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Nine observations on the Republican comeback

(1) Has the Republican's newest Senator come up with a unifying anti-Obama message for Republicans? Fred Barnes summarises Brown's anti-Obama message as "raising taxes, taking over our health care, and giving new rights to terrorists is is the wrong agenda for our country.” Barnes says it's "a mantra conservatives, tea party people, moderates, and independents can embrace."

C-HOME-elephant-chase (2) Every Democrat up for re-election in November 2010 will feel vulnerable. George Will in his reflections on Scott Brown's victory notes an unfortunate statement from Barack Obama. On December 15th the President said that "we are on the precipice of an achievement that's eluded Congresses and presidents for generations." "Precipe", says the OED, means "a headlong fall or descent, esp. to a great depth." Unfortunate!

Will continues:

"By promising to cast the decisive 41st vote against the president's health-care legislation, the Republican candidate forced all congressional Democrats to contemplate this: Not even frenzied national mobilization of Democratic manpower and millions of dollars could rescue one of the safest Democratic seats in the national legislature from national dismay about the incontinent government expansion, of which that legislation is symptomatic."

By 55% to 39% Americans want Obama's Health Bill suspended.

(3) Massachusetts was not a one off; this was Obama's third electoral bruising. "President Obama carried Massachusetts by 26 points on Nov. 4, 2008. Fifteen months later, on Jan. 19, 2010, the eve of the first anniversary of his inauguration, his party's candidate lost Massachusetts by five points. That's a 31-point shift. Mr. Obama won Virginia by six points in 2008. A year later, on Nov. 2, 2009, his party's candidate for governor lost by 18 points—a 25 point shift. Mr. Obama won New Jersey in 2008 by 16 points. In 2009 his party's incumbent governor lost re-election by four points—a 20-point shift." (From Peggy Noonan).

(4) The Republicans must avoid looking cocky. "I can disagree in the daytime and have a coffee or beer later on," said Brown. All Republicans need to become like that. Jubilation at Obama's expense won't help Republicans. Most Americans still like their President and, even more, they respect the office.

(5) Scott Brown won with a very conservative message on national security (in a very liberal state). Politico records one of his key campaign messages:

“I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation - they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.”

See the same message in this campaign video:

Overseas wars may now be deeply unpopular but other components of Bush's 'war on terror' like tough domestic security measures remain electorally potent.

(6) David Frum hopes that the Republicans will end what he sees as the narrowness of recent years:

"Republicans have seemed determined to neaten their party by narrowing it... The Club for Growth targeted Utah Republican Sen. Robert Bennett for a primary challenge. (Bennett offended the club by co-authoring a health reform plan that included an individual mandate to buy insurance.) Similarly, the most electable Republican seeking to fill Barack Obama’s former senate seat in Illinois, Rep. Mark Kirk, has been targeted by a gay-baiting whisper campaign and attacks on his concern for the environment. John McCain’s 2008 election strategy depended on winning Pennsylvania, yet the most popular Republican in Pennsylvania, former Gov. Tom Ridge, was precluded as running mate because of his pro-choice views. Republicans used to have a substantial pro-choice constituency. But no pro-choice candidate has made it on a national ticket since 1976 – sending a message to politically ambitious Republicans in the Northeast and California that their future inside the GOP has a low ceiling."

(7) The Republicans still have a mountain to clim to win back Congress.  Noting that Democrats have $175 million to the Republicans' $114 million, Politico reports the historical precedents: "Republicans on Capitol Hill hope their moment will come again in November. But the numbers are daunting across the board. The most important ones: 40, the net seats to win the House, and 10, the net seats to win the Senate, are very difficult — perhaps impossible in the case of the Senate — to achieve. Republicans have picked up 40 or more House seats only seven times since 1912, when the chamber grew to 435 seats. They have picked up 10 or more Senate seats only four times in that period. They have done both three times in the past century."

(8) The GOP has "won the internet". Building on an article from Ross Douthat in the New York Times, Patrick Ruffini and Mindy Finn report how the Republicans have won back the internet.  They might not be ahead of the Democrats but they are competitive.

(9) But it ain't over for Obama. Far from it. I've italicised the key sentence from Joe Klein's piece in TIME: "The parallels between Clinton and Obama in their first years are striking. Both passed significant economic legislation — Clinton passed an economic package, complete with tax increase, that set it on a path toward the balanced budgets of his second term — despite a stone wall of Republican opposition. Both were driven by ambition and high-mindedness to chase the health care phantasm. And both seemed to lose track of basic gutbucket politics in the process. In a way, and despite the stubborn jobless economic recovery, Obama is in a stronger political position than Clinton was. He has had his debacle earlier. He has the rest of the year — a millennium in politics — to move in a direction that is more likely to gain immediate public approval and limit the expected damage in the 2010 congressional elections."

Tim Montgomerie


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