Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Politics — Rick Moran @ 10:17 am

That old saw which states “All politics are local” was first used (I believe) by former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill when pundits were predicting huge gains for Republicans in the 1978 elections. Jimmy Carter was as unpopular as George Bush and Republicans were rubbing their hands together in anticipation of picking off several Democrats. O’Neill, a burly, old-fashioned Irish pol with the charm of a snake oil salesman and the fighting instincts of a Doberman Pincher was whistling past the graveyard. The Republicans successfully made Carter’s incompetence an issue and picked up 15 seats in the House and 3 in the Senate.

The GOP now faces a similar situation with the Democrats trying to nationalize the upcoming mid-terms while Republicans seek to keep people’s focus on their own Congressional candidate. How successful can the Democrats be in pushing the President front and center in people’s minds? Michael Barone:

The slight uptick in Republican percentages in 2002 and 2004 can be explained by higher Republican turnout. Looking ahead to next November, there is reason to believe that the Republican base is turned off — by high spending, by immigration — and may not turn out as heavily. But if so, how much difference will that make?

Polls are not good predictors of turnout — only elections are. Last week, we had a special election in the 50th district of California, whose Republican congressman resigned in disgrace and went to prison. In 2004, the 50th district voted 55 percent for George W. Bush and 44 percent for John Kerry. Last week, the district voted 53 percent for Republicans (there were 14 candidates, the winner among whom goes on to a June 6 runoff) and 45 percent for Democrats. There were only two of them, and the leader, Francine Busby, got 44 percent of the vote — the same percentage as Kerry. That may be 1 percent higher when the last absentees are counted.

Barone’s reasoning is sound. Even though the “base” may be turned off or unenthusiastic, if relative turnout percentages remain basically the same, the Republicans will lose some ground but probably not the 15 seats necessary for Democrats to take control of the House.

But can one extrapolate a national result from looking at one pro-GOP district? Barone thinks that there are two general hypotheses that govern mid-terms:

Hypothesis One sees House elections as a referendum on the president and his party. If the president’s job rating is above 50 percent, his party tends to suffer only narrow losses or even, as in 1934 and 1998 — and almost in 1962 — makes gains. If the president’s job rating is significantly under 50 percent, his party tends to lose lots of seats.


Hypothesis One was developed by political scientists and psephologists over many years. Hypothesis Two is one I developed myself, and it’s based only on the elections of the last 10 years. In the five House elections from 1996 to 2004, there has been very little variation in the popular vote percentages for both parties. The Republican percentage of the popular vote for the House has fluctuated between 49 and 51 percent, the Democratic percentage between 46 and 48.5 percent

In other words, our politics has become so polarized that very few minds are changed despite all the Republican missteps thus making turnout the determining factor. And given the GOP’s record in the past 2 elections, this in fact bodes well for the party in November.

This could be especially true if Republicans carry through with their idea to energize at least a few more conservatives by playing the social issues card:

Protection of marriage amendment? Check. Anti-flag burning legislation? Check. New abortion limits? Check.

Between now and the November elections, Republicans are penciling in plans to take action on social issues important to religious conservatives, the foundation of the GOP base, as they defend their congressional majority.

In a year where an unpopular war in Iraq has helped drive President Bush’s approval ratings below 40 percent, core conservatives whose turnout in November is vital to the party want assurances that they are not being taken for granted.

Democrats have no comparable counter-play and must rely, as they did in 2004, on the anger and disgust of their base at the policies and personality of George Bush. This is because so few Republicans (relatively speaking) are willing to walk into a voting booth and pull the lever for the Democrats.

It’s their own fault. I daresay not too many people are willing to vote for a party that called Republican voters after the 2004 election “ignorant mouthbreathers,” or threatened to secede from the Union because they did not want to co-exist with people from the other party.

In fact, I’d say that’s the major difference between 2006 and 1994; it isn’t necessarily the rough percentages of people who identify themselves as Republican or Democrat it’s how many minds can be changed to vote for the other guy. It was even more pronounced a phenomena in the Watergate year of 1974 when the Democrats nearly destroyed the Congressional GOP party by picking up 49 seats in the House and 3 in the Senate (despite having to defend twice as many seats as Republicans). In that election, there were massive numbers of Republican defections. No such trend is possible today.

But can strong dislike for the President really make a difference?

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 47 percent of voters “strongly” disapprove of Bush’s job performance, vs. 20 percent who said they “strongly approve.”

In the recent past, this perennial truism of politics — emotion equals turnout — has worked more to the Republican advantage. Several weeks before the 2002 midterm elections, Bush had 42 percent of voters strongly approving of him, compared with 18 percent in strong opposition. Democrats were stunned on election night when Republicans defied historical patterns and made gains in the House and Senate. The president’s party usually loses seats during the first midterm elections after he takes office.

This number is a mirage. In strong Democratic districts, I daresay opposition to Bush this time around is as close to unanimous as you can get which would drive those numbers to their current stratospheric heights. In strong Republican districts, support for the President may have dropped but not enough to unseat the GOP incumbent. This leaves what the experts have been saying is about 35 seats that are “in play” and ripe for the picking if the Democrats field good candidates and can get out the vote.

So in the end, we’re back to turnout. And even though many Republicans may in fact stay home , they may be offset by an increase in movement conservatives that are energized by the prospect of Republicans dealing with issues near and dear to their hearts.

I am a lot less pessimistic about Republican chances in November now than I was during the winter. Unless things crash in burn in Iraq or some other calamity befalls us, it appears that the Republicans will hold on to their majorities. Their advantage may be cut in half in the House and they may lose 2-3 seats in the Senate, but as it stands now, politics will indeed be played out at the local level and the Democrat’s attempt to nationalize the election to their advantage will fail.


Jim Geraghty agrees with my final analysis and adds this caveat for Democrats:

You’ll recall that in 1996, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle were saying, “We’re going to win back the House and Senate!” But they didn’t.

And in 1998, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle were saying, “We’re going to win back the House and Senate!” But they didn’t. (Credit where it’s due, they closed the margin a bit.)

And in 2000, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle were saying, “We’re going to win back the House and Senate!” But they didn’t, until Jeffords switched parties.

And in 2002, Dick Gephardt said, “We’re going to win back the House!” And Daschle said, “We’re going to expand our majority in the Senate!” But they didn’t.

In 2004, Pelosi and Daschle said, “We’re going to win back the House and Senate!” But they didn’t.

So I’m not really all that surprised to hear Pelosi and Reid and Schumer saying this year, “We’re going to win back the House and Senate!”

Yes, sooner or later, they’re going to be right; it’s unlikely that the GOP will hold both houses of Congress for all eternity. And maybe this is the year. But can we have a little more skepticism? Some acknowledgement that we’ve been hearing these same confident boasts for a decade, and they’ve turned out, cycle after cycle, to be mostly empty bluster?

Do you mean to tell me that the mainstream press and the Democrats were confidently predicting victory just prior to the last 5 elections only to be totally, completely, 100% WRONG?

Never would have guessed it…


  1. The war (occupation) seems to be going better. U. S. casualties are down and seem likely to go even lower while November approaches. Will this help Republicans? If emotion equals turnout, will a few memorial services (five year anniversary) for 9/11 victims, complete with tapes of airliners crashing into the WTC, get voters motivated? I don’t think the Dems should open the champagne just yet.

    Comment by tyk — 4/17/2006 @ 12:16 pm

  2. “I daresay not too many people are willing to vote for a party that called Republican voters after the 2004 election “ignorant mouthbreathers,” or threatened to secede from the Union because they did not want to co-exist with people from the other party.”

    This contradicts your underlying point - that partisan percentages may be stable - i.e probably 48-49% (at minimum) of people are willing to vote for a party….
    And is it “a party” that called Republican voters ignorant mouthbreathers, or one convenient person that you choose to highlight and pretend that they are the voice of an entire party?

    Comment by Tano — 4/17/2006 @ 2:22 pm

  3. And here I thought ‘ingnorant mouthbreathers’ was a compliment. I thought I was being seduced by the Dems. My bad.

    Tano - can we say that the Chairman of the Party speaks for the party? Or do we have to find the 48 million or so that voted for Kerry and get their take on every issue before making any statements regarding the party?

    Comment by Sweetie — 4/17/2006 @ 5:18 pm

  4. That party uses phony polls to make news a try to sway the public, so why not make phony predictions too. The days that people had no other place to go to find out whats going on is over. Thank you Rick and all other great RIGHTWINGNUTHOUSEBLOGERSITES and TalkRadio. The day has dawned and the MSM- PRESS- POLLSTERS are seeing the sun set on their power. screw’em

    Comment by diamond — 4/18/2006 @ 9:04 am

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