From Arizona to Kentucky to Indiana to that one sex club in Los Angeles, the GOP has been in one imbroglio after another. In the “election of the angry-at-anything-voter”, what is the GOP strategy for victory in November?
To be honest, I do not know if they quite have one at this point. I mean, it looked like the Tea Party was going to be the catalyst for a Republican landslide last year. These conservatives were fired up and ready to demolish the Democrats over weak leadership, an “unpopular” health care bill, and a general sense of depression among liberal activists over the seemingly insurmountable odds staring them in the face with regards to the implementation of the Democratic agenda that swept into office only months before.
A few things have changed since then, the most pressing thing being the position of the Tea Party in the Republican Party. While they were simply seen as a force for protest in 2009, they have become a monster all their own, and the Republican Party may end up being its own biggest casualty. Tea Party-backed candidates have triumphed in Utah, where three-term conservative Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) will not appear on the Republican primary ballot after failing to garner enough votes at the Utah State GOP Convention. They have also triumphed in Kentucky, where Dr. Rand Paul is now the Republican nominee to face Attorney General Jack Conway in that state’s U.S. Senate race.
The problem, though, is that these candidates may not be very polished and, by extension, worse candidates. Take the Paul conundrum over civil rights. Now, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed 46 years ago and is settled law. When asked about his views, he could have simply said, “I feel that the de jure racism of our past is a settled matter. I support freedom for all, regardless of creed or color. Period.” Yet, he could not resist making his libertarian defense of freedom from regulation, and it may cost the Republicans a safe seat in the U.S. Senate. Now, can anyone tell me that Trey Grayson would have somehow been less conservative? That is what I thought, too.
The same situation has played out in Arizona, where pressure from Tea Party operatives and right-wing immigration groups forced Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R-AZ) hand in signing some of the most regressive immigration policy since the internment camps of World War II. This will have a grave effect on efforts to recruit Latino support for Republican candidates in the fall. The much ballyhooed strategy to recruit minority GOP candidates may have been seriously damaged by these events.
Then, you have the sex scandals. Their effect on depressing the GOP faithful needs no further explanation besides to say that I’m pretty shocked that a party rocked by these sorts of events in 2006 would not have learned its lesson by now.
So, my question is this: given all this, what is the path for Republican victory? First, we must define victory. A victory must be more than usual; simply winning 20-25 House seats and 4-5 Senate seats is no victory. That is normal for a first-term President’s first midterm election. A victory would constitute a 30+ seat gain in the House and a 7+ seat gain in the Senate. How possible is this? On the House side, it is quite possible. With the bulk of new Democratic Congresspeople coming from places like Idaho-1 or Virginia-5 (rural, conservative districts that strongly tilt red in federal elections), I would expect that a lot of these will be swept out of office. They would still need a few swing districts, and after the Critz victory in Pennsylvania, those doors may not be as open as once thought, especially if the economy continues to tick upward. In the Senate, it is nearly impossible. Winning all five tossups plus a Connecticut or a Washington? I do not see that happening. The GOP will campaign on the deficit, and that will get people fired up for sure. However, how many people can even say what the federal deficit is? How about the national debt?
This election will come down to GOTV; midterms always do. But with the recent missteps from the GOP, the tidal wave that appeared to be ready to thunder onto the electoral shores of November may end up gliding in like a gentle wave. It will sure be fun to watch.