Glenn Reynolds provides the top six reasons why he thinks Republicans deserve to lose: (1) the Terri Schiavo affair, (2) the Harriet Miers nomination, (3) Dubai ports, (4) immigration, (5) Speaker Hastert’s response to the raid of Rep. Jefferson’s office, and (6) Foleygate. I think this list is less an explanation of why Republicans deserve to (or may well) lose, and more a demonstration of why it’s so difficult for a party to remain in power for a long time.
Any lengthy stay in power will produce scandals that aren’t handled well, botched nominations (though Bush fixed the Miers botch), issues that divide the base, issues that produce strong conflicts between the base and swing voters, and issues where the strong beliefs of the the president are out-of-step with key segments of public opinion. Indeed, if Glenn’s list and matters like it were the problem, I’d like Republican chances much better. Though Glenn is hardly the only independent-minded voter concerned about the items on his list, I suspect that the party’s biggest problems with swing voters have to do with Iraq and maybe Hurricane Katrina. If the party has a serious problem with its base (and I’m not sure it does), I doubt it’s because of Terri Schiavo. The party would be in more trouble with the base had it not behaved as it did during those sad days.
To govern, as the cliche goes, is to choose. A party that governs for an extended period must make a lot of difficult choices — ones that are guaranteed, whichever way they go, to alienate portions of the party’s coalition. Terri Schiavo is a perfect illustration. The party needs voters like Glenn, but it also needs conservative Christians. Even with respect to immigration, the one subtantive item on Glenn’s list that I think may hurt the party, the politics is not altogether straightforward. The 2004 election proved that Republicans need a decent share of the Hispanic vote. Thus, although I believe that the administration’s position was wrong here both politcally and on the merits, one can argue that it would have been a mistake for the national party to have taken a harder line. In fact, the party has poll data which (though unpersuasive in my view) purports to show this. In any case, the Republican House did take a hard line, and individual members remain free to run hard on that line if it’s advantageous for them to do so in a particular district.
In his movie Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood said “deserves got nothing to do with it.” I think that will be mostly true if the Republicans sustain a major defeat in three weeks.
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