Return Of The Republicans

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 4, 2009

A year ago, and throughout much of this year, doom was predicted for the GOP. It was said that the Republican party was on the verge of extinction, that it would be stuck in a permanent minority, that it would be washed away in a tidal wave of New New Dealism and the type of lasting coalition that helped bring it about.

I should know. I was one of the people concerned last year that the GOP was in danger of being relegated to the backseat of American politics for a generation or two. While I would hardly say that the Republican party is out of the woods yet, I am perfectly willing to maintain that the results of tonight’s electoral contests show that the GOP’s political fortunes are on the upswing, and that Democrats are in trouble thanks to the decline in Barack Obama’s popularity.

Sweeping the Governor’s race, the Lt. Governor’s race, and the Attorney-General’s race in Virginia by landslide margins is a big deal, especially given the fact that the last eight years have seen Virginia governed by Democrats, and given the hope amongst Democrats that the state was turning blue. Seeing a Republican gubernatorial candidate beat a sitting Democratic Governor in New Jersey–New Jersey!–is a very big deal. Parties that are able to pull these feats off aren’t on the verge of death. Quite the contrary; they are full of pep and life. Once again, the Republican party is a force with which others must reckon.

NY-23 is a loss to the Democrats. Dommage, and I was ready to gripe in significant displeasure. But via e-mail, Supreme New Ledger Overlord Ben Domenech talks me out of my funk:

I think maybe you are just too far removed from the way this is playing in DC. It really was irrelevant here what happened once Scozzafava got out — Hoffman had no organization really, no experience, no political background, he was just an everyman, and absent Scozzafava’s endorsement of the Democrat it’s hard to say what would’ve happened (with turnout this low, hard to say). This is maybe the first moment, even more than the tea parties were, when the DC-based groups are actually scared by fiscal conservatives. I mean really, truly scared. They’ve always been scared of pro-lifers and of gun-owners and of anti-taxers, but I am really shocked to hear the kind of fear they’ve got right now about running big spenders. It’s a real shift.

Anyway, I understand you being pissed, I wanted to keep the seat too, but Scozzafava was so horrid on both fiscal and social policy, so it was hard to view her as a win — actually, impossible. And her short-term run/flipflop really played out very similarly to Arlen Specter’s. Just reeked. I just think that there would’ve been very few additional lessons from this, as Cost says.

[T]he upshot is that the media will spin this as Palin/Bachmann wing of the party being unable to win…which is fine (if somewhat inaccurate — heck, George Pataki was doing the rounds with Hoffman), and the internal dynamic here in DC will be fear about fiscal conservatives among GOP leadership (“we don’t want to see another Dede”)…which is also fine (certainly helps [Florida senatorial candidate Marco] Rubio). So losing the seat should suck from any conservative perspective, but Owens is more conservative than Scozzafava would’ve been, and a united Republican presence will be the favorite to beat him in 2010.

One additional point: this district is huge. Very spread out. Hard to do quick transitions and special elections in such environments. But Hoffman now has name ID and a good six-eight months to make the case he should be both the Conservative and the Republican party choice.

Sounds sensible to me. NY-23 may be gone for now, but Republicans stand a good chance of getting it back in a year.

Much of the Republican success, of course, comes from the increasing amount of port-side dissatisfaction with President Obama, dissatisfaction Arianna Huffington gives voice to in reviewing David Plouffe’s new book:

Indeed, reading the book, I often found myself wondering what Candidate Obama would think of President Obama. Would he look at what the White House is doing and say, “that’s what I and my supporters worked so hard for?”

How did the candidate who got into the race because he’d decided that “the core leadership had turned rotten” and that “the people were getting hosed” become the president who has decided that the American people can only have as much change as Olympia Snowe will allow?

How did the candidate who told a stadium of supporters in Denver that “the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result” become the president who has surrounded himself with the same old players trying the same old politics, expecting a different result?

How could a president whose North Star as a candidate was that he “would not forget the middle class” choose as his chief economic advisor a man who recently argued against extending unemployment benefits in the middle of the worst economic times since the Great Depression?

I’m referring, of course, to Larry Summers. According to a White House official I spoke with — later confirmed by sources in the White House and on the Hill — Summers was against the extension. And it took a lot of Congressional pushing back behind the scenes for the president to overrule him.

And, according to another senior White House official, when foreclosures or job numbers come up at the regular White House morning meeting, Summers’ response is that nothing can be done. Nothing can be done about skyrocketing foreclosures or lost jobs.

Nothing can be done — pretty much the opposite of “Yes we can,” isn’t it?

Plouffe, of course, insists that Barack Obama has not lost his mojo, telling us that the President “already has made a significant down payment on the change so many fought for last year,” that “President Obama is a leader; he did not run to occupy the Oval Office but to lead from it,” and praising the supposed “transparency” of the Obama Administration (whom is Plouffe kidding when he writes this nonsense?). When this kind of puffery (Plouffery?) is the best that can be summoned in defense of the Obama Administration, it comes as no surprise to see that Democrats had a bad night tonight.

Make no mistake: One good electoral night does not a complete political revival make. The GOP has to continue to work to improve its standing in the minds of voters. The 2010 elections will be a significantly tougher test for the Republican party, so the GOP cannot rest on its laurels after tonight’s victories. And Barack Obama remains a tough politician and a formidable foe; his precipitous drop in the polls notwithstanding.

But that doesn’t change the fact that a party once considered dead by a good portion of the punditocracy has shown that it has plenty of life in it after all. Democrats who thought that they could walk all over the Republican party in political battles for years to come, now have to think again.

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