Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Republican Merrymaking After 2004

By: Inoljt,

Six years ago the Republican Party ruled American politics. A Republican president had just been re-elected, cementing two decades of Republican dominance (apart from the freak election of one President Bill Clinton). It held solid majorities in the House and Senate. Conservatives controlled the Supreme Court, and most states were governed by Republicans.

Naturally, Republicans were celebrating this state of affairs. A PBS set of interviews provides a very interesting look into Washington’s conventional wisdom following President George W. Bush’s 2004 triumph. Titled “How Secure Is Republican Dominance?” it constitutes an almost alien contrast to today’s narrative of Democratic dominance.

Some of these differences can be quite amusing.

Take, for instance, the words of Republican pundit Grover Norquist:

Do you believe that the re-election of this  president is a kind of proof-positive of the Republican  hegemony/plurality, whatever you want to call it, for the next couple of  election cycles?

The president’s re-election in 2004 was a confirming election for  2002 and 2000. But we’ve now had five, six election cycles with  Republicans controlling the House and the Senate and now two  presidential elections. When you look at what redistricting does, the  Republicans will hold the House until 2012. When you look at the 30 red  states and the 20 blue states, the Republicans will hold the Senate  indefinitely unless there’s some radical change in the nature of the two  parties. The party that carries all those lovely square states out west  will dominate the Senate.

So the Republicans have the House until at least 2012, but probably  another decade. They have the Senate indefinitely, and the question is  — they’ll win and lose presidencies just as the Democrats when they  were the dominant party would sometimes mess up and lose the presidency  in ’52 and ’68.

In addition to predicting never-ending Republican control of Congress (as well as providing eminently quotable material six years later), Mr. Norquist contributes some thoughts on the coming 2008 presidential election. The Republican candidate, of course, is favored:

I think it would be difficult to see a Democrat winning in 2008  because of the demographic trends, because of some of the successes that  you can see the Republicans will have in the next four years to weaken  the trial lawyers and strengthen the constituencies. The Democratic  Party needs to restructure itself as something other than the trial  lawyer, labor union, government worker, aggressively secular party. That  isn’t a majority strategy.

Not everybody is as optimistic as Mr. Norquist, however. A number of pundits note Mr. Bush’s close margin. Reporter Dan Balz of the Washington Post warns Republicans of the dangers of overreaching. He argues that:

The danger for the Republicans is the same danger that any winning party has — and we’ve seen it repeatedly over the last two decades — which is to over-interpret any election as a mandate for something, and to presume that because they won a certain victory that they now have the right to essentially do what they want to do…And if you do things that go too far in one direction, you do that at your peril. So if the Republicans overreach, as the Gingrich Republicans did in the Congress in 1995 and 1996, there could be a backlash against the Republicans that would first be felt, I would guess, in some of the off-year elections in 2006, and certainly could be felt in the 2008 presidential election.

These foresightful words are echoed by Matthew Dowd, the chief campaign strategist of the Mr. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign (who later became a hostile critic of the president). He too worries about the future:

So, a tight election that we won closely and that we hold the Senate, we hold the Congress, and we hold the presidency, is a good place to be. But you don’t hold them by huge amounts. And if your policies go awry and you have the wrong candidates, you could easily lose those elections.

Nevertheless, Mr. Dowd takes heart in the current weakness of the opposition Democratic Party. Republicans are the party of ideas; Democrats are the party of “No.” If they don’t stand for anything, Democrats will have a difficult time winning elections:

I think a bigger part of their difficulty is they have no organizing principle right now. And that is, they have no person to organize around. They haven’t had this since Clinton left the presidency. Their entire organizing principle for the last four years has been anti, meaning it’s all been against the president. It hasn’t been for somebody. It hasn’t been: “We love this person. This person is the leader of the Democratic Party. We care about him.” It was all: “We don’t like Bush. Let’s get him out of office.” And they don’t have a set of policies that people, average voters in their minds say, “This is what the Democrats stand for. This is what they stand for in foreign policy. This is what they stand for in the war on terror. This is what they stand for on the changing economy.”

As amusing as these quotes stand six years later, they also serve as a warning to the current Republican Party. Today’s situation, in fact, is quite similar to that six years ago. Republicans have just swept into the House of Representatives on a major wave election. In state  legislatures and  governorships around the country the Republican Party  is newly dominant.  Pundits throughout Washington are predicting a dire future for Democrats – just as they did six years ago.

Yet the tides of  public opinion can turn around just as quickly as  they did after 2004. In 2016 today’s conventional wisdom might look just as  stupid as Mr. Norquist’s words did in 2008.