Lex and Jonathan Debate the Midterm Election

Jonathan and I had an off-blog debate about this post, and his belief that the GOP may do better in the midterm election than people seem to think. Any of our dear readers who are interested may find it below the fold.

House Republican odds
10 messages

Jonathan Thu, Sep 7, 2006 at 6:55 PM
To: Lexington Green

I am guessing they are near a bottom.

Lexington Green Thu, Sep 7, 2006 at 6:57 PM
To: Jonathan

Based on what?

If the predictions are true they will decline steadily until election day.

I see no basis for a turnaround. Are there relevant facts I’m missing?

Jonathan Thu, Sep 7, 2006 at 7:49 PM
To: Lexington Green

Based on almost all commenters writing off the Republicans with two months
to go. Based on my personality. Based on the lousy predictive record of a
lot of the people who are making confident predictions. Based on the obvious
fact that the Democrats do not have a clue about the strategy of this war
and don’t care. Based on a hunch that I pulled out of my ass. Based on my
sense that opinion about Bush can probably only improve. Based on the MSM
fog that obscures reality in the same way that the brainwaves from the
big-headed aliens obscured the hole in the clear wall that Captain Pike had
melted with his phaser. I gotta spell everything out? I am looking ahead and
imagining alternate realities and you are looking back and assuming that
what’s already happened is the best model for what will happen.

Lexington Green Thu, Sep 7, 2006 at 10:27 PM
To: Jonathan

The short version of all that is “wishful thinking”. I hope you are right..

Jonathan Fri, Sep 8, 2006 at 7:27 AM
To: Lexington Green

I don’t think it’s wishful thinking. It’s a hunch based on a sense that the
opinion swing against the Republicans is overdone. I don’t know if I’m right.

Lexington Green Fri, Sep 8, 2006 at 7:52 AM
To: Jonathan

Is there a fine line between hunches and wishful thinking?

Again, I hope you are right, but I don’t see it.

Jonathan Fri, Sep 8, 2006 at 8:31 AM
To: Lexington Green

It’s an empirical question. I don’t know if I’m right. Two months before an
election and people on one of the sides start to be convinced that they will
lose? I think many Republican partisans have slipped from realism into
defeatism. This negative consensus is overdone. It’s realistic to think, “it
looks like we will lose.” It’s overdone to think, “we will certainly lose.”
Because it means people have given up and are no longer looking at the
situation realistically. It’s easier to give up emotionally than to suspend
judgment for a while longer. Opinion situations like this are volatile. It
would only take a blunder by the Democrats or an event (either positive or
negative) to shift the consensus.

Lexington Green Fri, Sep 8, 2006 at 8:43 AM
To: Jonathan

I think it is deeper than that. The core constituencies of the GOP are unhappy. The Jacksonian wing is unhappy about gas prices, nation building in Iraq, uncontrolled spending and most of all, immigration. On this last, they correctly perceive that the GOP is in bed with the business community which wants unlimited illegal immigration so it can have a dirt cheap workforce. Bush is a Wilsonian on foreign policy, but there is very little of that attitude in the GOP. The natural home of Wilsonian international do-goodism is the Donk party. So, Bush has alienated his core on foreign policy. The Jacksonians are the ones who have friends and relatives in the military. They see Iraq as a waste and a botch and they don’t want their friends and relatives getting killed or maimed over there, and they want to see a signal that we are not going to “cut and run”, but begin to ratchet down our involvement. This does seem to be happening, but Bush keeps talking like our global democracy crusade is still going on and is worth doing, and this is offputting. Domestically, Congress is composed of people who spend with both hands. The GOP was supposed to be a little better on this, and they have proven to be no better. Everyone is seeing this. This costs them lots of voters.

So, it is not a matter of some minor mood swing, it is a structural rejection of Bush and the Republicans. The one ray of sunshine is that the Democrats have no affirmative platform of their own that has any wide popularity. If they did we’d lose fifty seats.

Jonathan Fri, Sep 8, 2006 at 9:34 AM
To: Lexington Green

But the Democrats are worse on every one of these issues.

On the war, I think there is much more dissatisfaction among Republicans and
Jacksonians with Bush for not going far enough rather than for doing things
that were unwise in the first place. The economy is booming and there is
much grumbling in the military about overwork, yet the military has little
difficulty in meeting its recruiting goals.

And gas prices have little to do with the war. They are much more a function
of the strength of the Chinese economy. And of course there would be more
supply if Republican recommendations to expand drilling in Alaska and
offshore, and to promote nuclear power, were followed.

Lexington Green Fri, Sep 8, 2006 at 10:05 AM
To: Jonathan

The fact that the Ds are worse is true. But GOP voters who don’t come out to vote in effect hand it to the Ds. Most people don’t think tactically about politics. And an irate Jacksonian base just says, “fuck this” and stays home. They are fair-weather voters and they feel betrayed by Bush. Merle Haggard, the epitome of Jacksonian America, had a minor hit with his song “Rebuild America”, expressly saying get out of Iraq and rebuild our roads and bridges and put more Americans to work doing it. That is pure Jacksonian sentiment. The kind of nice things that Bush likes to point to in Iraq (1) irritate his core, and (2) are rejected as lies or a front for exploitation by his enemies. In other words, no one cares about what Bush says he is doing in Iraq.

Most voters don’t look as deeply as you do. Gas prices are up means vote against the incumbents. All the other stuff you mention is not in the minds of voters. They neither know nor care. They gas up their cars and minivan every few days and the pump-price has been rising steadily for months and months and they are pissed. They believe it is up to the government to make sure that gas is cheap, and they are presented virtually daily with a reality that makes them angry and that indicates to them that the country is on the wrong track. That’s it. Very simple.

As to Iraq, I have a friend whose brother just did two tours in Iraq and is getting out. He loved the Army and wanted to stay in for life but he has been in several close calls and lost friends and wants out. There is a lot of this going on. Iraq is eroding our Army and needs to be wrapped up soon.

As to the economy booming, no one knows or believes that. Look at the poll numbers. People think the economy is good when they feel like they have job security, but the nature of the economic growth we are experiencing now is destructive of job security. Is this all to the “long run” good? Yeah, probably. But most people just care about having money for the mortgage and car payments and are afraid of losing their jobs, and they are more and more likely to do so in a very dynamic economy. So, no matter what the growth rates are, dissatisfaction with the economy will continue. It is not just MSM misrepresentation. It is structural.


Jonathan Fri, Sep 8, 2006 at 11:24 AM
To: Lexington Green

We’re at the point where I throw up my hands. If a plurality or even
majority of voters are unwilling to do more than look superficially at
issues, there’s not much that you or I can do. I used to believe in the
collective wisdom of the American people but no longer do. Too many
Americans are ignorant fools. We are on our way to a geopolitical train
wreck and they and their political representatives won’t see it coming until
it’s too late. If we’re lucky Bush will do something about Iran, for which
he will be widely reviled for the next twenty years, until it becomes
conventional wisdom that he prevented catastrophe.

WRT Iraq, we are going to withdraw most of our troops eventually no matter
what. But we should stay there in some force to assist the Iraqis on the
margin and, mainly, to maintain bases there. Dissatisfied soldiers is
another issue, which should be addressed not by changing our war aims but by
hiring more soldiers if necessary. We should probably increase our military
spending substantially. This means Congress, including Republicans, will
have to become more serious and stop pissing away so much money on stupid
pork projects (and entitlements, e.g., Medicare Part D, which is Bush’s
fault) and start allocating more to defense. This in turn means that the
Administration, whether Bush’s or the next one, will have to make the case
for greater national seriousness and commitment in prosecuting the war. The
big question is whether any of this can happen before we lose a city.

18 thoughts on “Lex and Jonathan Debate the Midterm Election”

  1. I think Jonathan’s wanting to fade the media is a good natural instinct. I’ve traded stocks, options and futures for years and fading the media is rarely a loser.

    New years ’05 brought us stories all over the place about the falling dollar, canadians shopping in Manhattan, how expensive it was for Americans traveling to London, how the outlook was bleak, etc… It also marked the low and the dollar went up for all of 2005.

    In trading, psychology dictates that by the time a move percolates up to the MSM, it’s done. I don’t know how well this translates to the realm of elections, but in which case are you more likely to get out and vote for your party, if it’s appears strongly threatened or if it appears assured of victory?

  2. If I had to bet, I would say that the Republicans will do better than the general buzz predicts for the following reasons:

    (1) Since ’94 the buzz has always been that Republicans will do badly to the benefit of the Democrats. Its always been wrong. I think the buzz is driven by the cocooning of the generally left-of-center media. Senior Republicans also share the cocoon because they live and work inside the beltway. It should be time for a correction but I don’t see any particular reason why it should occur now.

    (2) People vote their own economic reality. It has been shown repeatedly that people will answer poll questions about the economy by saying that the overall economy is bad but that they personally are doing well. The first response is dependent on media and the second from direct experience. Historically, people actually vote on their own experience. If they think they are doing well personally, they vote the status quo which in this case means Republicans.

    (3) I don’t think the war will be a major factor because the Democrats simply do not show up at the debate. Many people might want a change but what exactly are the democrats offering?

    I am willing to bet that things will look pretty much the same after the fall elections.

  3. Look at Ken Fisher’s article in Forbes — he says the House has never switched unless the Senate switched also (or first) because it’s so much easier to change the Senate. He says it’s never happened the other way, which is a pretty interesting data point. So, given that it looks nearly impossible for the Senate to switch, he concludes the House won’t either. This has a bit of the black swan fallacy, but it’s better than Kudlow’s “theory,” on mainstream media. It would be nice if you could dig up more than your own derivation of the political process as filtered through the media. But then again, that seems to be endemic to die-hard Republicans — just go with the big picture theory and let your gut instincts guide you through the hard stuff. Sure seems to be working in Iraq, New Orleans, immigration… Not what I would expect from the Chicago School of thought.

  4. William, it’s in the nature of contrary hunches to be idiosyncratic and contradict what many people think.

    Sorry to dishonor the Chicago School in your eyes. I take it all would be forgiven if I agreed with you?

  5. The most important time in politics is after Labor Day up to Election Day. Bush and Rove have shown that they clearly understand this. Yes, as a supporter it has been frustrating to watch the onslaught of the MSM/DNC 365 day out of the year politicize everything attack while often Bush didn’t even respond. Maybe they kept their powder dry too long this time but I wouldn’t bet against them. Gas prices have already dropped 40-50 cents in the last month, the CIA leak manufactured scandal has collapsed, and the issue of how to try the worst of al-Qaeda is now going before Congress. ‘Doom and gloom for Republicans’ polls have turned out wrong in the last two elections. Despite their small margin of error, if the Republicans play the next two months right they will not lose control of Congress and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they gain seats.

  6. Williams,

    … just go with the big picture theory and let your gut instincts guide you through the hard stuff.

    I don’t understand what you meant by that at all.

  7. Back in ’94 the Democrats could lose, and lose big, in one election, because the underlying political realities had shifted against them, and only incumbancy was sheilding them from that shift. Shake things up enough, and the political landscape settled out into a form which better reflected those underlying realities.

    Today there isn’t that big mismatch between the composition of Congress and the underlying political realities. Only changes at the margin can be expected in any given election.

    Further, ’94 was before the worst of the “campaign reform” legislation. Today incumbants of either party are much better protected against the challengers and upity constituents.

    Finally, a number of the issues where the Republican party in office is at odds with it’s base could be addressed before the election, if incumbants start to get nervous enough that they feel the need to throw their voters a bone. In fact, the earmarks matter appears to be well in hand at the moment.

    Combine all these factors, and I don’t expect much change. And I’m not particularly frightened of the Republicans losing control in any case… They seem to function better as an opposition party, perhaps because they don’t need to buy off marginal members in order to prevail in leadership votes.

  8. I don’t know if this means much, but… for the last few days, every time I’ve looked at the intrade sidebar, there’s been a huge gap between “ask” and “bid” on the GOP House contract. The numbers were something like 40.7 – 44.9 this morning.

    It seems to me like that indicates there are some strongly differing perceptions out there. In other words, the market is predicting a GOP loss, but it’s not predicting it really strongly or confidently.

    And, of course, there’s still time before the election. We could see changes. One or two political bombshells and the whole thing gets thrown one way or the other.

  9. I see no useful purpose in such speculation. If one is trading stocks, ok, there is an investment and mon ey to be made or lost. But this? Comes down to maing small talk to fill a void (will it rain tomorrow? nice weather today)…the voters are always right. Or wrong.

  10. “I see no useful purpose in such speculation.”

    You are talking to a bunch of political junkies, David. We talk about elections around here. It is part of what we do.

    It similarly makes no sense to talk about who is going to win the World Series, after all the games will be played, someone will win, and nothing you may say about it will impact the outcome. What you are really saying is “I don’t get anything out of such conversations”, to which I respond, “then reserve your comments for those conversations you do find to be of interest.”

  11. Well, the dems are shooting themselves in the foot over a TV show this weekend. Dems against free speech is the best gift Republicans can get. For the tinfoil hat wearers, it’s quite Rovian.

  12. I think Lex has come a long way toward understanding the POV I was essentially ridiculed for in these comments months ago. I guess I’m a Jacksonian by Lex’s definition and I have concluded this Republican administration and congress needs to sit out a cycle in the penalty box.

    There should be consequences for squandering perhaps a trillion dollars and tens of thousands of young lives (not just dead but also maimed into marginal existence) on a fools errand. Some of us are going to respond when the consequences so far are: exile to Presidency of the World Bank(!), a life appointment to SecDef, alienation of our closest allies, and on and on. It is not a total fiasco – give Bush credit for repositioning the Supreme Court (even if he had to go by way of – For God’s Sake! – HARRIET MIERS).

    Maybe it is anecdotal, but I have never seen so many sure-to-vote Republicans who are determined to send a message by either abstaining or voting Democrat.

    Lex is absolutely right that nobody in my faction gives a damn what President Bush says about Iraq (or the economy for that matter). His pronouncements are probably hurting more GOP candidates than they are helping (and don’t give me “The MSM is distorting him.” – He can’t even convene a speech in an open forum for fear of being defied. We have seen this pageant before, and reality prevails in the end.

  13. The main difference between me and Don is I still think the Donks are way, way worse. Unfortunately, I don’t even have a Republican I can vote for this time around. Danny Davis is my Congressman, and he is unassailable. I don’t think the GOP even bothers to run anybody against him.

    Don’s views do capture, I am afraid, a large number of otherwise core GOP voters. The same dynamic created Perot voters who voted against Bush’s Dad. My father, as it happens, voted for Perot against Bush, Sr., over his sellout on taxes. The Democrats do not have a faction in their party which behaves this way. Democrat voters vote Democrat, sink or swim, Hell or high water, since they have a lot of their identity tied up in being Democrats. The GOP has lot less tribal loyalty, hence defections can occur over ideological impurity, consequences be damned, and too bad if the Ds get in. That is what we are looking at this time out.

  14. I do wish the pundits – who must see the reality that Lex describes – would stop describing the Republicans as always in “lock step.” (Perot was never looked upon as the spoiler Nader was; that was an odd perspective by the pundits but a sensible one by the Republicans: Perot offered a choice, people took it.)

  15. I took it seriously when it was below 50, I take it seriously now. This suggests that there are some favorable trends in play. I do not understand what is driving it, but I think it is some evidence the GOP has turned the corner.

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