Sunday, May 07, 2006

The House Is Safe for the GOP in 2006

I am boldly making a prediction here, at risk of future ridicule and several dollars (the actual amount will remain secret as my wife occasionally reads this blog) to Publius Rex.

The Republicans will retain the House of Representatives this November.

(Along with this comes the related but less bold prediction that liberal Democrats will react with disbelief, shock, awe, etc., closely followed by conspiracy theories/excuses like the "Diebold Effect", that their candidates weren't liberal enough, or that Chimpy McBushitler prevents the unwashed masses from voting in their economic interests and hearing the truth because of all the right wing corporate media bias. There, I said it.)

Pundits everywhere (even conservative ones) are saying different, of course. Even Ken Mehlmen has raised the panic alarm. But pundits are pundits, and so far every single one of them has relied exclusively on "generic ballot" polls, which say that people are dissatisfied with Republicans and want a change. What they don't do is actually look at the individual races and add up the numbers. They've done it for the Senate, and have rightly concluded the Democrats cannot take it. But 33 races = easier math and more digestible 10 minute TV news segments than 435. And they don't take into account people like me who are "dissatisfied with the Republicans and want a change" but would rather grouse about the status quo than see Nancy Pelosi with any real power.

A few weeks ago, Jay Cost at RealClearPolitics engaged in some actual political science (a rarity I've hardly ever seen, even while I was getting my degree in that discipline), and determined that it was highly unlikely for the House to flip. His main reasons:

  • The incumbency advantage is a powerful one, and less than 5% of House members are not seeking reelection in 2006. Even people who don't like generic Democrats like their Democrat, and vice versa. Look at how long Tom Daschle was able to hold on in conservative South Dakota, and how tenuous his ouster really was.
  • House members have the advantage of controlling their districts to a degree. The Senate is actually more receptive to national moods than the house, because they don't have the advantage of gerrymandering their legislative districts. Thus, House seats tend to be safer for incumbents than Senate seats. And if the Senate isn't at risk...
  • The first two points are backed up by the historical fact that ever since Senators started being popularly elected in 1914, control of the House has never changed parties without a corresponding switch in the Senate.
  • In looking at several different regions of the country and their actual races with the actual candidates, things just don't look that gloomy for Republicans.
His logic is hard to refute. And I think that there's yet another issue he's missing. The issues still favor Republicans, especially if they do ANYTHING but squabble through to November. Consider:

  • Immigration: It's not right wingers who were out in the streets last week demanding amnesty of illegals. And if Republicans wake up and finally exert some leadership on this issue, this issue alone will secure their victory. It's the Democrat's only chance, but I just don't see their current leadership taking advantage of it in the right direction.
  • Iraq and the GWOT: Democrats have dreams and platitudes, but no plans. They speak of "re-engaging our international allies" (unless it's "outsourcing diplomacy" with Iran), "catching bin Laden", and somehow forcing North Korea to give up its nukes (like Bill Clinton did, I guess), but have yet to explain how. Whatever dissatisfactions people have with the status quo, people are concerned about national security and don't want to replace something with nothing.
  • The economy: The economy is blazing away, and unemployment is still incredibly low. Personal income and consumer spending is up, despite gas prices. People are doing well economically, and people vote their pocketbooks.
  • Gas prices: The party blocking drilling in ANWR, championing high gas taxes, and containing rabid environmentalists has very little credibility on this issue. And because the economy is otherwise on fire, and real incomes are up, the impact is just not substantial enough.
  • Taxes: Democrats have repeatedly said they want to axe the tax cuts "for the rich". The problem is that a lot of people who don't consider themselves "rich" would see their taxes shoot back up if the tax cuts are not made permanent. It's hard to not call this a tax hike and still keep a straight face, and harder still to justify to people when they're already paying a lot for gas.
  • The "Culture of Corruption": The legal attacks on prominent Republicans have been transparently political (with a few exceptions). But the Abramoff scandal was an equal opportunity, bi-partisan affair. And the Democrats have had their own high profile power-hubris issues of late that in very large part nullify this clumsily offered non-issue.
  • Spending: The Republicans have been atrocious on this issue, but does anyone really believe the Democrats will spend less? Each Republican running for Congress will pledge to cut spending, and/or will highlight his/her own record on "limiting Congressional spending." This line of attack favors Republicans attacking Democratic incumbents more than Democrats attacking Republican ones, and let's not forget that Dems have seats to defend, too. Once again, a side by side comparison will not favor Democrats.
If the Democrats had real plans to address these issues, they could re-take both houses of Congress. But they don't. (In fact, they're actively trying to prevent progress on any of these issues so the GOP won't get credit - a transparent and short-sighted calculus that will burn them.) "Goals" and "platitudes" don't count - the success of the 1994 Contract with America was its specificity and smaller, realistically achievable legislative agendas. When actual candidates are held up side-by-side, the Democrats will look weaker on each one of these issues that are weighing on voters' minds. And their continued flirtations with the far, far, far lefties like the Daily Kos have been and will continue to be self-sabotaging acts.

And there are issues to motivate the Republican base. Nancy Pelosi is already hinting at what their real focus will be if they regain power - politically motivated attacks on President Bush and Republicans. It's a true testimonial to the stunning political flat-footedness of the Democrats that their leadership says things like this out loud. Americans want serious people addressing their problems, not slap-fighting over their own self-importance, even if they disagree with the proffered solutions. (Look how Clinton's impeachment helped him and hurt Congress in the polls.) And right now, the Democratic leadership simply aren't serious people.

The Republicans will lose some seats, there is no question. People are frustrated with their lackluster leadership, and rightfully so. And Republicans can lose if they try, and don't take Mr. Mehlman's warnings seriously. But absent some huge, unexpected happening, the stars are simply not aligned for them to lose enough seats to actually lose control. And dissatisfaction with the current Republicans does not, fortunately, signal a yearning by Americans for a leftward shift.


Cato said...

The Democratic offer to reinstate the "pay as you go" rule is pretty tempting, actually. The Republicans certainly haven't been fiscally conservative by any measure. If the Democrats make sure that taxing and spending are pegged to each other, that's a HUGE gain for fiscal responsibility. Of course, they may not do it. But the Republicans aren't even saying they'll do it. And they manifestly haven't done it while they've been in power. And the Bush administration has taken several strong stands against federalism.

So riddle me this, Batman: Why am I supposed to vote for federal Republicans again? Because I'm running awfully short on reasons.

Orrin Johnson said...

When Democrats talk about pegging taxing and spending to each other, they're talking about increasing social programs and raising taxes to pay for them (which will, ironically, bring in less money for the social programs and force taxes higher). Even if they do what they say, it will NOT be "fiscally responsible". It's certainly not "fiscally conservative", but in fact the opposite of that. And it would be ruinous for the economy.

Everyone talks about fiscal responsibility. The Democrats do NOT have a record of it, whatever they happen to be saying now. And voting records are fair game in political ads.

I think Republicans are still marginally better than Democrats on this (and most other) issues, but this piece wasn't so much to endorse Republicans as it is to simply back up my prediction. I'm not apologizing for their dreadful spending policies.

Come November, insurgent Republicans will be talking plenty about fiscal responsibility. And if we're lucky, current Congressional Republicans will get a little scared and find some government programs to chop down to size. If Democrats are serious about fiscal discipline, they'll start offering up their own budget cuts right now.

I'll leave it to the Riddler to puzzle out how many of THOSE bills we'll actually see.

PubliusRex said...

I intend to vote Federal Republican again because for all the reasons I'm tempted not to vote federal republican, I know that the democrats are far worse.

The modern democrat party has never seen a problem that they didn't try to solve with a federal program and a tax increase.