Republicans have reached a new low in the polls, or at least in the latest Washington Post poll. The perpetual war in Iraq is the leading cause of public disaffection with the GOP, according to the survey. But Karl Rove remains optimistic about November –"We're doing a heck of a job," he says, which might remind you of someone else — and the Post buys into at least one of Rove's talking points, the notion that the Democrats might yet fail to capitalize on the situation because they have no program of their own:
…their improved prospects for November appear driven primarily by dissatisfaction with Republicans rather than by positive impressions of their own party. Congressional Democrats are rating only slightly more favorably than congressional Republicans, and 52 percent of those surveyed said the Democrats have not offered a sharp contrast to Bush and the Republicans.
And the Post poll says that the mood is increasingly anti-incumbent generally, though that didn't matter much in 1994, which was not an anti-incumbent election, despite anti-incumbent public sentiment, but specifically a rout for the Democrats. As Murray Rothbard wrote one week after that election:
The election was not a repudiation of "incumbents." Not when not a single Republican incumbent lost in any Congressional, Senate, or gubernatorial seat. The election was manifestly not simply "anti-Congress," as George Stephanopoulos said. Many governorships and state legislatures experienced upheavals as well. The elections were not an expression of public anger that President Clinton's beloved goals were not being met fast enough by Congress, as Clinton himself claimed. All too many of his goals (in housing, labor, banking, and foreign policy, for example) were being realized through regulatory edict.
No, the meaning of the truly revolutionary election of 1994 is clear to anyone who has eyes to see and is willing to use them: it was a massive and unprecedented public repudiation of President Clinton, his person, his personnel, his ideologies and programs, and all of his works; plus a repudiation of Clinton's Democrat Party; and, most fundamentally, a rejection of the designs, current and proposed, of the Leviathan he heads.
If Rothbard's analysis applies to this year's political climate as well, and I think it does, the "anti-incumbent" mood isn't going to matter and the Democrats don't need a program: November 7 is going to be a referendum on Bush, and it ain't gonna be pretty. If anything will save the Republicans, it'll be the redistricting they carried out after the 2000 census. Are this year's House contests less competitive than 1994's? I expect so, but I haven't seen any hard data.
Rove plans to use the same wedge issues the Republicans used two years ago in an effort to stanch the losses: gay marriage, terrorism, cultural war stuff. And there'll be some kind of appearance of action on immigration; apparently Monday night's Bush talk went down well with viewers, though I can't really see anything he proposed firing up his base — quite the opposite.
But even if Bush finds a way to thread the needle with immigration — or, from a strictly political perspective, just finds a way to get his base out to vote, however much he risks alienating Hispanics and moderates — and even if the appeal to cultural issues and national-security scaremongering is still as powerful as it was two years ago, which common sense suggests it is, Republicans could find that even among their own voters, and even with the public broadly on their side, they could still lose. Consider how generally good economic news hasn't dissuaded a large majority of the public from the view that the country is on the wrong track.
To borrow a metaphor from aviation, the GOP this election season looks to be in a graveyard spin, where adding more power — that is, popular appeal — to the message isn't going to pull the party out of its dive:
The graveyard spin is an illusion that can occur to a pilot who intentionally or unintentionally enters a spin. For example, a pilot who enters a spin to the left will initially have a sensation of spinning in the same direction. However, if the left spin continues the pilot will have the sensation that the spin is progressively decreasing. At this point, if the pilot applies right rudder to stop the left spin, the pilot will suddenly sense a spin in the opposite direction (to the right). If the pilot believes that the airplane is spinning to the right, the response will be to apply left rudder to counteract the sensation of a right spin. However, by applying left rudder the pilot will unknowingly re-enter the original left spin. If the pilot cross checks the turn indicator, he/she would see the turn needle indicating a left turn while he/she senses a right turn. This creates a sensory conflict between what the pilot sees on the instruments and what the pilot feels. If the pilot believes the body sensations instead of trusting the instruments, the left spin will continue. If enough altitude is lost before this illusion is recognized and corrective action is taken, impact with terrain is inevitable.