Connecting Dissidents and the Base

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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  1. Avatar Conor Friedersdorf
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    says:

    “What they do not do, though, is try to convince that talk radio host that although the Dems’ health care proposals are bad, health care reform is urgent and conservatives need to push hard for good reform rather than simply opposing the leading Dem proposal.”

    Really? In fact, most well known conservative dissident of all David Frum is doing exactly that.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    “They do not get on the phone with Republican Congressmen and Senators and convince them to get serious about reforming health care; that health care reform is urgent and is going to pass soon one way or another, and the only way that reform will be good is if that Senator breaks ranks and actually tries to put together a voting bloc for better reform.”

    They may not place those calls, but I don’t blame them. They’re as clear as I am about the incentives at work on Republican elected officials wrt the question of whether they are interested in helping a health bill that, however inevitable, will be passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress and signed by a Democrat president, to be “good,” or especially — the holiest of grails — bipartisan.Report

  3. Avatar Bob Cheeks
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    says:

    Those that remain of the Republican Party must stand against the obscene idea that gummint should takeover 1/6 of the national economy. Anyone over twenty should have some notion that that’s a really bad idea given gummint’s history.
    Any Republican who joins with the commie-Dems in screwing the American people should be banned from the country club and required to live in the suburbs.Report

  4. From Mark: “Beyond that, though, what unifies these strains of dissident conservatism is that the dissidents are almost all drawn from the conservative elite: they’re wonks, not foot soldiers.

    I think you hit the nail on the head there Mark. We have a Young Republicans group that meets here in town. I don’t go to their meetings. I don’t volunteer time for candidates. I don’t write my GOP officials (well that’s not exactly true – I occassionally sign petitions to Mitch McConnell). Despite being a fan of John McCain my only contribution to his campaign was $50 and some kind blog posts. I think most ‘wonks’ or reform/dissident conservatives simply either choose not to get plugged into the party machinery or don’t even know where to start. When you can blog and maybe get a shout out from an Andrew Sullivan or some other national blogger who actually get to be on TV once in awhile you think, “There’s my contribution,” and when that is compared to putting “Elect Councilman Smith” signs in yards for 4 hours on Saturday morning…well there is no comparison.

    Ultimately though I think what you point out is the difference between policy and politics. The Left seems to do a much better job of listening to its grassroots thinkers and allowing them to affect policy, albeit indirectly. On the Right if you want to influence an elected official, you’d better be prepared to put in some serious volunteer time and work your way up to a spot where you can whisper in someone important’s ear for a few minutes.Report

  5. Avatar Freddie
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    says:

    I wish I could play in the space of non-theoretical politics forever too. But that way lies hunger artistry. Good post, Mark, and I think you nailed many things.Report

  6. Avatar Sam M
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    says:

    A few posts back, I seem to recall that the problem with conservatives was the lack of wonkery. Now, the problem is too much wonkery among dissidents? I might be getting turned around here. So, as a dissident conservative, should I turn my attention to more policy-minded wonkery and generate policy alternatives? Or should I do the opposite of that?

    And this: “What they are not doing, and largely are not even trying to do, is to drive the GOP agenda. They are, in effect, content to leave the GOP agenda as little more than ‘vote no on everything’ and tear down whatever the liberals do.”

    Is this a failure on the part of conservatives? Or is it what inevitably happens to a party that is out of power? Remember 2001? In the immediate post 9-11 world, the “Left” organized a host of anti-war rallies that were pro… nothing. Nothing at all. I went to these rallies. What was the preferred alternative? I never heard one. I heard a lot about Freeing Mumia and rapping Israel on the knuckles. But nary a word about what to DO. As I recall, the whole thing was organized by a thinly veiled socialist union group. But what do you expect? They were out of power. They had a few months to figure things out. So what they did was yell and scream and OPPOSE.

    So were these people OPPOSED to bringing people to justice for the attacks? Were they OPPOSED to national security? People tarred them with that. But it was crap. They justed wanted to find another way, which they had not managed to formulate yet. Should they have had some more coherent policies in mind? Sure. Clinton had been in office for eight years immediately prior. We had already lived through the first World Trade Center bombing, and what we got in response was Somalia and some weird cruise-missile strikes. Their bad, I guess, but what are you going to do?

    Now we are seeing the same thing going on with the Right. They were in charge for eight years. Health reform has been needed for that whole time. But they chose other priorities. The best we got was Medicare D. Shame on them, I guess. So now, they are having their own protests, the Tea Parties, which do not seem to offer any positive alternatives. And we have people on the left trying to capitalize on this by claiming, “Well, the really must hate sick people and poor people! They love it when people die of preventable illness? Otherwise, why didn’t they fix it?”

    I think it’s easy to live in the moment and focus on what people are doing wrong now, and to se this as a failure of the personalities and institutions that are currently running the show. But none of this seems all that new to me. We have a coalition of conservative who have held sway over the GOP since 1980 or so. It doesn’t strike me as odd that, given new circumstances and electoral realities, they have not instituted a coherent alternative to that coalition in the 11 months since their electoral drubbing.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Sam M
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      says:

      No. What I’m saying is that the wonks need to start talking to Republican politicians (on the national level; the state level may or may not be a different story) and, as importantly, their base again instead of wasting their efforts trying to convince Democrats. And they need to start doing this by talking about what Republicans should be pushing for on Capitol Hill rather than just providing some extra cover for what Republicans would be doing without any wonks anyway (ie, simply being the party of “no.”). A base that has lost its mind is a base without leadership that is being ignored by its wonks and policymakers.Report

    • Avatar Jon H in reply to Sam M
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      says:

      “Remember 2001? In the immediate post 9-11 world, the “Left” organized a host of anti-war rallies that were pro… nothing.”

      There were very few anti-war rallies in 2001, and none were particularly large. The major rallies were in 2002 and 2003, and were mostly in opposition to invading Iraq, who had nothing to do with 9/11, and was a plainly unnecessary war. There were a lot more people in those protests because many people saw Afghanistan as a reasonable response, but knew Iraq was bloody stupid and nothing but a long-time fetish for Bill Kristol and his ilk, and 9/11 was just an excuse.

      Some ideas are so plainly idiotic that “don’t do that” is an entirely sufficient alternative. If someone wants to put their penis in a hot waffle iron, you aren’t required to suggest putting it in a blender.

      The difference between healthcare and Iraq is that rising healthcare costs are more of a threat to the US than Iraq ever was, so unlike Iraq, doing nothing is not a viable option.Report

  7. Avatar Dan Miller
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    says:

    Nice post–I actually agree with most of this. My hat’s off.Report

  8. Avatar Sam M
    Ignored
    says:

    Mark,

    So your recommendation is: “they need to start doing this by talking about what Republicans should be pushing for on Capitol Hill…”

    So which pundits are not doing this? Is David Frum not doing this? Is Will Wilkinson not doing this? Are you suggesting that Cato and Heritage are not recommending legislation? It is my understanding that they are. If you think not, can you describe what it would look like if they were doing so?

    More broadly, it does appear that in some sense, the lager legislative strategy is one of “no.” Is that such a ludicrous model? For various reasons, various parts of the Republican establishment are against various proposals this administration is championing. They at least agree on that. So the plan now is to stall. Terrible! They are beholden to the crazies in the base! Owned by the Tea Baggers!

    I don’t know. The model in the immmediate post-9/11 environment was the carizies on the Left staggering around talking about Freeing Mumia. Because they had not settled on coherent alternatives. And seeing that the crazies were perceived as unhinged, “responsible” liberals in positions of legislative power DIDN’T stall. And rubber-stamped things like Iraq and the PATRIOT Act.

    I kind of wish they had been more beholden to the crazies. Because there were legitimate reasons to be opposed to Iraq and the PATRIOT Act. And in a sense, the MORE responsible thing to have done would have been to risk banishment to the electoral wilderness. That’s what many on the Right are doing right now. Maybe it’s irresponsible and awful and cynical. But maybe, even if it’s by accident, standing in the way of some of these proposals is actually the right thing to do.

    And again, as for effective wonkery, it might be worth noting that John Podesta didn’t just wake up one day and form CAP as a fully formed thing. He modeled it on the Heritage Foundation, six years ago. The fact that conservatives haven’t dreamed up an counterforce to this counterforce over the past few months should really come as no surprise. In fact, I suspect that the presence of an entrenched wonk elite might actually slow the process.Report

    • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to Sam M
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      says:

      I agree with Sam on this point. The Democrats were unable to detach themselves from their pro-war votes in 2004 which is at least part of the reason they lost across the board when they tried to flip-flp and become the anti-war party. Republicans are taking a gamble here that the Democrat plans will fail and they don’t want to have blood on their hands. So in some sense, that IS a principled position.

      Mark, if you recall my chart from awhile back, the only reason for minorities to participate in majority-lead bipartisan efforts is when they think they will be successful and they want a share of the credit. The suggestion on the Left is that Republicans are just being negative, but that also assumes they are willing to get no credit for legislation that will turn out to be wonderful. Even in its current state, the GOP isn’t going to do that. But maybe, just maybe they really do think the Democrats’ plan is bad and they don’t wasnt to be associated with it.

      As I also pointed out in that chart, when a majority wants bipartisanship it’s usually for poltical cover…not because they care what the other side has to say.Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
        Ignored
        says:

        “So which pundits are not doing this? Is David Frum not doing this? Is Will Wilkinson not doing this? Are you suggesting that Cato and Heritage are not recommending legislation? It is my understanding that they are. If you think not, can you describe what it would look like if they were doing so?”

        No, the liberals are actually right one this one IMO.

        What hasn’t happened is that the GOP Congressional minorities have not gotten together with Heritage, et al, and come up with a positive health care solution that they’re willing to be held accountable for. When that does happen, I think we’ll be looking at 1994 again.

        Too many R’s are intimidated by the Demo majorities and the perceived need to “work with” them. Personally, I don’t buy that at all. We fundamentally disagree with the framework of every D health care plan, the differences are too great to pretend to paper over. Instead, just vote for us and put us in power and we’ll get something that actually works.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Sam M
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      says:

      Frum is definitely doing this (see my response to Conor above), and much to his credit; however, he’s burned so many bridges in antagonizing the base that it’ll probably be awhile before he can do much good (he will, eventually, see some sort of payoff to his efforts I think).

      I love Wilkinson, but so far as I am aware, he’s a lot like me in that he has no real interest in political “teams” and is primarily interested in shifting the terms of the national debate over the long haul.

      As for Cato and Heritage, as I said previously, I respect them both (especially Cato). But they don’t seem to really be aiming their policy proposals at Republicans so much as they seem to be directing them at Democrats (this is fine in Cato’s case to the extent it pushes Democrats on civil liberties issues and other sorts of things where libertarians fall on the “left” of the spectrum). Maybe I’m wrong, of course, but that’s how it looks from the outside.

      In terms of how I think things would look, though, the best example I can think of is Paul Krugman (love to hate him as I do). Paul Krugman is obviously poison to conservatives; he’s also not speaking to conservatives when he writes. He’s speaking to liberals, getting them fired up but also giving them useful information about not only why they should care about (issue X) but also what kinds of action they should be pushing for.

      I understand your comparison with the post-9/11 left, but I’m not so sure the comparison is that apt. To me, the GOP is closer in the cycle to where the Dems were in the early Reagan years (I view this as a cycle that usually takes a couple of decades). Still, I’ve got no problem, at this late stage in the health care debate, with conservatives taking the “no!” route. My problem is that conservative wonks should have been pushing for health care reform during the Bush years; even if they didn’t get it passed then, they would have built up enough of a coalition that they’d be in a position now where Dems would be willing to talk to them because they could actually deliver some votes that would make up for the loss of support from the unions if they went in a more GOP-friendly direction.

      Beyond that, you need things like David Brooks writing more about conservative problem-solving approaches and a heck of a lot less about how evil the base is. You need Douthat doing more “Grand New Party” and less picking at Obama’s Nobel Prize (Douthat has the potential to be a good part of reform, too, because AFAIK he’s never really antagonized the GOP base). And perhaps most importantly, you need wonks more interested in getting on Limbaugh’s and Beck’s shows than in trying to eliminate their influence. One part of the reason why birther-ism and that sort of thing have been able to spread so much is that these conduits have a lot of air-time to fill and a limited number of topics to fill it with. So give them something to fill it with that isn’t birtherism (or whatever other inane topic they latch onto)! It’s not as if Limbaugh is unwilling to engage with wonks and let them spread their message, especially considering who his most frequent guest host is. Moreover, for all of Beck’s craziness, he’s latched onto something that could be a fantastic vehicle for a new conservative agenda centering on anti-corporatism. We need Cato scholars on Beck, not Orly Taitz.Report

  9. Avatar Koz
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    says:

    I thought of “the single unifying characteristic” of the dissident conservatives a few months ago, and what I concluded was that their energies are primarily concerned with repudiating the Hannity-Palin axis of mainstream conservatism.

    But your larger point is substantially mistaken, especially wrt health care. It is true that the GOP has been less than intellectually active in the debate, to its discredit. But politically and policy-wise, you are completely wrong to suggest the dissident conservatives should find a few GOP votes in Congress to deliver in exchange for some influence around the edges.

    All of the D/liberal health care plans are shuffling some combination increased coverage, tax increases, mandates and subsidies. It is this framework which is wrong, and the point of conservative participation in public debate right now is to defeat it. And on that point the dissident conservatives and the mainstream conservatives are on the same page even though they’re not talking to each other very much. They’re also on the same page as the public at large, which is one reason among several why I expect the GOP back in power sooner than some think.Report

    • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to Koz
      Ignored
      says:

      Megan McArdle has been hugely critical of the Democrat plans, even though she is certainly no Far Right hack. Her criticms have mostly been market-based skepticism, not this socialist nonsense. So Koz is right, you have dissidents agreeing with the Limbaughs of the Right even if they aren’t talking to each other.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Koz
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      says:

      “But politically and policy-wise, you are completely wrong to suggest the dissident conservatives should find a few GOP votes in Congress to deliver in exchange for some influence around the edges.”

      One thing I should make clear: at this stage in the debate, I completely agree with you on health care. There’s little that can be done at this point other than oppose it or maybe make some relatively meaningless cosmetic changes on the fringes. But the fact that health care reform went in the direction it did in the first place is in no small part because of conservative wonks’ timidity for the last several years (I would argue that their influence has been on the wane ever since the end of the Cold War started to make the coalition incoherent).

      And I agree, the GOP’s time with no power at all is not going to last nearly as long as most pundits seem to think, and definitely not as long as most pundits thought at the time of the inauguration. What conservative wonks need to be doing is laying infrastructure and building coalitions now so that when that time comes, they’re in a position to govern rather than suffering through a repeat of the Bush years, which by election time last year were viewed as a disaster not just by reformers but also by a very large segment of the base.Report

      • Avatar alkali in reply to Mark Thompson
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        says:

        I agree that health care has left the station. But what needs to stop are the handwringing pieces by conservatives about cap-and-trade, asking why the terrible Democrats wrote the bill to favor the constituencies of particular Democratic Senators. The fact is that whatever simpler, more market friendly anti-greenhouse bill you might want — e..g, a carbon tax offset by payroll tax reductions — could happen if as a few as a half dozen Republican Senators actually agreed to do something.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to alkali
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          says:

          That’s certainly true, although I’m not sure that there’s many conservative wonks who would support cap-and-trade even in a perfect world (a carbon tax, maybe). Oddly enough, this is one area where the handful of conservative wonks interested in this topic have started to slowly build some infrastructure, though they’re still not really talking to the base, just to other wonks.Report

  10. Avatar Koz
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    says:

    “One thing I should make clear: at this stage in the debate, I completely agree with you on health care. There’s little that can be done at this point other than oppose it or maybe make some relatively meaningless cosmetic changes on the fringes. But the fact that health care reform went in the direction it did in the first place is in no small part because of conservative wonks’ timidity for the last several years (I would argue that their influence has been on the wane ever since the end of the Cold War started to make the coalition incoherent).”

    Ok, then I misread you on that score, sorry. I also have no particular complaint against the Republican complacency on the issue when they were the majority.

    I also agree with you on the need for coalition-building among the broad Right in America. But, I have to differ with you about the GOP’s lack of readiness to govern. We’re in a period right now and in the forseeable future where governance isn’t that difficult. There will be some technical issues and tough choices of course but mostly it’s about having the strength of character to do what we know is right. Mostly things where the other team lacks the intellectual capabilities or the inclination to do.

    No, we’re going to be in some rough times. But whatever our faults are (and they are manifold) we’re ready to govern now and the country would be better off if we were.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Koz
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      says:

      “There will be some technical issues and tough choices of course but mostly it’s about having the strength of character to do what we know is right. Mostly things where the other team lacks the intellectual capabilities or the inclination to do.”

      My dispute with this is that the dated old three-legged stool has left us with a situation where the conservative movement no longer has common answers on “what we know is right,” which creates a vacuum that will be filled by special interests. The wonks can fix this if they’re willing to have the courage of their own convictions and promote policies that their leg of the stool prefers even if it means annoying another leg of the stool.Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to Mark Thompson
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        says:

        “My dispute with this is that the dated old three-legged stool has left us with a situation where the conservative movement no longer has common answers on “what we know is right,” which creates a vacuum that will be filled by special interests.”

        Periodically Glenn Reynolds publishes a chart on his blog of the projected deficits under the anticipated expenditures and receipts of the Obama Administration. The implications of that chart, in terms of what it means for our standard of living (and international stature too for that matter) are getting more and more clear, whereas before it tended to be more of a parochial concern for green-eyeshade austerity types. Even the Huckabee types in the party have to be wary of mindless expansions of the welfare state.

        The other team, of course, is still working on bigger and better giveaways. I really don’t think it’s a close call.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Koz
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          says:

          Ahh, but how do you meaningfully resolve the deficit crisis without killing someone’s hobby horse? First thing you have to do is take tax cuts completely off the table, which will enfuriate Grover Norquist. You’ve got to cut defense spending by a huge amount, keeping in mind that we’re just a few months removed from Republicans and conservatives shouting to tie defense spending to GDP and ensure that it remains at unsustainable levels. You’ve got to tackle Medicare and Medicaid reform, which is not only a third-rail to begin with, but is something that involves abandoning a wide swath of the town-hall protester types. And you’re sure as hell not going to touch veterans’ benefits.

          Obviously, you can’t do anything about interest payments on the existing debt.

          A good chunk of the increasing deficit is also, of course, the stimulus which will be a moot point by the time Republicans gain control of any arm of the government.
          Tax hikes would make sense, but good luck getting that by Grover Norquist.

          Point being, once you eliminate the areas of the federal budget that absolutely cannot be touched under the current coalition, the remaining areas amount to less than a quarter of 2008 federal spending(keeping in mind that a lot of the additional Obama deficits are a result of end-of-term Bush maneuvers).

          I’m all for turning the GOP formally into a party of deficit hawks, but unless someone is willing to touch those hobby horses, the GOP simply is not a party that can govern well.Report

          • Avatar Koz in reply to Mark Thompson
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            says:

            “Ahh, but how do you meaningfully resolve the deficit crisis without killing someone’s hobby horse?”

            We’ll be killing lots of hobbyhorses, the point being the political environment is different now, and will be different in the future than we’ve been used to. Again, I refer back to the Glenn Reynolds chart. It speaks several things that a lot of people, especially but not exclusively liberals, haven’t internalized yet.

            The sort of scenarios that the green eyeshade types have been warning us about for decades are actually imminent. The political wiggle room that has sustained the welfare state for the last forty years or so is gone now and we have to adapt to that. In particular, one thing that the various tax-raisers haven’t come to grips with yet is that it is far from certain that the government can collect it’s intended revenue with future tax increases. If they try we should expect lots of evasion, avoidance and asset hiding on a scale we haven’t seen before. There’s not enough social cohesion among people in America now to get away with it. I don’t know of a single person with the attitude toward taxes of, “Well we’re in tough times but if we pass the hat around and all put in our share we’ll get through it.” Do you?

            Finally I don’t think the transition will as difficult as you suspect. The key is putting lots of irons in the fire at once. I wrote about this in my own meager blog three and some years ago.

            http://flyingspit.blogspot.com/2006/04/mainstream-conservatives-pt-3.html

            I think it’s easier to pull off now when it’s clear that the economy is not going to grow indefinitely.Report

            • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Koz
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              says:

              Then why are Republicans – with the support of the base I might add – so completely opposed right now to any defense cuts or cost-cutting reforms of Medicare? If you are completely unwilling to address those two issues, to the point of proposing laws to ensure that defense spending never drops below, IIRC, 4% of GDP, you simply cannot address the deficit without raising taxes.

              Perhaps in a couple of years, Republicans will be willing to address those issues; but they need someone who is adult enough to speak to the base and convince them that those two things need to be done in addition to any further social welfare cuts and reforms (which really are not as significant a part of government spending as most conservatives believe). Until you convince the base that those two things are necessary, you will never convince Republican politicians that they’re necessary.Report

              • Avatar CharleyCarp in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                Interesting discussion. From a more leftward orientation (but definitely not Left) let me add a few things:

                The bet that healthcare reform is going to “fail” is quite likely to be a bad bet. In deficit hawk terms, maybe it’s a failure. But on the individual level, it’s going to be the same kind of failure as Social Security and Medicare: none at all, and if you propose touching it, be prepared for electrocution.

                No one is talking about government control on 1/6 of the economy. No one, that is, other than the same kind of hysterics talking about Obama running GM (and getting ready to nationalize the NFL!). There’s going to be pretty broad support for the real regulatory parts of the thing — no exclusion for pre-existing conditions, no bogus recissions — and the extension to universality is just money spent. Again, an issue for deficit hawks, but no one has to lectured about deficits by the party of wars-for-nation-building and ever-greater-tax-cuts.

                The comparison with post-9/11 is perhaps apt. What portion of even the Left (much less the actual Dem base) was actively opposed to hostilities in Afghanistan? Minuscule. No politicians had to pander to it, or apologize for antagonizing its leadership, and no mainline liberal pundit had to hold fire. And, in fact, none did: denunciation of this fringe left among mainline liberal pundits was nearly universal. And necessary, among politicians, to convince moderates and independents that Dems could be trusted to govern.

                It almost worked in 2004. Flip a few counties in Ohio and Iowa and the result is different. The Dem idea of nominating a Vietnam vet who would (as he did) point proudly to his service didn’t work out in the event, but it was a gesture towards reconciliation that looked good on paper. And again, the electoral college result was a lot closer than, say, Mondale in 1984. (Or Dole in 1996).

                Republicans certainly should not take advice from me. But it seems quite clear to me that there is a substantial majority of votes to be had at the moderate position: where Bush said he was in 2000 (I believe this was a fraud) and where Obama said he was in 2008 (the Left thought he was fooling, and you should see what they’re saying about him now). That is, imagine a 60% slice of the population with, say, Mark Thompson at its right extreme. Not quite complete overlap with the 60% with Obama at its leftward extreme, but maybe not that far different . . .Report

              • “Republicans certainly should not take advice from me. But it seems quite clear to me that there is a substantial majority of votes to be had at the moderate position…”

                I don’t know if I agree with this…

                Where there is a lot of confusion these days is with the Moderate Left/Center/Moderate Right diagram. People assume that as parties moderate towards ther Center they will have access to this big group of Centrists. I think it’s inaccurate. True Centrists i.e. folks who hold a majority of positions in the exact middle of the American landscape, are a small group. And even among them half of them are just reactionary folks who triangulate between the Left and Right because they have a compromise fetish.

                When people talk about the ‘Center’ what I think they really mean are ‘Independents’. Those are usually voters like my wife who are very conservative on some issues and very liberal on others. More often than not there is nothing ‘moderate’ about their positions at all. They usually hold pretty strong convictions and some of them could even be called ‘extreme’.

                Of course both sides should pursue Independents with as much vigor as they can, but success with them largely depends on their mood in an election year. In 2004 Independents were feeling pretty conservative. In 2008 they liked Obama. What I’ve come to believe is that they are an increasingly fickle group and the fact that they are growing in size just adds to that. They like being ‘swing voters’ and they like that they get so much attention in an election year. The liklihood that any one party could secure their votes in the long term is, in my opinion, fantasy.Report

  11. Avatar Sam M
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    says:

    “I’m all for turning the GOP formally into a party of deficit hawks, but unless someone is willing to touch those hobby horses, the GOP simply is not a party that can govern well.”

    But the Democrats are in the same boat. Turns out health reform will cost $2 trillion. Quite a hobby horse. Versus Obamas, which says nobody who makes less than $250,000 a year will pay more taxes.

    How is this more sustainable?Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Sam M
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      says:

      It’s not – both are unsustainable. But at least the Democrats have an actual, agreed upon goal in mind with their unsustainable spending. The Republicans just throw money at whichever narrow interest group wants it (not that the Dems are terribly good on that point either, but at least it’s done so they can achieve a larger goal).Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Sam M
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      says:

      Keep in mind that Dems’ don’t have the fetish for low taxes that Republicans do nor do they have a Norquist wing. When they need money they will raise taxes to get it and their base at least will yawn. Up until recently the term “Tax and spend Democrats” had some real political bite in it. It is a testament to W-era republican incompetence and to the epic failure of “Starve the beast” that tax and spend has gone from an epitaph to a compliment. I sounds downright fiscally conservative when compared to recent mores of borrow and spend.Report

    • Avatar Jon H in reply to Sam M
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      says:

      “How is this more sustainable?”

      It’s not, but then, neither is the current uncontrolled rate of increase for healthcare costs.Report

  12. Avatar Sam M
    Ignored
    says:

    “But at least the Democrats have an actual, agreed upon goal in mind with their unsustainable spending.”

    Do they? Apart from some vague sense of universal healthcare? Is it a sustainable or reasonable goal, given the levels of taxation they seem prepared to levy? After all, I think most Republicans will agree to some broad commitment to “near universal care based on market forces.” But will market forces bring that about? Do we even know what market forces mean? Will the GOP make any moves towards a true market? No.

    So it seems that we have one party that has an idea, but not the will to pay for it. And another party that wants the market to delive healthcare, but is unwilling to commit itself to market forces.

    Why is only one of these things ridiculous? Why does only one of these parties seem to you to be unfit to lead, and unserious about policy?Report

  13. Avatar Sam M
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    says:

    “Up until recently the term “Tax and spend Democrats” had some real political bite in it.”

    Were you watching the same election I was? Did you not see and her Obama repeatedly promise not to raise taxes on normal people?Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Sam M
      Ignored
      says:

      Sam my friend. Please read that phrase in the context of the entire post and the thread it is located in. I’m (mildly) left wing myself. I believe you are misreading me. Also, I did say recently, and by recently I mean all of 1980-2000 pretty much. Maybe as far as 2004. The term failed the right wing utterly in the immediate past. The right wing said “You can’t trust those crazy tax and spend Democrats.” And the voters said “Dunno if they’re tax and spend, but even if they were, that’d still be better than you!”Report

  14. Avatar Koz
    Ignored
    says:

    “Republicans certainly should not take advice from me. But it seems quite clear to me that there is a substantial majority of votes to be had at the moderate position: where Bush said he was in 2000 (I believe this was a fraud) and where Obama said he was in 2008 (the Left thought he was fooling, and you should see what they’re saying about him now).”

    A lot of the Center-Left opinion ends up here, and as Charley says, there’s a lot of voters there too. And even if they would like to stay there, that position is as dated as bell bottoms and sideburns. Reality is intervening. In particular the idea that we can increase the welfare state indefinitely depends on the federal gov’t having access to essentially unlimited credit. And it has, up till now. But that will cease to be the case sometime, and it’s better to adapt to this while we still have some maneuvering room.

    “Again, an issue for deficit hawks, but no one has to [be] lectured about deficits by the party of wars-for-nation-building and ever-greater-tax-cuts.”

    Oh yes they do. We all remember the painful emotional grind of slugging in out in Iraq, month after month. As it turns out, all the waste, bribes, logistics, weapons, for Iraq roughly adds up to $800B, which is more or less what the stimulus package was. It may be a point of partisan advantage, but aside from that liberals shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which it was truly a shock for those of us on the Right to see all that money thrown in that morass in the blink of an eye. With much more to come, of course. The upshot is, more or less anybody who wants prosperity to ever return for America supports the Republicans. Everybody else is just talking a big game.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Koz
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      says:

      Koz, I personally can only applaud you for the ability to suggest that Republicans after the past eight years have any claim to the mantle of fiscal discipline or economic prosperity with a straight face. I am in genuine awe.

      Now goodness knows that Obama and us Dems may well shove the title of fiscally sane party onto the Republicans. But it hasn’t been done yet.Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to North
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        says:

        What can I say, it seems clearer to me than for others I guess.

        Here’s a useful datum (for me at least): Reagan took over from Carter in a period of high unemployment. And given the necessity of getting control over runaway inflation, his policies initially made the problem worse (or Volcker did, depending on who you credit). Once that was done, by 1982 or 83 unemployment started going down, and stayed down. Starting sometime around then, unemployment in America has been below 7.5% for 25+ straight years (of course for most of that time it was substantially below that). That regime ended 10 months ago or whenever. The policies required to return to a low-unemployment regime have no support within the Demo-liberal coalition.

        Basically the voters in the US have a simple choice. Sit around and hope to get a bailout, or put the Republicans back in power.Report

        • Avatar Bo in reply to Koz
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          says:

          First, you’re wrong: Unemployment reached 7.8% in June 1992.
          Second, your larger point is also wrong: Since 1948, the average unemployment rate under Democratic Administrations has been significantly lower than under Republican Administrations. (5.1% vs. 5.9%)
          Third, your argument is transparently specious: If you specifically excuse the worst period of Reagan’s term based on pre-existing economic conditions, then that’s an alibi Obama has too.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Koz
          Ignored
          says:

          Is it a coincidence that your recap of republican history begins and ends with Regan? *gasp* Did I just wake up and it’s 1990? Hmm.. checked the calendar, it’s 2009. Well just to bring you up to speed there was recently a Republican administration under George W. Bush and he had Republican control of government that the Gipper could only dream of. Do you smell the smoke? Do you see the rubble? That’s what they did to their party’s reputation for prosperity and fiscal sobriety.

          We Democrats may well screw around long enough for the Republicans to become sane again and rebuilt said reputation. But we haven’t yet and they sure as hell haven’t yet either.Report

          • Avatar Koz in reply to North
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            says:

            Let me take you and Bo together for the sake of convenience.

            First of all, as far as unemployment being below 7.5% I think we can safely discount one month or whatever when compared to the regime of 25+ years, especially since unemployment was well below 7.5% for the vast majority of that period, as I mentioned before.

            I’ll take your word for D vs. R Presidents since 1948. But it’s more or less irrelevant on several grounds. First, Truman and JFK would be unrecognizable in today’s Demos. More importantly we’ve had a more or less continuous high-growth, low unemployment economic regime since say, 1982. That is currently unwinding now, for lots of reason but the main reason we can’t get out of the current hole is that such a huge part of the economy is being sucked into the government, especially the welfare state. We can’t necessarily blame Barack Obama for creating the economic crisis, but we can blame him for exacerbating it, which he is doing. Full stop.

            As far as the bigger picture goes, lots of D’s want to pretend that since George W. Bush spent lots of money then the D’s are actually fiscally repsonsible relative to the GOP. It’s a weak argument but somewhat plausible if you only consider the feds and only for the last decade or so. But, when you consider the states and the major industrial countries in Europe the picture gets very, very clear. Aggressive expansion of the welfare state is the bane of growth and healthy public finance of industrialized world. And for whatever faults the GOP has, it is the D’s which are the party of mindless welfare state expansion, as we see with the debate over the health care bill.Report

            • Avatar Bo in reply to Koz
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              says:

              It was actually above 7.5% from May through September 1992, Koz. Further, once you’ve discounted the first 3 1/4 years of Reagan’s term plus 5 months of Bush’s to prove your point, it’s pretty clear you’re cherry-picking. To put this in perspective, the only other times pre-1980 unemployment was over 7.5% was for 1 month in Truman’s term, 23 months in Ford’s term and 4 months in Carter’s term, and most of the time it was much lower than that. With just these 2 excisions, you’ve specifically excluded over half of the time it spent over 7.5% so you can ‘prove’ that the Reagan ‘regime’ (you keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means) is an example of low unemployment. In fact, absent the cherrypicking, Reagan had the absolute highest postwar unemployment rate, followed by Ford, Carter and HW Bush.

              Also, I’m not sure how referencing the US states helps your point; after all, richer states tend to vote more Democratic and poorer ones more Republican. Of the 10 richest states, Obama won 9; of the 10 poorest, McCain won 9. Since richer states generally got that way through higher economic growth, I generally agree that “the picture gets very, very clear”, just not in your favor.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Koz
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              says:

              Well now if we’re going to be comparing Presidents from the 50’s to now what exactly do you think that mid century Republicans would think of our modern Republicans? I like the cherry picking of the unemployment number, especially considering that the Gipper was operating with Democrats in control of congress for much of his term No? Or if we’re only giving credit to presidents perhaps you’ve heard of Clinton? He wasn’t a Republican. So then of course we expand the definition and now the Dems are responsible not only for expanded spending in the US but in the western world as a whole. This of course involves a lot of ignoring the massive overspending done in the defense sector caused by Dems mongering around about national greatness? Oh wait no that was republicans too. Or how about our last Medicare expansion; done by Republicans? My goodness! Oh but surely after the 1994 revolution or during their complete control of every branch of government in the country under W. they must have rolled back a lot of those horrible Democratic Party programs? None; how come?

              Maybe the Republicans were the party of fiscal sanity once upon a time. Definitely pre-1970 they had honest claims. Even in the 80’s they were pretty good with it and once they had a President (Clinton) who they hated they managed not to spend too much. But W and the last decade has revealed what they are right now; a party of crusading social conservatism and rampant militarism with a paper thin veneer of fiscal conservatives over top. Maybe they’ll learn to walk the talk they talk. But right now no one believes it because it isn’t true. The Republicans are the party of borrow and spend. And they have a lot of work to do before that truthful perception of them in the publics’ eye goes away. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                “It was actually above 7.5% from May through September 1992, Koz. Further, once you’ve discounted the first 3 1/4 years of Reagan’s term plus 5 months of Bush’s to prove your point, it’s pretty clear you’re cherry-picking.”

                What-EVV-er.

                I am so not cherrypicking this data. In particular, I am plainly not “excising” the high unemployment of the early Reagan years. Those are the “bad old days” that we had gotten rid of, that’s the whole bloody point, or most of it at least.

                Btw, I’m using “regime” in sense of the analysis of time series data. Ie, the changes in economic policy under Reagan caused a regime shift of the underlying process which we can see in a zeroth order look at the data. Really I don’t think anybody looking in good faith can see it any different. (Obviously there was no political regime change in the middle of Reagan’s first time.)

                As far as the states go, the big blue states are largely the ones which ought to be rich but aren’t. Eg, check out this from National Review:

                http://governor.state.tx.us/news/press-release/13234/

                Unfortunately, this is mostly about Texas but California is just as illustrative (in the opposite way, of course). One thing that liberals either don’t know or don’t understand the consequences of, is that it’s not just that the economy is bad, but extreme countermeasures the authorities have taken and the fact that those sort of measures aren’t going to last very long.

                In California’s case, the state recently issued its own scrip (a move of questionable legality), indicative of the fact that not only does the state not have any money, but that it can’t borrow any more either. That is a horrific situation for a state with twenty some million more or less affluent people living there.

                “Well now if we’re going to be comparing Presidents from the 50’s to now what exactly do you think that mid century Republicans would think of our modern Republicans?”

                We’re not comparing Republican Presidents from the fifties, that’s just the point. We’re talking about the 25+ year regime (low tax, low inflation, high growth, expanding welfare state) that started in say, 1982, and ended a year or so ago, and the fact that the current Democratic Party is plainly incapable of doing anything to help the situation.

                “Or if we’re only giving credit to presidents perhaps you’ve heard of Clinton? He wasn’t a Republican.”

                Then take a look at what Clinton did. Did you ever read The Agenda?

                His main accomplishment was to rein in further cancerous expansions of the welfare state (which the Demo base wanted) and let the economy recover. Except of course his attempt at health care “reform” which was defeated in Congress. Well good for him.

                Unfortunately we’re fifteen years further on and the welfare state is big enough now to where just calling time out is not going to be good enough. But Obama’s case it would be a good first step, which of course he’s not doing.

                Really anybody paying attention in good faith should be able to figure this out. It’s not quite as simple as See Spot Run, but it’s not Hegel or James Joyce either.Report

              • Avatar Bo in reply to Koz
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                says:

                Come on, a press release from Gov. Perry’s office is your evidence of Texas’s economic prowess? Are you serious? Is this the kind of thing you consider more relevant than, for example, how rich the states in question actually are?

                The fact is that Texas is poor, as in well below the national average, while California is rich, as in well above it. Really, look it up if you don’t believe me. You’re right about the partisan direction of their governments, but you’re wrong about the results. Which is really still being wrong twice: once about the results and once about what results the policies in question actually cause.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Bo
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                says:

                The “press release” is just a copy of an article from National Review, something I mentioned before, and for matter pretty obvious from the context of the link itself.

                California ought to be rich, but it plainly won’t be for long on its current path. Again I don’t think you’re making any attempt to get your head around the amount of wealth destruction in play when the grabby liberal mentality controls the political process. Issuing IOUs lieu of money to pay state debts. I don’t think that’s ever happened since the Great Depression.Report

              • Avatar Bo in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                Why exactly does California ought to be so much richer than Texas? We agree it is, but I’m not quite sure why you think it ought to be, if not for its better governance.

                Issuing IOUs lieu of money to pay state debts.

                It’s weird how unacquainted you seem to be with the facts surrounding that: California’s (Republican) governor issued IOUs because they need a 2/3 majority to pass a state budget that includes a tax increase, and the Republican Legislators decided to pull a Gingrich and hold the government hostage instead. And they can’t borrow money because CA state law states that they have to balance the budget, not because banks are refusing to loan to them. This makes for a nice bit of drama but doesn’t change the underlying fact that California, even in the middle of a serious recession and budget crisis, was still a much richer state than Texas.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Bo
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                says:

                And one other thing, in my mind the key point of the “press release”. Not only has Texas’ lack of income tax contributed to the economic growth there where the rest of the world is faltering, but also represents a substantial insurance policy against hard times. Texas could institute an income tax if they needed the money bad enough. That’s something that will be harder for California, the feds or the other big blue states to do since they’ve already overfished that pond. Furthermore, even when the hard times are here and Texas has the possibility of starting an income tax, the fact that they’ve ran a relatively tight ship for a long time means that they can still get by without it.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                The biggest aspect of the welfare state is that California has to pay for much of “real America”. If they had the use of the Federal money they send out, they’d actually be able to afford the things they want to do.
                http://www.taxfoundation.org/research/show/266.htmlReport

              • Avatar North in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                Well yes, it’s easy enough to understand. You have your party’s narrative and you’re sticking to it come hell or high water. I love how the last eight years seem to have been entirely excised from it of course but again that’s understandable if not very convincing. And really messaging does matter. If you keep saying this over and over maybe in time the electorate will come around to believing that Republicans are the party of fiscal discipline and prosperity instead of the profligate borrow and spenders they’ve proven themselves to be. But they haven’t started believing it yet.

                Right now the ball is in the court of the Democratic Party. If Obama and his party actually get the fiscal situation under control Republicans will probably be a rump for a generation. If he plays to far left form you could resurge in as little as 4-8 years. It must be frustrating to have so little control over your party’s future. It must be even more frustrating to know, somewhere deep down, that you did it to yourselves. The Repuiblicans have a long road to struggle down, I wish them well on it (but not too well).Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                “You have your party’s narrative and you’re sticking to it come hell or high water.”

                Uhhh, no. This ought to be my party’s narrative, sometimes they screw it up as I’m sure you can appreciate.

                But contrary to your thoughts, the last eight years are not excised from it, we just see them in a different context now that Obama has taken office.

                If Obama and his party actually get the fiscal situation under control Republicans will probably be a rump for a generation.

                Well yes, but the ship has already sailed on that one.

                If he plays to far left form you could resurge in as little as 4-8 years. It must be frustrating to have so little control over your party’s future.

                Uhhh, no. The “smart” money says we’re taking back the House in the next election. I think that’s underestimating the GOP’s prospects because no matter who ends up w/ nominal control there’s 90%+ chance that the GOP will gain at least 20 seats or so, ie most of the D’s majority. That, combined with the reality that the D’s message has fallen completely flat means that the GOP will be driving the debate pretty quick actually.

                Which actually is the main reason why I’m writing here. When the Demo base figures out that they controlled both houses of the Legislature plus the Presidency and didn’t get health care or cap-and-trade, they’re going to be pissed off and out for blood. And they are going work to roadblock whatever the GOP tries as a quid pro quo.

                For that reason we need to build the bridges of cooperation now while the D’s are in the majority. We oppose the Obama Administration agenda because we are acting in the best interest of the country. That’s a big big difference that needs to be highlighted. If the D’s do what I think, they’ll oppose the GOP agenda because they’re a bunch of angry ignorami.

                Don’t be a jerk.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Koz
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                says:

                Man that’s some pretty dumb “Smart” money if it thinks the Republicans are going to get a majority in the house despite the number of seats they’re defending vs attacking. But since we both hang out here I’ll either gloat or congradulate you then. I love this though:

                “Which actually is the main reason why I’m writing here. When the Demo base figures out that they controlled both houses of the Legislature plus the Presidency and didn’t get health care or cap-and-trade, they’re going to be pissed off and out for blood. And they are going work to roadblock whatever the GOP tries as a quid pro quo.”

                This seems like classic projection to me. The GOP had complete control for the years right after that idiot Kerry imploded and what did their right wing get? So now how have they behaved?

                I’d be fascinated to hear your view on the 8 years of Bush and Republican rule. I don’t think you’ve shared it yet.

                Ultimatly time will tell, but it’s up to Obama and the Democratic Party how it’s going to go. The Republicans have been relegated to the role of taking what’s given to them. Whether that’ll be for ill or well isn’t in their hands.Report

        • Avatar Interplanetjanet in reply to Koz
          Ignored
          says:

          You do know what happened to the budget deficit under Reagan, right? Or do you honestly believe voters are unaware of what happened with budgets and deficits under Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush 2? I was old enough to be paying attention for those terms, and voting for or against the last 3.
          As an independent who voted mixed party until last year, I am astounded that Republicans think they can claim the mantle of fiscal discipline and deficit hawk with a straight face. Maybe if the Dems spend the next 8 years blowing it (quite possible) they can make the “maybe we won’t suck as much” case. But not in 2010 or 2012.

          Good article, Mark.

          And perfectly sincere question, what is the intended point of those who persistently fail to form an adjective from “Democrat”? The impression is “I am so enraged I can no longer form adjectives!” I can’t imagine “I’m an angry teabagger!” is the intended effect.Report

    • Avatar CharleyCarp in reply to Koz
      Ignored
      says:

      The upshot is, more or less anybody who wants prosperity to ever return for America supports the Republicans. Everybody else is just talking a big game.

      Or has a different idea about how to get there. You could substitute a number of phrases in your little dictum, each of which corresponds to a thread of the Republican coalition: ‘anybody who wants to see America protected from terrorism,’ ‘anyone who wants God’s favor to return to America,’ etc etc. I don’t doubt you believe your statement to be true, any more than I doubt the people who substitute the other bits believe them to be true as well. You’ll not be surprised, though, to find that some of us go the other way on this.Report

  15. Avatar Allmaya
    Ignored
    says:

    Having read all the comments to this outstanding article, let me offer an observation that most will find socially unacceptable. On the left, the Dissidents and the Base come from the same social class. This isn’t the case on the right. Obviously, the Dissidents on the Right are well educated, and, uh, the Base isn’t.
    So isn’t a great deal of the antipathy between the Base and the Dissidents on the Right simply tribal loathing?Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Allmaya
      Ignored
      says:

      It’s a fun answer but I don’t think it flies. Midwestern autoworkers, black inner city voters, hispanic immigrant workers and Hollywood screen writers don’t easily fit into a single class category unless you just call them Americans.Report

  16. Avatar Sam M
    Ignored
    says:

    “On the left, the Dissidents and the Base come from the same social class. ”

    What? Are you kidding me?Report

  17. Avatar Koz
    Ignored
    says:

    “Man that’s some pretty dumb “Smart” money if it thinks the Republicans are going to get a majority in the house despite the number of seats they’re defending vs attacking.”

    Look it up. Nate Silver, Charlie Cook, Michael Barone, that crowd is saying it’s about even money for the GOP to retake the House. For me, that’s less important than the lead pipe certainty that the GOP is going to gain 20+ seats for sure. And given where we are that puts the GOP in the driver’s seat in terms of driving the debate.

    One thing that surprises me is that the GOP is winning the debate right now by default. Whoever said you can’t beat something with nothing hadn’t seen this. When the GOP gets their message back and I think they’ll eventually figure it out, we’ll be looking at 1994 again.

    “I’d be fascinated to hear your view on the 8 years of Bush and Republican rule. I don’t think you’ve shared it yet. “

    Ok, what in particular do you want to know?Report

    • Avatar Ed Marshall in reply to Koz
      Ignored
      says:

      If Nate Silver posted something about the GOP retaking the house in ’10 I missed it and I’m a religious 538 consumer. He’s a gambling man and a stats god and no one sane and and as data soaked as him would touch a ’10 prediction like that with a cattleprod. There haven’t been primaries yet. How would you even start to model that out?Report

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