The Happy Leftie

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Karl Rove Failing or Flailing?: Republicans Desperate to Find Message for 2006

For too long, the media have bought into the Republican meme that the Democrats have no ideas. During the debate over Social Security, for example, reporters harped on the fact that the Democrats had not presented an alternative to President Bush's partial privatization plan, neglecting to mention that the Democrats indeed had a program -- it was called Social Security, and it has worked astonishingly well for 70 years. Even today, in story after story, journalists peddle the line that Democrats are devoid of a platform heading into November's midterms, and it's unlikely that news of an developing Democratic platform will sate reporters lust for stories on the lack of Democratic cohesiveness.

Finally, a couple of reporters for The Washington Post, Dan Balz and Jonathan Weisman, had an epiphany: the Republicans don't have a unified positive platform for the Congressional elections this fall and appear to be less likely than the Democrats to develop one.

While it is a Republican refrain that Democrats criticize Bush but have no positive vision, for now the governing party also has no national platform around which lawmakers are prepared to rally.

Every effort so far to produce such a platform has stumbled.

Because of these realities, Republicans have adopted a midterm strategy designed to avoid making the election a national referendum on their performance or one that focuses on their policy divisions. Their goal is to concentrate less on the kind of positive message they have challenged the Democrats to produce and more on framing a choice that says, however unhappy voters may be right now with the Republicans' leadership, things would be worse if Democrats were in charge.

First of all, the inability to create a cohesive strategy is not a strategy. If the Republicans can't come up with a positive agenda, they are not devilishly smart for localizing the election -- they just can't come up with a positive agenda.

The lack of a positive agenda does not mean that the Republicans are going to be able to localize the midterm elections, however, nor does it mean that they are even trying to. For all of the talk of localizing the elections this fall, the Republicans are sure expending a lot of effort trying to make the elections a referendum on potential Democratic control of Congress. Why else would they try to spin so many stories of the supposed lack of a Democratic platform?

There are two fundamental problems with the Republican strategy of making this election about the Democrats.

This, in and of itself, helps nationalize the elections. The more talk there is of a potential Democratic Congress, the more focus there is on the national Democratic strategy -- or even the lack thereof -- the more November's elections become about the two parties, rather than a series of contests between candidates of the two parties. In an environment in which the Democrats hold a double-digit generic ballot lead, even among likely voters, such nationalization can only hurt the Republicans.

All of the talk about Democrats leads voters to focus more on the Democratic Party and Democratic proposals than the Republican Party and Republican proposals. One of the few advantages Congressional Republicans still have today is that voters have not yet tuned them out, as they have the President. But if they hand the Democrats the bully pulpit by continually talking about Democratic proposals -- or, again, even the supposed lack of Democratic proposals -- there goes their ability to connect with the American voter.

Look, the Democrats don't have this election won yet. Even if they are winning the tactical battles of this campaign -- and I do believe that they are -- there are still a number of institutional barriers inhibiting their path to victory this fall. All the same, the Republicans are falling apart at the seems now, and if they can't get their act together soon, incumbency and gerrymandering aren't going to keep them in control of the United States House.