When House whip Eric Cantor said the GOP would win a landslide in the 2010 midterm elections, I simply laughed out loud. Now, I am not a polling junkie or a professional political operative. But this tells me something: if the GOP doesn't work to actually deserve a shot at retaking the House in 2010 then their best chance is to play political games of dubious merit. Not that, you know, we should expect anything else given the current state of politics.
The GOP brand has polled badly. Pollster.com, run by the National Journal just posted an article showing dire straits for brand GOP:
The overall finding is simple -- the GOP's standing relative to the Democrats on both measures is worse than any opposition party in the sample. For instance, the Pew data show that the Republicans are currently viewed more negatively than any minority party in the previous four midterms in terms of both net favorables and the difference in net favorables between parties.
Nevertheless, Cantor insists that people want to put some limits on the Obama administration's power, and on the power of Nancy Pelosi. But the main components of the Obama agenda are overwhelmingly popular. The Public Option has been overwhelmingly popular, the ban on discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions is popular, being able to take insurance with you when you change jobs is popular, etc. The major reason the bills under discussion haven't been more robust is because of dissent within the Democratic party over their scope. Doesn't sound like the intense, scary government bogeyman with control that Cantor's trying to live-up. In fact I think the President will be able to make a more compelling case, that we had a discussion that Republicans decided largely to opt out of and that in their relative absence a broad coalition of Democrats spent a good amount of time haggling over even the broadest outlines of health reform. So as far as I'm concerned there isn't much if any merit to Cantor's argument. And I think it can be argued pretty clearly.
But of course Cantor's priming the media pump to generate the perception that his story may be plausible, which is step #1 to actually making it plausible. If nobody believes that the GOP has any fight in it for 2010, they'll put up fewer resources to finance the battles that would be necessary to beat a large number of Democrats. Indeed the GOP has a big enthusiasm problem, with a quarter-century low in the number of people self-identifying as Republicans.
So I think we're seeing two things. There's the current reality on the ground that the GOP is up you-know-what-creek with few prospective paddles, and the media reality where GOP leaders are trying to paint a picture of possibility for 2010.
Now, the question that follows is, to what extent does the GOP have to do anything substantive, as opposed to just changing tone and message, in order to get big gains? I think it depends.
Right now you see a lot of talk from a wide range of people concerned about the "fringe." This is for good reason. A while ago, the Department of Homeland Security warned of rising right-wing extremism. And a whole bunch of conservatives got offended. And then some crazy showed up and shot someone at the Holocaust Museum. The report especially warned against lone wolves. Yeah, report vindicated. But I think the fact that the Glenn Becks and Michelle Bachmanns have generated so much noise, that the fringe is actually asserting itself, actually presents a strong opportunity for people like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to take the spotlight by being minimally reasonable. In other words, by repudiating or at least dissociating themselves from the hardcore crazies, mere every-day crazy could be made to look normal and perfectly vote-for-able.
That of course depends on a number of factors, including the GOP leadership corralling its membership on board that particular Arc, which they've had trouble doing as the party split into the traditional Reagonomics camp and the more Tea Party-prone social conservative side. So the flood may not go the way Cantor says it's going to go.
What do you think the GOP's 2010 chances are?