat in the mind of the electorate, and will lose seats in both 2010 and 2012 unless they make real progress turning the country around. In other words, if Democrats can't fix the nation's problems, the country will actually turn back toward Republicans, and there will be no two to four year grace period as I have previously surmised. The reason Nate's thesis is so disturbing is that a new Democracy Corps poll shows he is probably correct.

More in the extended entry.

Chris Bowers :: A Way Forward For Republicans
First, Nate writes:

The Democratic message in 2010 will essentially be one of two things...

1. Obama's accomplished X, Y and Z and showed the country the way forward, let's give him leaders in Congress who can continue to deliver for the middle class, or,

2. Obama accomplished X, but he couldn't accomplish Y and Z because the Republicans obstructed those measures to protect the special interests ... let's put partisanship behind us and elect leaders in Congress who can represent the common good.

Nate is correct about the messaging. That is how Democrats will run in 2010. As such, it is important to note a Democracy Corps poll released today showing that this legislation needs to be passed quickly and produce quick results. Otherwise, two years from now, the country won't still be overwhelmingly blaming Republicans if it doesn't:

Q.32 Now I'm going to read you some pairs of statements. After I read each pair, please tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own view, even if neither is exactly right.

32 (SPLIT A) I'm more concerned that Congress will prevent Barack Obama from making the kinds of changes he thinks are needed, by playing politics and catering too much to the special interests
I'm more concerned that the Democratic Congress will be too much of a rubber stamp for Barack Obama, and will push through Obama's programs whether they are good or bad

Agree first statement: 42%
Agree second statement: 49%

33 (SPLIT B) I'm more concerned that Republicans in Congress will obstruct Barack
Obama's agenda and prevent him from making the kinds of changes he thinks are needed.
I'm more concerned that Democrats in Congress will be too much of a rubber stamp for Barack Obama, and will push through Obama's programs whether they are good or bad.

Agree first statement: 43%
Agree second statement: 48%

So, last night's results and the Democracy Corps poll showed that the country isn't going to dump on Republicans forever. There is no grace period when the country will still vote for Democrats just because they hate Republicans. Democratic hopes in 2010 and 2012 rest entirely on our governing record during the next two to four years. Polling and election results show that Republican obstructionism will not be accepted as an excuse, and neither will be starting from the bottom of the deep hole Bush and Republicans dug for us. If we don't make things better, Republicans will immediately become competitive again, and the 2010-2012 political environment could be a lot more like 2000-2004 than 2005-2008.

In two years time, simply being a Democrat will no be longer good enough to be elected. We have been hired in huge numbers to solve problems without Republican interference. If we can't do that, then the country will sour on us, too. As such, the way back for Republicans is straightforward: hope that Democratic governance does not turn the country around.

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Great Post... (4.00 / 5)
...We have a mandate, but we don't have Carte Blanche. We should use the mandate wisely and quickly.

We will... (0.00 / 0)
...they are already getting legislation ready to get through congress and signed quickly...

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

[ Parent ]
The wording of the poll... (4.00 / 1)
...means that it doesn't mean exactly what everyone thinks it means.

Look at it this way. The Dems have 58 Senate seats and an 80-vote majority in the House. The average Joe on the street is not going to be convinced that Republicans can block Obama's agenda even if they wanted to. Yes, we know that Republicans are much more unified that Democrats and may be able to hold a filibuster on occassion, but the average Joe and Jane wouldn't buy that excuse. They'd say "You have 58 votes and can't get it done, what's wrong with you?" And actually, they'd be right. The Republicans ran wild with 55 votes from 2004-2006.

So even someone who agrees with Obama's agenda wouldn't be all that worried about Republican obstructionism, because it seems like such an unlikely proposition. The guy on the street would think that Democrats passing bad legislation (bailout, cough, bailout) is much more likely and worrisome than the negligable chances of a filibuster.

[ Parent ]
Wow (4.00 / 1)
It really is a small internet, eh?

How ya doing, IC?

[ Parent ]
Kalbelgarion? Is that you? (4.00 / 1)
I remember you! How's DC?

[ Parent ]
Yep, it's me (4.00 / 1)
I'm enjoying it. I have a job with an affordable housing non-profit. I get to keep an eye on legislation moving through Congress and the Obama transition, among other things. It's great.

You still in NYC? (Go Giants!)

[ Parent ]
Yes... (4.00 / 1)
I'm looking to get a job with the Living Tongues Institute. I graduated from NYU with a major in Linguistics and a minor in Comp. Sci. Things are looking up for me personally!

[ Parent ]
And if things go well for USA the next four years... (4.00 / 2)
the GOP is screwed.  

John McCain won't insure children

Disagree (4.00 / 2)
And Chuck Todd disagrees with you as well...

1992 and 2008 are like apples and oranges.  Clinton didn't win a majority, there was the perot "reofrm" movement, and the democratic congress had been tainted by scandal and longevity.  Rush Limbaugh was new and fresh activist movement, and Republicans still had a good name.  Redistricting favored Republicans and many Dixiecrats had not made the switch, yet...

Clinton also did not start out with a 75% approval rating by Gallup.

People are rooting for Obama... the crisis is deep and complicated... they are going to give him some slack, certainly more than two years...  Chuck Todd is adamant about it, and I am, too... I've never seen so much goodwill towards an incoming president...  

And yes, the memories of Bush will fade, but the republican party's brand name won't recover as quickly, especially if you've got people like Palin as their spokesperson...  The U.S. congress had been solidly republican for 12 years... We have been in charge the last two... if we weren't getting a grace period, how did we manage to gain so many seats with a sub 20% congressional approval rating?

The tide is with us, not against us like it was in 1992...  it's not going to wash out in two years...  We had a minority president back then... when republicans co-opted perot's message and visions of Reagan, they were able to win big in 1994 and beyond...

Now, if Obama messes up his first two years as badly as Clinton did, then maybe we have a problem, but I find that unlikely...

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

Agree that the hot seat is now (4.00 / 3)
But I think that is largely because of the dire straits the country (and world) are in, in general, Chris.

I don't know that the special election in Georgia has any more meaning, though, than acknowledging that was an uphill and losing battle from the get go. The part of the south that is hard core right (and white) is far more easily mobilized in these circumstances than anything the Dems could have put together. Frankly, Obama coming within 5 points on election night and Chambliss being forced to a run-off was damn near a miracle, and the result of a lot of hard work. The let-down following that and the natural strength Repubs still have in Georgia (outside of Atlanta) made that race last night damn near impossible.

I don't know that it is easily linked to the hot seat the Dems are working with otherwise, though. Or that there is necessarily a repeatable map to follow for the Repubs from that particular special election.

I don't read the poll questions the same way as you... (0.00 / 0)
...it just supports the idea that people want a few checks and balances in government to make sure that laws are well thought out in advance.  This is a natural tendency of the American electorate and explains some of our downticket problems this year.

These questions imply nothing about "getting bills fast that work quick", in fact they imply almost the opposite... that people don't want bills pushed too fast or take effect too quickly...

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

Seriously (4.00 / 1)
I certainly don't want Congress to push through Obama-backed programs that are "bad", as the question says. If Obama proposed a baby-eating program, I'd want Congress to stop it right away.  

[ Parent ]
Me Too... (4.00 / 1)
though it makes you think what kind of lobbyists would want a baby-eating bill passed...

[ Parent ]
Yes, but (4.00 / 1)
Just as that "bad programs" option was kind of biased against Obama, the "politics and catering" option was biased for Obama...

I'd tend to look at that question mostly as a question about what kind of spin is going to be more effective-- i.e., even if Obama's programs were good Republicans will attack them as being bad programs that the Democrats are rubberstamping, even if Obama's programs are bad the Democratics will attack the people who oppose them for playing politics and catering to the special interests. What I'd take away from Chris's point here is that the Democrats' preordained spin at the moment is inherently weaker than the Republicans', and if the Democrats try to get by on spin they'll lose; and therefore the Democrats really are going to pass good programs and make sure they're good in a way which is visible to the public by 2010, so that they don't have to get by on spin.

[ Parent ]
hell no (4.00 / 2)
babies is good eatin

[ Parent ]
Anything you say, Fat Bastard...(j/k) (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
This all seems kind of obvious (4.00 / 1)
Unless the GOP successfully filibusters every major piece of legislation, the Democratic Party will have nobody to blame but themselves if they don't enact their agenda, and if they do enact their agenda, they'll have nobody to blame if it's not successful.

I don't have a firm grasp on how likely the GOP is to filibuster, or how frequently. (Now would be a GREAT time to flip a Republican senator.) If they are constantly filibustering, though, it will be easier to paint them as obstructionists.

2010 isn't that far away, so it might be unrealistic to expect Obama and the Dems to turn the country around in less than two years (Jan.2009-Nov.2010). Still there will have to be some noticeable improvement, or Dems will probably be punished in the mid-term elections.

By 2012 there will be no excuses. If Obama can't plausibly campaign for reelection on the basis that things are better than they were four years ago, he's probably toast, depending on who the GOP nominates.

"Unless" (4.00 / 4)
Unless the GOP successfully filibusters every major piece of legislation, the Democratic Party will have nobody to blame but themselves if they don't enact their agenda, and if they do

And I'd add a little addendum to that... if the GOP does successfully filibuster every major piece of legislation, I'd be inclined to blame the Democratic Party for that, too, because if they can't find ways to overcome a filibuster while holding 57 Senate seats then what the heck are they doing up there?

[ Parent ]
"A decent shot in a statewide election in Georgia" (0.00 / 0)
Bowers claims Jin Martin never had "a decent shot in a statewide election in Georgia," but he doesn't bother to explain why the incumbent Republican Senator couldn't win a majority in the general election, and Martin forced a run-off.

Bowers also doesn't explain why Martin was only 3 points behind in the polls on November 24.

It looks like "a decent shot" to me, and probably to anybody else who isn't committed to making excuses for Obama refusing to campaign for Martin.

Why did Obama blow off Georgia?

Maybe a bunch of Obama's true believers think Lester Maddox is still governor of Georgia, but Jim Martin forced a run-off, he was only 3 points behind in the polls November 24, and if Obama had taken 3 or 4 days to get out the vote, Martin had more than "a decent shot" to win.

What was Obama doing that was so important that he couldn't spare 3 or 4 days to fight for a filibuster-proof majority  in the Senate?

For the last two years, while Democrats had majorities in Congress, all they did was whine about how they didn't have enough votes to squelch a filibuster or override a veto, and when they finally get "a decent shot at it," Obama just blows it off!

Yeah, Obama paid for some mailings, but the RNC flooded TV with $2 million in ads attacking Martin.

What was Obama saving the rest of his $600 million money mountain to do?

Why didn't he spend a big chunk of it in Georgia?

We're not all stupid crackers down here, voting for the closest thing to Jefferson Davis in every election, but Matt and Chris seem to be living in 1960, when a progressive candidate really didn't have a chance in Georgia.

But in 1960 a black candidate also didn't have "a decent shot" at the Presidency, and a lot of other things have also changed in Georgia since the days of Jim Crow.  

The reason Chambliss did not get 50% (4.00 / 1)
Was the Libertarian on the ballot. If GA did not have a system that was originally put into place to keep blacks out of office, there would not have been a runoff to begin with.

[ Parent ]
The Libertarian got 3% (2.67 / 3)
Martin was strong in the polls through November 24, and he kept asking Obama to come down and help get out the vote.

Turn-out is everything in run-offs, and if Obama had told his enthusiastic African-American base down here to get out and give him the 60 vote majority in the Senate that he needs for real "change," Martin had an excellent chance to win.

But when it became obvious that Obama was giving up Georgia without a fight, Martin's campaign was dead in the water, and Matt admitted yesterday that he didn't even bother to raise money for Martin, since Obama had written off the run-off.


This was a close general election, and the winner of the run-off was going to be whoever got out the vote.

This is Obama's specialty, getting out the vote, but it looks like he only uses his special talents to promote himself, and the rest of us don't really matter.

At least, that's how it looks to a lot of us progressives in Georgia, and there are a heck of a lot more of us than Matt and Chris seem to think.

But we couldn't beat $2 million in negative ads by the RNC, and a general lack of enthusiasm in the base after it became obvious that Obama was giving up the 60-seat Senate majority without a fight.

[ Parent ]
I won't make excuses for Obama. (4.00 / 1)
I could explain that he was busy or not greedy or anything like that, but...

...no, you're right. Obama has no excuse. He didn't exactly win Georgia, but he has a high approval rating and I'm disappointed he didn't let his "shine" add to another democratic seat.  

[ Parent ]
Please (4.00 / 1)
Your thesis is that Obama would have made up a 14-point discrepancy. Right.

[ Parent ]
This guy was a long-time troll over at MyDD (0.00 / 0)
Just so you know.

[ Parent ]
Jason C... Read the link! (0.00 / 0)
November 24 Martin was 3 points behind in the polls! There's a link to the Politico poll in my previous comment.

Martin's campaign fell apart at just about that point, when it was obvious Obama wasn't going to make a couple of quick flights down to Atlanta to help get out the vote, and the RNC was blanketing TV with a huge ad campaign, so a lot of Democrats stayed home.

That's why I emphasized getting out the vote, which Obama could do better than any other Democrat in recent history.

It wasn't 14 points November 24... It was 3 points, and a lot of people in Georgia, both Republicans and Democrats, thought Obama could make it extremely close.

Even November 30, it still looked close:

Polls show Martin trailing by three to five points, a gap that might be overcome in a run-off election, where voter turnout is the decisive factor. Many here say that if Obama came to Georgia to rally the African-American base, it would put Martin over the top. But Obama has shown little inclination to campaign. After the November election, the early talk was of how Georgia would serve as a post-victory test of Obama's "brand" - a chance to see whether his formidable campaign machine could rev up one more time and deliver a death blow to the GOP. But Obama's office has played no day-to-day role in assisting the candidate.

But in the event, Democratic turnout was pathetic, and most people down here in Georgia think that a big part of the reason was Obama giving up on the run-off without a fight.

[ Parent ]
Yes and No (4.00 / 2)
First, I would argue that 1992 and 2008 might be different in that 1992 was the beginning of the culture wars that we've hopefully gotten past for a while. Remember, 1994 was not so much about the economy as guns, gays in the military and the first Baby Boomer president in history. I'm not knocking baby boomers, but I think we'd be well advised to get past that generation so we don't have to go thorught it again. The Republicans tried to drag us back, but it's tough against someone born in 1961. Hopefully, we're entering a "Get It Done" era. That is why people are looking to Obama, and us, to fix the economy, get us out Iraq, clean up the planet and restore our standing in the world. And that is why I don't have any taste for ideoloigcal purity tests. If the end result attains the progressive gola of universal health care, I don't care if we take a pragmatic approach to getting it done. I don't think the American people do, either.

Riiiiiight... (4.00 / 2)
Democratic losses in the election of '94 were the result of having the first baby boomer president. Sure they were. Those losses had nothing at all to do with the House Banking Scandal or the Congressional Post Office Scandal or the indictment of the Democratic Chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, all while the Democratic Speaker was politely looking the other way. No, Congressional Democratic corruption had no role whatsoever.

It's too bad that the lessons of 1994 have been so easily shrugged off, especially given the price our country paid from '94 to '06. Some might think that there's a cautionary tale to be told, particularly after seeing the Republicans brought down by similar levels of greed and corruption 12 years later. Good to know it was just the boomers.

[ Parent ]
it's all about the filibuster (4.00 / 1)
Democrats have to either find ways to peel off Specter/Snowe/Gregg on a semi-regular basis or they have to ensure the country understands it is the Republicans obstructing the Change Obama promised.

Some have been laughing over the wingnut Club For Growth primary challenge looming over Specter.  Not me, since that will force him to burnish his Republican credentials and vote to filibuster.  

Martinez' decision to retire is either good or bad - he may be more willing to buck his party now that he has nothing to lose, or he may not give a shit that his state voted for Obama and filibuster away.  It depends where he really personally stands on these things.

The real threat is not that voters turn against Democrats, but that a lot of people who voted for "hope" and "change" get cynical and stay home.  Republicans love winning by default.  

But it's not 1992 and the chances of the GOP taking congress in 2010 are next to nil.

Specter seems particularly vulnerable (0.00 / 0)
being up for reelection in two years in a state that went double digits for Obama.  

[ Parent ]
As smart people have also written, (4.00 / 6)
(maybe it was Marc Ambinder?), realignments aren't made by elections -- they are made by governance. People have won big elections before, but if they failed to deliver, the country turned against them. If they delivered in a big way, then it became a realignment.

In this case, I think, for Obama to achieve a realignment, he needs to (a) fix the economy, (b) fix healthcare -- both in a real, non-nominal way, so that they actually work well afterwards and people's lives are significantly improved. Fixing energy/environment and foreign policy/national security are also extremely and no less important, for the fate of the country and the world, but I don't think they have the same sort of immediate electoral impact.

Oh good Lord, Chris. (4.00 / 3)
The reason Nate's thesis is so disturbing is that a new Democracy Corps poll shows he is probably correct.

Halloween is over; you can take off the Grim Reaper outfit.

Not that Obama's going to have an easy time of it, but you are predicting a "disturbing" turn of events based on a special statewide election in Georgia (which is so fucking far right that they thought Chambliss would be a good senator in the first place) and one poll. One. Poll.

We all know we have work to do, and we all know the GOP will have an opportunity to rebuild itself in the role of the minority party. Beyond that, this post is the sort of whinging that caused people to lose respect for Democrats in the first place--nail-biting so premature and so overwrought that one wonders why we should be entrusted with power.

We need to govern well and not drag our feet (0.00 / 0)
of course we all need to look in the rear view mirror.  2010 will be a tough hoe for us here in Michigan. I walked precincts in 1994, Clinton was villified for two years straight.  Time called him the incredible shrinking President.  The GOP will absolutely be obstructionist.  Whatever goes wrong will be Obama's fault, whatever goes right will be because of actions Bush and Paulson did during thier last days in office.

None the less, we Democrats must govern well.  It will probably take a super human effort to turn the needle positive but we have to enact long term fixes on health care, energy, climate change, etc.  I'm confident that if we are methodical and thoughtful, the outlook will turn positive in 2010.  Short term band-aids to limp through 2010 will be counter productive.  We must continue to build up the progressive network that wasn't available in 1994 to push back against conservative populism.  Liberal populism is the way forward.  A strong progressive media network is one of the necessary legs of that stool.  


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