Republican Comeback?

Politico is talking about the possibility of a Republican comeback, starting out with reasons why it sounds far-fetched:

For the first time since their 2006 election drubbing, top Republicans see signs — however faint — of a political resurgence over the next year.

At first blush, this sounds absurd. After all, polls show the GOP more unpopular than ever, and the John Ensign sex scandal serves as a vivid, real-time reminder of why many see the party as a collection of hypocrites.

But several trends suggest this optimism might not be as far-fetched as it seems.

Polls show that the GOP is wise to focus most of its attacks on spending, government intervention and job losses. (Those same polls show the public has low regard for Republicans on these issues, but it’s a significant development that President Barack Obama’s numbers are slipping in these areas, too.) And just as importantly, GOP leaders on Capitol Hill privately recognize the need to distance themselves a bit from George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich — even though they’ve done poor job of doing so thus far.

They think the Republicans have a chance if they concentrate on government spending:

Polls show that Obama’s chief vulnerability is public concern over the soaring deficit. And as the sticker shock of a trillion-dollar-plus health care plan takes hold, these concerns are only likely to grow.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — long used to hearing complaints about Bush — says his moderate constituents have finally found something else to gripe about. “Now the dominant thing I hear from them is: ‘What is all this government spending?'” said Kirk, who is mulling a Senate run next year.

Squabbling over much else, Republicans are emboldened and united on this issue. In the House, they banded together last week to oppose a supplemental war funding bill because it included $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund — what one GOP member called a “global bailout.” They are gearing up to oppose Democratic plans to increase domestic spending this summer and fall.

Yes, this approach is more than a tad hypocritical. Under Bush, Republicans vastly expanded the size of government and whacked Democrats when they opposed war funding. But memories fade fast in politics, especially in this era of turbo-charged media.

The last paragraph shows one problem for the Republicans. While they love to talk about small government, the Republicans are every bit as much a party of big government as the Democrats. It is hardly a surprise that in a two-party country with a big government both parties are equally guilty of promoting this.

The key difference is that while both parties support big government, the Republicans support a government with less limitations on its power and increased interference in the lives of individuals. In order for the Republicans to try to win on the economy and government spending they have to hope that the voters forget everything else the Republicans stand for.

Even if they do manage to make the next election a referendum on the economy, the Republicans are hardly in good shape. They have to hope that voters have a very short memory and forget that the current economic crisis began under the Republicans and that Republican policies were a major factor in precipitating the crisis. Even long-time economic conservatives such as Richard Posner have acknowledged the problems which were created by deregulation of the financial industry.

You never know for certain how people will vote, and it is possible voters have a short memory. A present polls only show about 20% still supporting the Republicans, with virtually all groups now opposing them. The off-year elections in 2010 should offer advantages for the party out of power, especially as many Democrats are now defending traditionally Republican districts. It is still risky for the Republicans to count on the economy and government spending as issues. Numerous polls have showed public support for health care reform even if it costs more and results in higher taxes.

In general voters will vote Democratic when the economy is their main concern–which certainly makes sense considering the overall track record of the two parties. As they regularly ignore facts when they contradict their ideology and they stick to economic principles which simply do not work, an economic decline seem to be an inevitable consequence of Republican government. A majority of voters seems to feel this way.

Looking back at the 2008 presidential race, John McCain led in the polls after the conventions. I still felt confident that Obama would win, especially as McCain was riding a bounce due to interest in Sarah Palin which I though would eventually back fire against him. While confident that Obama would pull back ahead, it was not until the financial crisis began that Obama took a lead and was never in danger of losing the election. Voters who rejected the Republicans due to the economy in 2008 might be convinced to return, but it will be a very hard sell.

While Obama may or may not be right on individual decisions, a pragmatic president who will change course based upon facts is far preferable to Republicans who govern based upon blind devotion to ideology and deride a necessary change in policy as “flip-flopping.” The problem the Republicans face is that, while the Democrats are far from perfect, most voters feel the Republicans are far worse.


  1. 1
    Fritz says:

    I spent last week in northern Ohio on family business.  I was impressed by the hostility toward the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress.  And I am not talking about rich lawyers or business owners — I’m talking about nurses, movers, real estate agents, etc.  There is a lot of anger about various groups getting special deals on bailouts and mortgage reductions.  For instance, the boss of one friend of mine is getting $800/mo off of her mortgage and crows about it to her underlings and then goes off to dinner and to her weekly spa treatments.
    None of that, as far as I could tell, makes those people love the Republican Party.  But the potential for an opening is definitely there.

  2. 2
    Mr. Jeffersonian says:

    People may be angry but they’re not stupid! It’s because of the GOP’s government spending and poor planning that we’re in this mess in the first place. For them to have so much the audacity to start preaching fiscal responsibilty is enough to leave anyone at a loss for words.

  3. 3
    Carole S. says:

    The current two party system is a farce, and keeps people completely at each other’s throats. We have the illusion of choice here people, if one side ‘grabs’ an issue it’s almost like the ‘other side’ can’t touch it, that is just foolishness. People need to work together to solve issues, but putting the government is charge of our responsibilities is not best, politicians under any name are the same, have we not learned this by now?

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