The invaluable Michael Barone takes a look at the latest polling and sees trouble for the Republicans in 2008. Over the last five years, party identification in the US has shifted in favor of the Democrats. Part of it, Barone says, comes from a lack of demonstrated competence on the part of the administration, which erodes one of the GOP’s key arguments for Republican rule. Will this allow the Democrats to sweep the 2008 elections? Barone looks at a similar situation in Britain and thinks not:
In the early 1990s, Britain’s Conservatives were regarded as nasty but competent. Then, Britain was forced to devalue its currency. Mortgage payments shot up, and the Conservatives’ reputation for competence vanished. The result: Tony Blair’s Labor Party won huge victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005.
The scenario here would be for Democrats to enlarge their congressional majorities and sweep to a 40-state presidential victory in 2008. The Republicans’ reputation for competence was damaged by Iraq and Katrina. Under the Blair scenario, they would go further downhill, especially if Iraq is still seen as a losing cause.
Why it won’t happen: Labor won only after Tony Blair rebranded the party as New Labor, with moderate policies. If the Old Labor-party leader John Smith had not died suddenly in 1994, to be replaced by the 41-year-old Blair, Labor might have lost or won only narrowly — or so the British political experts I trust believe.
Here, Democrats don’t seem to be rebranding themselves as “new Democrats,” as Bill Clinton did successfully in 1992. As for competence, Republicans will have a new leader in 2008, and the candidates now polling the highest — Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney — can plausibly claim that quality.
To the list of perceived incomptencies, one has to add the mess at the Department of Justice. The firings of the eight US Attorneys, the process used, and the absolutely self-immolating manner in which they were handled has done nothing to bolster confidence in Alberto Gonzales or the administration. Barone is right in that these will come into play in 2008, but the lack of any administration official in the race will minimize the impact.
The Democrats have missed an opportunity, at least thus far. With the GOP floundering a bit, they have a chance to aim for the moderates and the centrists. Instead, however, their leading presidential contenders are spending most of their time pandering to the anti-war base. Hillary may be the only candidate who has shown willingness to defy them, but only occasionally. No Democrat wants to get outflanked on their left in this race so far, and that will leave the center unattended.
What does this mean? It bolsters the argument for Rudy Giuliani or perhaps John McCain. If the Republicans can woo back the center for 2008, they may be able to hold onto the White House even if they cannot win back majorities in Congress. With the party affiliation numbers coming up the way they are, Congress looks more and more like a long shot.