The State of the Republican Party
It is not a good sign when Party officials describe a loss of at least 6 Senate seats and 20 or more House seats and the presidency as not all that bad, given the circumstances this year. After the 2004 elections, the GOP held 55 Senate seats, 232 House seats, and the Presidency, won with a record 62 million votes cast for George Bush, with victories in 31 states. After the last few contested Senate and House races are decided in the next few weeks, the GOP will not hold the Presidency, and will hold 40-43 Senate seats and 175-179 House seats.
To say this is a sea change in 4 years is to understate the shift that has occurred. If one looks back a bit further back to 1992, the Republicans have won the popular vote in only one Presidential election in the last 5, (2004 by 2.4%), and combining the results for the 5 most recent elections, the Democrats have received almost 20 million more votes than the Republicans, a margin of almost 4%.
The House seats are now distributed between the Parties about where they were after the 1992 elections. The two Republican victories in the Presidential races in 2000 and 2004 were eked out with narrow wins in a few key states producing small Electoral College victories. The Democrats' three victories were far more decisive.
While it is true that the 2008 race would have been much closer in the Electoral College with a small percentage shift in the popular vote in Indiana, Florida and North Carolina, looking forward to 2012, the prospects for the GOP are daunting. Changes due to redistributing the 435 House seats after the 2010 census will likely add a few net Electoral College votes to GOP-friendly states (e.g. Texas, Florida, Arizona), but even if the GOP then won all the states they won in 2008, plus all those they lost by 6% or less in 2008 (Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina), they would still fall short of the 270 Electoral College level needed for victory.
Does anyone think that Barack Obama will be easy to knock off in 2012? Even if a GOP candidate in that year decided to opt out of public financing for the general election in 2012, does anyone think he or she could match the fundraising level of Barack Obama? Does anyone think the demographic shifts in the country will soon become more favorable to the Republican Party? Does anyone think Obama's campaign team will do a lousy job in 2012 after what they accomplished this year?
And finally, it is possible, if not likely, that by 2011-2012, the economy will be headed up again, just in time for Obama's re-election campaign. Obama has been both lucky and good in his campaigns, and counting on luck deserting him in 2012, is a poor plan for victory. Some Republicans are counting on Obama becoming a failure as President, and then losing in 2012. But even if Obama struggles, the perception of how he is doing is certain to be better than occurred during the Bush Presidency. In fact, failure in the first two years, and perhaps the entire first term, will be blamed on the deep hole that Bush dug for the country.
To be sure, the 2008 election would have been a lot closer and McCain would have had a shot at victory, had the financial crisis come two months later. Had Obama not outspent McCain 4 to 1 or 5 to 1 in battleground states down the stretch, the race might have tipped to the GOP in a few states. But looking at the eventual outcome in the battleground states, it is hard to see how McCain would have won, even if the national numbers moved 7-8% in his direction. McCain might have needed a 3% popular vote margin to win the Electoral College, and then have had a good shot at Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.
The Republican Party started to bleed in the 1990s when Bill Clinton successfully picked off many suburban white voters who had been traditional Republican voters, largely due to economic issues. He was able to do this because of the perception that the GOP was increasingly the Party of social conservatives, dominated by Southern legislators and voters. In essence, resistance to social conservatism trumped these voters' commitment to economic conservatism.
While the GOP had some success in 2000, 2002 and 2004 in getting some of these voters back, they deserted the party the last two elections. The Reagan big tent was always fragile, and the fissures have been out there now for quite a few elections. Can the GOP find a charismatic leader like an Obama to reunite the separate constituencies: national security conservatives, economic conservatives, and social conservatives, all of whom are needed for victory? No one immediately springs to mind. Can the Party develop a consistent and appealing thematic message? Maybe, but the message will be lost without the national spokesperson/ leader.
The Palin Factor
Did Sarah Palin cause McCain's defeat? That is an easy one to answer. No she did not. Blame Lehman Brothers, AIG, and Fanny and Freddie, and a 30% market decline in two months for that. Might Palin have cost McCain some votes? I think this is likely, particularly among independents, and also among some Jewish voters, especially in Florida. But in no way was this decisive. Those who say Palin robbed McCain by taking away the experience issue, did not watch this election very closely. Experience counted for nothing when Hillary Clinton made that case against Obama and counted for nothing when McCain made the same case. Those who were concerned about McCain's age (and longevity, and hence his successor), were in most cases not going to vote for him anyway.
Palin was the victim of an immediate and unprecedented media assault from the left after her selection, and then during the campaign she took the heat from some holier-than-thou establishment conservatives who considered themselves her intellectual superior, and from some whisperers in the McCain campaign, looking for a scapegoat for the likely loss that occurred.
Some others in the McCain campaign were likely trying to eliminate Palin from contention in 2012. I think Palin showed much more dignity than her attackers, and an admirable stoicism. She also demonstrated that she has real appeal to many in the Party, and she was the only one to generate any real excitement this year. Does Palin have a future in national politics? Maybe, but she will need to broaden her appeal to succeed. She has some real political gifts, that even some on the left were honest enough to note.
Polls, Pumas And The Bradley Effect
PUMAs (pro-Hillary Democrats) did not materialize to deliver Pennsylvania to McCain as I had been assured would occur in several emails I received in the week before the election. The so-called Bradley effect (the hidden from pollsters anti-black vote) was non-existent. Nate Silver's model, and Mark Blumenthal, and the RCP averages did not lie; Obama was headed for victory after the financial collapse.
But I did learn something about a key indicator from this election: pay attention to the last Redskins home game before Election Day. Many are familiar with the theory that when an original NFL team wins the Super Bowl, the stock market climbs that year. OK, the Giants did their part in the Super Bowl, and the market is down near 40% for the year. Scratch that theory. But the Redskins model is now 17 for 17. If the Redskins win their last home game before the election, the party that won the popular vote in the last election will win the White House. If they lose that last home game, the party that lost the popular vote will win the election.
Monday night, I was, for the first time in ages, pulling for the Redskins. When they took a 6-3 lead over the Steelers, I had visions of Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado tipping to McCain the next day. But alas, the Skins went down to Pittsburgh 23-6, and McCain lost the following day. In reality, given the near certainty that McCain was going down the next day, the Presidential polls should have led the wise sports gambler to lay some heavy action on Pittsburgh -- both straight up and also taking the points. Since most of the last 17 President elections have not been that close (exceptions in 1948, 1960, 1968, 1976, 2000 and 2004), the poll numbers for the Presidency may be most useful as a guide on how to bet on the Redskins last home game before the election.
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.