January 18, 2010

Why Republicans May Eventually Regret Scott Brown's Victory In Massachusettes

No, Republicans will not come to regret Senator Scott Brown because he is not conservative.  He is still a Republican, he will still tend to vote with Republicans on most issues, and most importantly, his presence as a 41st Republican in the Senate will break the Democrats of their arrogant presumption that they can simply do what they like, when they like.

That is why Republicans will eventually come to realize that there is a downside to his surprising show of strength in Massachusetts.  What is happening in the Bay State now will graphically demonstrate to Democrats as a whole, and individual Democrats, that they cannot coast to victory everywhere and in all places, that they cannot leave their campaigning skills at home simply because they can associate themselves with Barack Obama and the governing majority, that they cannot run a successful campaign in 2010 against George Bush.

That's the big deal.  The theme for 2010 was going to be "Blame Bush."  Why Democrats would think that two years after Bush was forced out of office and not even an option anymore, why they would think that two years in to the term, they could say thing like, "Huh, what an awful economy!  We in-hair-it-ed it!" and get a good response from the electorate, why they would not think people might notice when they spout nonsense like "A Republican created this bad economy and now we have to take the blame!" is beyond me.  Much less the basic incompatibility of running against an out-of-office Republican while their own President says things like "There are always folks who think that the best way to solve these problems are to demonize others and, unfortunately, we're seeing some of that politics in Massachusetts today," and then they can turn around and demonize George Bush instead of offering actual solutions to the problems and reaping the electoral rewards for doing so.

No, at a certain point, the Democrats bought it, and now it's theirs.  All theirs.  And (surprise!) they haven't solved all the problems, they haven't turned the economy around -- or at least, it doesn't feel like they have.  Real estate prices still  feel depressed, unemployment is still high, retail activity is still sluggish, credit is still tight, gasoline is still expensive.  The only sign of a Carter-era economy we're missing is inflation and that might start to creep up on us too.  (Don't say you weren't warned about this.)  And therefore, the strategies and themes that worked well for them in 2008 aren't going to work well now.  They need to think of new things to say.  Ultimately, they need to find some good news to tell because when you're an incumbent you need to tell the voters good news.  Yes, it's easier to tell the voters bad news, play to their fears, and use the sexy word "change" but those are tactics that work best for insurgents and not incumbents.  Democrats need to act like they are the status quo now, because that's what they are.

What's more, the presence of 41 Republicans in the Senate, as I noted yesterday, will require the Democrats who still have a significant majority in the Senate to sit down and bargain with the Republicans.  The majority party will have to listen to and at least make a small concession to the policy concerns of the minority party.  The majority's desired policies will have to be diluted in order to move out of Congress.  Regardless of which party is in power and which party is in the minority, that's presumptively a good thing.  And it also means that it creates ambiguous policies, ones which will contain elements that can be assigned to the minority Republicans, and create credible arguments in the next election for why the policies have not brought about Elysium on Earth which, after all, is what the voters were promised instead of the drudging, grim, and decidedly un-fun reality they have to deal with daily.

So it now appears at least as likely as not that the seat that has been held by Teddy Kennedy for as long as I have had memory will be taken by a (moderate) Republican.  And the result of that is that the beatback Democrats had coming for them in November of this year is previewed.  Smart Democrats will react to this by changing up their game.  If Republicans want to be smart, they don't need to change their game so much; they're out of power so they can do all the usual insurgency tactics.  The Democrats, however, are getting a bellwether that what they're bringing to the game now isn't going to be good enough and they just might think of a way to better preserve their majority status.


LoafingOaf said...

President Bush wasn't "forced out of office"; he completed his second term.

If you wanna see what forcing people out of office looks like, I suspect you'll be seeing a lot of that happening this November. There's hell to pay!

Burt Likko said...

I thought a bit about that phrase before using it. True, I could have used "termed" out of office and I concede that there is some ambiguity in the phrase about how exactly Bush came to be no longer the President.

I concluded that a) operation of the twenty-second amendment did "force" Bush out of office because b) had Bush had been eligible to run for a third term, he would almost certainly have done so, and c) the tone of the 2008 election was a sound popular repudiation of the Bush Administration.

I nevertheless concede that this was not an ideal word choice.

fiteon said...

Please tell me why when the GOP in-HAIR-ited a healthy economy in 2000 they didn't keep it healthy? Now tell me how they plan on fixing the deep, deep whole they buried us in.

I voted GOP all my life but this is no longer my GOP. It is now an angry, corporate owned, faux Christian, greedy group that cares only for itself and not for the people of America.

Also, tell me how in the world it is a good thing that Big Business can pour all the national and INTERNATIONAL money they want into our elections? Didn't their lobbyists own enough lawmakers already?

Burt Likko said...

1. You'll find no defenses of the Bush Administration here. At least, not from me; perhaps another commenter will attempt that task but I will not.

2. You are exactly right in your second paragraph. I feel exactly the way you do there.

3. I didn't say that what you describe would be a good thing nor did I say it was the necessary result of the Citizens United case. I said the Constitution requires the result of that case, whether it's a good idea or not.

fiteon said...


fiteon said...

Sorry, problem w/ my password. Back to work...

"Requires"? I just don't see it that way - and 4 justices don't either.

The founders would be the first to condemn this obscene and transparent decision.

Now that corporations are "people" I guess embryos will be next.