The Wrong Side Of A Class War

by Sheri Rivlin and Allan Rivlin on September 20, 2012

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All year long we have been hearing political analysts predict a very close election.  The nation, they argue, is closely divided between blocks of partisans with dramatically different views of the role of government.  Well, we will let Mitt Romney explain the theory: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims…” well perhaps you have already seen this quote

What this theory does not explain is how the last three elections were historic wave elections, close for much of the summer but breaking decisively for the Democrats in 2006 and 2008, and for the Republicans in 2010.  Since December 2011, CenteredPolitics has rejected the “close election all the way to the finish” theory arguing that 2012 was far more likely to be a another wave election.  We were however, admittedly hedging our bets as to which way the wave would break.  If the election turned into a referendum on the state of the economy, 2012 could well have been a Republican wave election.  This scenario seems far less likely today.

The Democrats, we wrote last December, would be riding a wave to victory sweeping out Republicans, if the GOP finds themselves “too closely associated with the wealthiest 1% and large corporations and on the wrong side of a class war in an election year.”  This was before Republicans selected Mitt Romney as their Presidential nominee.  2012 is shaping up as a Democratic wave election, and this is not just a prediction that Barack Obama will be reelected as President.

Since the 1964 Democratic wave election through the Reagan Revolution, and the big swings of the 1990s and the three most recent national elections, wave elections tend to follow a similar pattern:  Polls measuring party strength are fairly close through the summer months.  They start diverging when the autumn chill enters the air, but stay close enough to give the trailing party hope of a turnaround; with a knock out debate performance, perhaps, or an October surprise.  Then election night brings its own surprises as all of the close races go to one side and even some races thought safe for long term incumbents shift to wave-riding challengers.  What really has happened is that one side’s theory of the election, even theory of politics and government, has been proven weak if not false.

Control of the Senate Will Stay Democratic, and the House Could Also Shift Blue 

The Congressional race handicappers, Stuart Rothenberg, Charlie Cook, Larry Sabato, and others, are very good at their jobs.  They provide an indispensable service of processing a lot of information; from public polls to campaign leaked internal polls, to fundraising filings and local press and political perspectives – but their working assumption is that there will not be a national wave moving local factors, until the signs of a national wave become undeniable.  And while they have been assuming no wave for most of the year, some handicappers are starting to hedge their bets against a possible Democratic wave.

Republicans gained 63 House seats in 2010, mostly with Tea Party neophytes, and they now control a Congress with fewer accomplishments, and lower public approval ratings than any Congress in history.  Leader Nancy Pelosi is right, control of the House is very much in play.        

The problem goes far deeper than a few gaffs and a secretly taped video.  The Republican Party failed to rebuild its governing philosophy after its foreign policy was rejected in 2006 and the global economy tanked in 2008.  Romney is carrying these same ideas into this election, with no explanation as to what he believes differently from the Bush-Cheney Administration on either front.  Suggesting a more assertive foreign policy than Obama, and tax cuts and lax regulations to spur the economy, Romney and the Republicans have no answer to the charge that these are the same policies that got us into two unpopular wars and an economic tailspin from which we are only starting to recover.

The 2010 election provided a false reprieve due to a bad economy that most voters still correctly blame on Bush and the Republicans, and Democratic indifference from the White House on down to infrequent voters.  But the deeper problems remain, and unlike Bill Clinton who worked for years to substantively reposition his party’s philosophy and policy proposals, Romney buys his ideas off the same shelf Bush discredited.     

So if you are a Republican partisan you can still hope for a breakthrough debate performance to help close the gap.  But don’t count on it, because the lack of anything that would count as a new policy mitigates the chances.  There are only so many ways one can point out the unemployment rate is above eight percent.  And if you are a Democratic partisan, it is time to look down ballot, and give attention and money to expanding the Congressional playing field.

Romney’s Woes are Coming to a House Race Near You    

Democrats have been unanimous in attacking the philosophy and economic and political analysis, but the Republican Party is divided over how to respond to Romney’s 47% philosophy.   William Kristol, Peggy Noonan, Joe Scarborough,  and David Brooks are all pointing out the very large number of Republican supporters Romney labeled as “dependent on government,” “victims,” who cannot be convinced to “take personal responsibility” or “care for their lives.”  At the same time Erick Erickson at redstate.com is listing a score of conservative bloggers calling on Romney to charge into the class war with guns-a-blazin’.  More importantly, Vice Presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is echoing Romney’s commitment to addressing the “culture of dependency.” 

The selection of Ryan as running mate ties Romney-Ryan to nearly every Republican in the House who voted to pass, not once but twice, budgets Ryan authored.  Now each of these members is scrambling for a way to explain what Romney meant better than Romney has so far, and many are in districts where a majority of voters are not affluentdo not pay federal income tax and/or get government help with medical bills, retirement income, student loans, or veterans’ benefits.   

Part of this will have to include whether, and why, they think it is bad that half (or more) of their constituents paid no federal income tax in 2012, and what they think we should do about it.  With congressional approval ratings barely out of the single digits, and almost nothing to show for two years in the majority, this was going to be a tough election for Tea Party freshmen, but this week it just got a lot tougher.

 

 

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