2006 will not be like 1994 in reverse. Probably.

I started to put a comment on this post, which asserts that 2006 will be the GOP’s 1994. My response to that suggestion follows.

The Republicans have the weaknesses inherent in being a majority party — the ideologically committed people in it all feel short-changed. That is nothing new. The libertarian type GOPers don’t like the religious people and think Bush gives them too much. But, I know from my own email inbox, the religious right is hopping mad at Bush for not doing enough for them. The small government GOPers are mad at all the spending. Everybody is getting at most a tiny bit of what they want, and they want a lot more. But they all know the Donks would be worse, or they should know that. Look back at your political history, at how liberals felt about Franklin Roosevelt — they constantly thought he was selling out to the other factions in the party. Maintaining a majority political coalition is hard to do. Usually, you cannot give everybody something at the same time. So you do things one at a time and you even sometimes do inconsistent things one at a time.

So Bush is not disintegrating, he is holding a coalition together. Does this mean the Democrats are in a position to pull off a big upset? How? To do that they’d need to break up the majority coalition. Specifically, the Democrats would have to offer some element of the GOP coalition something it really wanted, that Bush can’t or won’t give them, and be more credible than the GOP is on that issue. The Democrats are no longer a coalition, but an ideology with a few interest groups attached. It is difficult for them to run to the center these days, let alone run to the right of the GOP on some issue or issues. It will be hard for them to come up with an appealing issue that would allow them to nationalized the election the way Gingrich did in 1994 and break off a chunk of the GOP coalition.

Conclusion: Unless we see (1) surprisingly strong and clever leadership on the D side, and (2) some new and powerful ideas or proposals, barring some outright disaster for Bush, then 2006 will be a typical midterm election, and the GOP may lose seats. But the total change will be small. So I fearlessly predict. We’ll check back in November ’06.

30 thoughts on “2006 will not be like 1994 in reverse. Probably.”

  1. Hillary making the strong borders/strong defense push is what worries me. The GOP’s 2008 bench is looking rather weak.

  2. I agree. I don’t see the GOP winning in ’08. Hillary will be a formidable candidate who has spent years building herself up as a centrist and hawk. Moderate women would vote for her, and the shrill and angry response from GOP conservatives would shift even more votes her way.

    “Weak bench” is right. We need a good GOP governor. The bunch of Senators being proposed is a bad sign. Senators are rotten presidential candidates.

    I also agree that illegal immigration or strong borders issue is the main thing that could break up the GOP coalition. I don’t think a nationalized congressional race could be run in 2006 on this issue. But the Democrats could take this issue and run with it in ’08. Also, the war will still be going on in ’08, barring a miracle, with explosions on TV all the time, increasing during the election season. The public will perceive the war as a failure even more than they do now, and want a change of leadership.

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  4. You guys worry too much.

    BTW, how can the Democrats do well on illegal immigration? They benefit politically from illegal immigration, to the extent that illegals tend to vote for Democrats. For Democrats to make an issue of illegal immigration is for them to alienate part of their core constituency. I don’t see them doing this unless they decide to move systematically toward the center, which would be fine by me.

    Also, Lex, why do you think the public thinks the war is a failure? That may be received wisdom among some blue-state types, and among columnists who need something to write about, but I don’t see evidence that it is generally true. I also don’t think it’s true. The war is bad, like all wars, but we are accomplishing what we needed to accomplish and there wasn’t a better alternative.

  5. Bill Clinton ran on a middle class tax cut and ending welfare as we know it. Hillary will run on controlling our borders so that immigration is safe and legal, and so that all American workers are paid a just wage. Or something like that. She will be able to run to the center because that is what she has been preparing to do for years.

    Your other questions are too big to take up here. I will say something about them at another time.

  6. Oh, she will try, but she will have a hard time convincing about half of the population. I don’t think she has a chance unless she runs as a conservative, and if she does so she will be uncompetitive against a real conservative. She has a chance if the Republicans run a weak candidate like McCain or Giuliani.

    As for a “just wage” and similar dirigiste nostrums, good luck. The 30% or so of the American electorate that vote like European socialists love this kind of idea, but for most of the rest of us it’s a deal killer. And the Democratic leadership, being socialists, tends to have a tin ear for how badly anything that smells of socialism sells to mainstream America. They always think they can sell a sack of shit by repackaging it in just the right way. Sometimes they get away with it in the short run, but there’s plenty of time to read the fine print during a presidential campaign. Remember how Miz Hillary’s health-care scheme went over in ’94? At first a lot of people who should have known better welcomed it: “Health care! Yay!” But over time, and it took a while, people started to scrutinize the details and the scheme imploded. And of course there were no blogs back then.

    It’s becoming increasingly difficult to campaign as a faux-conservative.

  7. One of our long-running disagreements has been over Hillary. You have considered her a hopeless candidate for the Donks with little chance to win. I have considered her to be a formidable candidate whom it will be difficult to beat. We are looking at the same facts, and have been for many years, but we draw different conclusions from them, and neither of us has changed his position.

  8. It all depends on what accidents happen, just as was the case for her husband. He would not have been elected if the strongest Democratic candidates had not elected to sit out the race, as they thought it a waste of effort to challenge the incumbent. Who knows what the accidents will be in the coming election cycle.

  9. I think accidents tend to even out. So, success in politics, sports, war or anything else cannot usually be attributed to accidents. Clinton won because he was astute enough to see what was really going on. The others did not. That was not an accident. Clinton was a master of tactical politics and he made a better calculation because he was better at the game. If Hillary wins it won’t be an accident either. She has for years now been executing a strategy of moving to right while maintaining her base, and staying in the news enough to maintain name recognition without overstaying her welcome. She and Bill were a team and they won his state and national elections as a team. None of that is an accident.

  10. Bill Clinton wouldn’t have been elected if one or two more-serious Democrats had run in the 1992 primaries. He understood the political environment and saw an opportunity, but everything beyond his decision to run was out of his control; he couldn’t determine whether other candidates would run. That the strongest ones didn’t run was an accident.

  11. No. The others misread the facts, that Bush I was weak. Clinton read them correctly. That was not an accident. The others were cowards when it came to stepping up and playing. He was better at the game than his opponents in either party, and he had more political courage. He took calculated risks.

    You seem to feel a need to denigrate Clinton. It is like people who have to call Mohammad Atta a “cowardly terrorist”. Don’t underestimate your opponents. Be aware of their strengths and, even, their virtues.

    No one who gets elected president twice is “lucky”. He’s good at it. No one who bats 300 is lucky, or pitches 20 wins is lucky. No one who makes a million dollars at the Merc is lucky. No one who repeatedly has hit records is lucky. Such people bring talent and drive to a situation and make their own luck.

    Luck resides at the corner of preparation and opportunity. Clinton spent his entire life preparing and he seized his moment. Luck has very little to do with it.

  12. I still see Hillary as a weak candidate — because everyone *knows* she’s playing politics. Everyone knows she’s “positioning”. Will anyone really vote for her based on centerist policies she espouses that they know she’s only holding in order to get elected? I sure wouldn’t.

  13. Clinton rolled the dice and it worked out well for him. But he didn’t create the environment in which that outcome could occur. If Gephardt et al had run that year, Clinton would not have been elected. Seizing opportunity is not the same as creating it. The creation was out of his hands.

    In hindsight he looks brilliant, but there have been lots of brilliant politicians who never made it big. It’s not enough to have the right talents, one needs also the right conditions. For every Clinton there are many who, under other circumstances, would have gone farther than they actually did.

    I also do not agree about his political courage. IMO he had little to lose by running, since he was then a relative unknown. At worst he would have lost and ended up with some debts (which he probably wouldn’t have paid off himself) but much better known. IMO he is one of the least courageous people we have seen recently in public life, and that is saying something.

  14. All Senators up for reëlection in 2006:

    Arizona—Jon Kyl (R)
    California—Dianne Feinstein (D)
    Connecticut—Joe Lieberman (D)
    Delaware—Thomas Carper (D)
    Florida—Bill Nelson (D)
    Hawaii—Daniel Akaka (D)
    Indiana—Dick Lugar (R)
    Maine—Olympia Snowe (R)
    Maryland—Paul Sarbanes (D)
    Massachusetts—John Kerry (D)
    Michigan—Debbie Stabenow (D)
    Minnesota—Mark Dayton (D)
    Mississippi—Trent Lott (R)
    Missouri—Jim Talent (R)
    Nebraska—Ben Nelson (D)
    Nevada—John Ensign (R)
    New Jersey—Jon Corzine (D)
    New Mexico—Jeff Bingaman (D)
    New York—Hillary Clinton (D)
    North Dakota—Kent Conrad (D)
    Ohio—Mike DeWine (R)
    Pennsylvania—Rick Santorum (R)
    Rhode Island—Lincoln Chafee (R)
    Tennessee—Bill Frist (R)
    Texas—Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R)
    Utah—Orrin Hatch (R)
    Vermont—Jim Jeffords (I)
    Virginia—George Allen (R)
    Washington—Maria Cantwell (D)
    West Virginia—Robert Byrd (D)
    Wisconsin—Herb Kohl (D)
    Wyoming—Craig Thomas (R)

    That’s 14 R’s, 18 D’s (counting Jeffords). Advantage R.

    5 of the 18 D’s are in red states, 3 of the 14 R’s are in blue states. Advantage R.

    Based on this, it seems quite unlikely that the D’s will be able to win a majority in the Senate in 2006.

  15. “…he didn’t create the environment in which that outcome could occur.” Sure he did. He was a major player in the Democratic Leadership Council. He created a demand for a Southern, moderate governer … and then he was the man to fit the box he built. And you are also wrong that he did not have political courage. You get one shot at the presidency these days. He took the supposedly high risk roll, while he was still young and could have waited. Gephardt didn’t run because Clinton was smarter and gutsier and better positioned than he was. No luck involved. I don’t really believe in luck in situations like this.

  16. Bill Clinton won because of Ross Perot. The conservative vote fractured and Clinton was able to – since he had no previous national exposure – position himself more to the center.

    It is the medium voter who decides.

  17. I’d pick luck over skill any day of the week. If luck is a major factor, then Hillary is looking to get lucky as well in the sense that the GOP has yet to find a viable “name” candidate. As of now, my vote will be an anti-Hillary vote more than anything else. Makes me want to buy some Intrade futures.

  18. “Bill Clinton won because of Ross Perot.” I don’t think so. I think you have the causation the wrong way around. Perot happened because of deep, bitter disatisfaction with Bush I. My Dad, a lifelong GOPer was livid about Bush I raising taxes and voted for Perot. He would probably not have voted at all if Perot had not run. He would not have voted for Bush again. There was a lot of that going around. Clinton ran to the right of Bush I on welfare reform and taxes. Clinton ran as a “New Democrat” and it seemed plausible to many people. He captured the center. I remember the TV ads very well. I knew the GOP was screwed when I saw them. Perot being out would not have been a lump shift to Bush I. Perot drew some from Bush, some from Clinton, and brought out a lot of people who would not have voted at all. I think Clinton would still have won.

  19. Lex – “deep, bitter disatisfaction with Bush I” fractured the right vote. You are the first person who is telling me that he took votes equally from Bush I & Clinton. My understanding is that some bitter voters from non-Bush camp may have voted for Ross, but the vast majority of his voters were Republicans like your father revolting against their own establishment.

    It is Hotelling’s medium voter theory I am talking about here. Check out Google’s top search on Harold Hotelling: http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/hotell.htm. You may want to read his short paper on medium voter theory where he compares politicians to ice cream sellers on a beach (left – right, medium buyer, market share, etc.). The theory is the foundation of public choice … and Buchanan’s picture appears on the banner of this blog.

  20. I did not say equally. Perot clearly took more from Bush than Clinton. I am saying it is not possible to say that Perot not being in would have given the election to Bush. A lot of people who ordinarily voted Republican would not have voted. A lot of people who voted for Perot were previously non-voters who liked Perot. Also, of course, Clinton and Bush would have campaigned differently if Perot had not been in it. Also, the Democrats had excitement and momentum and their base was energized. Bush was tired, boring and most importantly, did not seem to want it very badly and his base was demoralized.

    All this says that you cannot say that Perot not being would have meant Bush would win.

    Hotelling and Buchanan are fine chaps, but they don’t change any of the foregoing.

  21. Lex – here is an English (no math) version of Hotelling:

    Conclusion: there is not a dime of difference between most Republicans and Democrats in power. They all have to govern from the center or they will lose their jobs. And a politician who is not in power is a nobody in America. I wouldn’t sweat too much if Hillary won because the Congress will turn against her should she decide not to govern from the Middle. Actually, her husband – the triangulator – realized this and made sure he stood and governed (from 1995 until his impeachment) from where the medium voter stands. Political competition, thank Allah, is bad news for both the godless ideologues of the Democratic party and keep-Terry-Schiavo-alive fanatics of the Republican party.

  22. I agree that both sides converge toward the middle. But which side they come from does matter, and which issues they choose to push on or give ground on also matters. More importantly, national security issues arise from foreign sources and are to a large extent beyond party politics — and I just do not see the Democrats as being trustworthy on national security. It is not always true that there is no big difference between the candidates. I remember 1980 very clearly. There was a huge difference between Carter and Reagan. Still, the larger point is true — political competition in our system forces politicians to find the center and govern from there. This leads to strong political stability, which leads in turn to civil peace, our greatest blessing here which is routinely and mistakenly taken for granted.

  23. Incumbent Presidents who lose a second term always have a strong challenge in the primaries. Buchanan softened up Bush 41 for Perot to deal the death blow. To believe that Perot wasn’t the determining factor in 1992 is to believe that Clinton would have increased his 43% of the vote from people who voted for Perot or Bush. The idea that all of the Perot voters would have stayed home is far fetched. Add in that no Democrat candidate has garnered 51% of the vote since LBJ and it’s clear that without Perot Bush 41 gets a second term. As for the idea that the R’s have no bench—that’s laughable. The media, based in the northeast, never looks beyond DC and the Senate. Only 2 Presidents in history have come straight out of the Senate. The bench is out in the states. The R governors are excellent. If you think guys like McCain and Frist will be the candidate snap out of it and look at: Sanford, Owens, Pawlenty and many more. There you will find the next POTUS.

  24. “The R governors are excellent. If you think guys like McCain and Frist will be the candidate snap out of it and look at: Sanford, Owens, Pawlenty and many more. There you will find the next POTUS.”

    I say Hillary, who’s the first person you think of?

    The GOP candidates may be very qualified, but they don’t have the household name recognition that Hillary has.

  25. incognito – name recognition develops over the course of primaries. Senator George Allen, a former governer, seems to be building a name for himself. And in this age of terror, he seems to be a perfect continuation of George Bush in foreign policy.

    An Allen-Giuliani ticket – connections to the Northeast, South, and West (Allen is originally from California if I am not mistaken) will be hard for Dems to match.

  26. Clinton’s lost 39% of the country already even prior to the start of the campaign. Her hard supporters are outweighed by her hard opponents by a significant number. If the remaining mushy middle breaks even, she loses. Currently the mushy middle is breaking in her favor because nobody’s taking the time to contradict all Clinton’s efforts to paint herself as a moderate. That will change as the campaign gears up, first by left-wing candidates dirtying her up and forcing her left and then by conservatives whacking her for being too far to the left.

    On 2006, Republicans have a structural advantage in both houses but they have pretty much exhausted small government conservative and libertarian patience. If the vetoes don’t start flying, if the spending doesn’t get cut, Republicans will have a great deal more trouble than strict mechanical analysis would indicate. This is Bush’s last chance.

  27. TM Lutas – right on point. Even WSJ editorial page has started complaining about the current Congress. Which brings me to the point I have been making — there is not a dime of difference between Republicans and Democrats in power. Actually a divided power structure during Clinton years brought some fiscal sanity on the expenditure side, albeit the cuts fell more on national defense.

  28. Since Hillary seems to have locked up a huge amount of fund-raising, it looks like we are all going to get an empirical test of our theories about what kind of candidate she will be. She is overwhelmingly favored to get the nomination on Intrade, which is probably accurate. So it will be Hillary and who? I predict Evan Bayh.

    I hope you guys are right about her, and that she is miserably unpopular and gets crushed by whoever the GOP puts up.

    But I doubt it.

  29. Since Hillary seems to have locked up a huge amount of fund-raising, it looks like we are all going to get an empirical test of our theories about what kind of candidate she will be. She is overwhelmingly favored to get the nomination on Intrade, which is probably accurate. So it will be Hillary and who? I predict Evan Bayh.

    I hope you guys are right about her, and that she is miserably unpopular and gets crushed by whoever the GOP puts up.

    But I doubt it.

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