Why 2008 will be a Perfect Storm for Republicans

Pro-war and anti-growth, anti-minorities, anti-children. Not a good way to run for election. And variety of other realities combine to dig Republicans into an even deeper hole.
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In hindsight, we can see why incumbent parties have been blamed and creamed in federal elections, like Republicans in 1974 after Watergate and Democrats in 1994 after the failure of health care. Looking ahead, with 13 months to go, a perfect storm is gathering force that will likely decimate Republican strength in federal and state races.

There is no one earthquake producing a political tsunami but rather four separate seismic events that together--short of another terrorist attack or a new war against Iran--will alter the electoral terrain of America.

*Iraq: Consider the numbers: when asked who can best end the Iraq war, only 5 percent of Americans in a recent poll said President Bush; consistent majorities of 70 percent want the war to end soon and 60 percent believe Bush misled us into this conflict. Claims of progress may momentarily quell public anger over this monumental blunder--say, General Petraeus's putting a happy face on the war. But such optimism is now as convincing as General Westmoreland's expecting "light at the end of the tunnel" in Vietnam or Baghdad Bob's denying American troops were anywhere near the Baghdad airport while those troops were seizing it.

What exactly can GOP candidates say next fall in the face of no WMD, no link between Saddam and 9/11, no ties between Saddam and al Qaeda, no flowers for "liberators," 5 million refugees both out of and within Iraq, Administration approval of torture, over 30,000 American dead and wounded as well as over 100,000 Iraqis killed ?not to mention an increase in terrorism world-wide? "Give us more time" for a war that's lasted longer than World War II?

None of this worked in 2006 and will be even less pervasive in 2008. As Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) recently acknowledged after a Senate vote on the war, the public knows this is Bush's and the Republican's war and will reward or punish candidates accordingly.

*Economy. Most economic forecasters are predicting a one in two chance of a recession due to the foreclosure crisis leading to a credit crisis. Nor can Republican candidates convincingly cite Bush's eight-year record if '08 goes flat. Average monthly job creation and economic growth under Clinton was 237,000 and 3.6 percent; under Bush, it's 53,000 and 2.6 percent. Even if there's no recession but merely a slowdown, incumbent parties historically still lose seats and the White House if economic growth falls below 3 percent in the election year, as now seems inevitable.

At the same time, this Administration's record on spending and deficits--turning a projected $5.6 trillion surplus into $3 trillion in deficits--is dividing its own business base, according to Wall Street Journal last week. Now when asked which party would better maintain prosperity, it's Democrats by 54-34 percent according to Gallup.

And for the first time in several generations, the economic debate may include not only growth but also distribution. Static median income over the Bush years combined with winner-take-all increases in wealth by the top 1 percent have not gone unnoticed. A Pew Poll in 1988 found that by 71 to 25 percent, Americans thought themselves "haves" rather than "have nots"; by 2001, it was 48 to 48 percent. Any such data or arguments provoke Republicans to shout, "class warfare." But this is blaming the mirror for the image. Can conservatives explain how ExxonMobil's Lee Raymond earned more per hour in 2005 than his average employee earned per year?

*Intolerance. The GOP claiming to the ?party of Lincoln? is a pretense long beyond its expiration date. During the Cold War, Republicans could successfully run against Reds and Blacks. Yet with the decline of Communism and the Southern Strategy, GOP strategists have instead turned to targeting terrorists, immigrants and gays. Hence all those terror alerts and anti-gay referenda in 2004, and strident anti-immigrant rhetoric in 2007. But can the GOP rely simply on white men to win, blowing off racial and other minorities in a country increasingly minority? Bush's small gain in the black vote from 8% in 2000 to 11% in 2004, including a pivotal 16% in Ohio, helped cement his narrow victory.

The recent refusal of leading Republican presidential candidates to attend key black, Latino and gay debates prodded former vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp to complain, "We sound like we don't want immigration; we sound like we don't want black people to vote for us. What are we going to do--meet in a country club in the suburbs one day?" It won't suffice any longer for 2008 convention organizers to put every minority delegate on the stage, hoping pictures will substitute for policy.

*Children. President Bush made good on his threat to veto the expansion of the SCHIP program to extend health insurance to another 4 million children, notwithstanding the bi-partisan support of 43 governors and an 84 percent majority in a CBS-New York Times poll. He complains that such a move would federalize, even socialize, health care. So will he now end Medicare and Medicaid?

Yes, it would cost another $35 billion annually, but that would be entirely covered by a proposed increase in the tobacco tax. It's revealing that an administration which didn't veto any spending bills for six years and didn't sweat $50 billion in oil subsidies and $10 billion a month for Iraq now draws the line against providing health care to children at no-cost to the federal budget. It approaches political suicide for the Bush Administration and four top GOP presidential candidates to elevate the rhetoric of free-market fundamentalism over the reality of millions of children lacking health insurance.

Pro-war and anti-growth, anti-minorities, anti-children. Not a good way to run for election.

Beyond these four problems, a variety of other realities combine to dig Republicans into an even deeper hole. Recent polls show Democrats are more trusted on every domestic and foreign policy issue: education, health care, environment, economic growth, fiscal discipline, even terrorism. The number of Americans who self-identify as Republican is at a seven year low. While Americans believing the country is ?on the wrong tack? was 50 percent in 2002 and 2004, it's now 67 percent. National Democratic committees and presidential candidates are outraising their Republican counterparts better than 2 to 1. And then there's the fact that Republicans are defending 22 Senate seats in 2008 compared to 12 for the Democrats. Nine Republican Senate seats are now considered vulnerable (Alaska, Colorado, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon and Virginia).

Adding it all up: look for Democrats to end up with a near filibuster-proof 58 Senate seats (up from 51) and 260 House seats (up from 213 in 2005 and 233 in 2007). The 2006 and 2008 elections would then be the equivalent of a rolling realignment, comparable to the 51, 49 and 53 House seats that switched hands in 1958, 1974 and 1994 respectively. For when there's a tidal wave of sentiment, it doesn't tip some close contests but nearly all close contests. What John Kenneth Galbraith said of Black Monday 1933 is true for the GOP today: "The end had come, but it was not yet in sight."

A condensed version of this post appears today in the New York Daily News here.

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