Simple Answers to Simple Questions
by Jonathan Singer, Mon Dec 08, 2008 at 08:15:54 AM EST
Chris Cillizza asks, "Are Republicans on the March?"
In the wake of an election cycle dominated by bad news for Republicans, the last five days have been a welcome relief.
Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss cruised to a runoff victory last Tuesday, and House Republicans held Louisiana's 4th district and pulled off a massive upset win over Rep. Bill Jefferson in Louisiana's 2nd district on Saturday.
Those three developments have led some Republicans to insist that what happened on Nov. 4 was almost entirely due to President-elect Barack Obama's unique electoral appeal and that when the soon-to-be-president is not on the ballot -- the 2010 midterm elections -- his party will not fare nearly as well.
The simple answer to Cillizza's question is, "no," Republicans aren't on the march. Surprisingly enough, the more complex answer is also "no."
Cillizza does concede that the Republican victory in Georgia came in a state that has, not withstanding Barack Obama's strong showing on November 4, been trending noticeably away from the Democratic Party and towards the Republican Party in recent years. He also does note that the Republican win in Louisiana-4 came in a district that is very red, and that the surprise upset of "Dollar" Bill Jefferson came against a Democratic incumbent sporting 16 criminal indictments.
However, Cillizza concludes, "The wins in Georgia and Louisiana give Republicans something to rally around -- a not insignificant development given the massive losses the party suffered in 2006 and 2008... [T]hey lay the foundation for at least the possibility of a comeback in 2010 and beyond."
I submit, however, that this is reading way to much into these elections. First and foremost, the Republicans' problem isn't that they can't win in the south -- it's the exact opposite, in fact. Republicans are facing so much difficulty nation-wide because their focus is so overwhelmingly on the South. They are a Party that no longer looks like the whole country but rather one region of the country. Scoring a few more wins in that region won't go far in reversing this trend.
What's more, special elections aren't tremendously good predictors of future developments. In early 2004 Democrats won special elections in significantly more difficult races in Kentucky and South Dakota than the Republicans faced this fall in Georgia and Louisiana and came out with strong victories -- only to face one of their most stinging defeats in November 2004. Democratic victories in early 2008 special elections in red districts did presage later victories in the fall, but that just isn't always the case. So over-reading the implications of these December 2008 contests is ill-advised.
But more broadly, look at where we stand now. The last time the Republicans had as many seats in the House of Representatives as the Democrats now hold was following the 1928 elections. As best I can tell, the last time the Republicans have had a greater share of Senate seats than the Democrats now hold was following in the 1920 elections. Perhaps one could argue that Republicans have nowhere to go but up from this point (though I don't think that's the case if they continue on the path of obstructionism against popular and necessary policy shifts). But to merely pass on conclusory talking points asserting that the Republicans are back in action merely because they won three quirky, low turnout affairs in the South seems to me to be without basis.