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December 18, 2008


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I think there's a fallacy of composition in your conclusion. A political party isn't the sum of its candidates. American political parties aren't especially small-d democratic institutions, and a vote for the last decent (or least depraved) member of a party means very little in terms of party reform.

As for your other point, given the unresponsiveness of the Republican Party to move towards moderate or centrist positions, it strikes me that oppositional candidates would find the primary system more useful. After all, the Democratic Party has a much larger tent.

Doug (not Muir)

A few more rounds of electoral therapy may do the Republican party a world of good. Right now it looks like they will respond to public rejection of their wingnutty way by becoming even wingnuttier than before. For this ailment, Dr Electorate should prescribe more losses.

The sign of recovery that I think you might be looking for is willingness of the national party to give some real power to moderate members. That's the kind of thing they've been unwilling to do since at least 1994, and possibly much longer. I recall one of the effective lines against Connie Morella (one of the most liberal Rs in Congress) was that people liked her well enough, but the first thing she would do would be to vote for Tom DeLay to run Congress. Moderates didn't seem to be doing any moderating.

I'm still a legal resident of the District of Columbia, and, as such, disenfranchised when it comes to the House and the Senate.


"At the opposite extreme, let's take a race for a state-level legislative position in a state house that's completely dominated by the Democrats. In this case, the Republican candidate hardly carries any penalty at all. Half a letter grade, let us say. He or she need only be somewhat better than the rival Democrat to claim my vote. That's because (1) state elections are much less consequent,"

Statements that could only come from a non-Californian. (And yes, I know what you mean in general. I'm just nit-picking.)

Will Baird

In California, the Republican and Democratic Parties need to be taken out back for a whuppin.

So do the voters for that matter.

This place is making *NEW*MEXICO* look sane.


Hasn't it always been true that we have a dominant political party that overreaches and then collapses? Jackson's "Democracy" giving way to the Free Soil/Republican coalition, FDR's New Deal Coalition riding high until Nixon smashed it...

We won North by God Carolina, home of frakkin' Jesse Helms, so there. Whether this is realignment, give it time.

The more serious problem is that the GOP seems to have drifted further away from mainstream politics and clung to power longer than its historical counterparts headed for the political rocks. Thought: Since 2000, the GOP has been living on borrowed time thanks to 9/11. The collapse then would've been slower, but would've been just as strong.

Carlos: contrary to your point, the modern GOP is sort of the sum of its candidates, at least in the sense that since the Reagan era, it's overselected for zeal and stupid, and now finds itself in a bind (Hi Richard Shelby) that have led it down the path to epic fails that are just confusing sometimes. The other thing is that the post-Nixon GOP has built up strong institutional incentives against reformist candidates or reformist politics, tending to punish heterodoxy, especially at the federal/national level.

Scott Raun

Was it the Whigs that collapsed as a party just before the Republicans were formed pre-Civil War? Maybe something similar will happen this time.

I am aware that the Democrats & Republicans have ... mutated through time. I just wonder if the damage done to the Republican name has been bad enough that it'll die, and a more centrist third-party come into being?

David Weman

"Interestingly, the U.S. House of Representatives is relatively inconsequent at the moment. The Democrats have a 79-seat advantage. Barring some vast political upheaval they're going to be firmly in charge for the next couple of cycles."

Doug, you're living in a dream world. There's an excellent chance the US economy will be in the shitter in 2010, therefore the GOP has a decent chance of reclaiming the majority.

David Weman

"Hasn't it always been true that we have a dominant political party that overreaches and then collapses? Jackson's "Democracy" giving way to the Free Soil/Republican coalition, FDR's New Deal Coalition riding high until Nixon smashed it..."

No, overreaching has rarely had anything to do with why a party lost power.

Douglas Muir

David, I demur. I agree that the US economy may be in deep trouble in 2010, but I have trouble seeing how this translates into a 40-seat swing for the GOP.

The last swing of that size was in 1994, and it only happened because a large block of Southern and Western seats had been slowly sliding into the red over the last decade. That couldn't happen today, because a surprising chunk of today's Democratic majority is in safe or safe-ish seats. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight sums it up nicely:

"[T]he Democrats have a pretty strong buffer against Republican gains at the margins, which might be pretty useful to them since parties taking over the White House typically lose seats at the next midterm election. For example, suppose that Republicans gain 5 points across the board in 2010 (so that, for instance, a district which they lost by 3 points in 2008, they'd win by 2 points in 2010). If the Republicans managed to do this, the Democrats would lose just 15 seats, still holding 242 to the Republicans' 193. Suppose instead that the Republicans gained 10 points across the board. Surely that would give them back control of the chamber, right? Not really -- it only nets them 7 additional seats, giving them 200 to the Democrats' 235. Finally, suppose that the Republicans gained 15 points across the board. Even then, the Democrats would retain possession of the House by a narrow 219-216 margin. Put more succinctly, an outright majority of the House is now controlled by Democrats who won their elections by 15 points or more."

This doesn't present an unbreakable lock on the House by any means. But it does give an advantage that it will be rather hard for the GOP to overcome in just a single cycle.

Doug M.

Douglas Muir

Carlos, you're right that parties aren't particularly democratic organizations. In the case of the GOP, the current mess is the result of a behind-the-scenes transformation that took place over a generation or so. Broadly speaking, a new class of unelected GOP operatives -- congressional staffers, executive branch appointees, political consultants, RNC and state-level political bureaucrats and organizers -- arose in the late 1970s and 1980s, replaced or pushed aside their predecessors, and came to dominate the party. It was a startlingly fast process, mostly completed in just over a decade; when it was done, the outside face of the party had changed only a little, but its internal wiring had been dramatically reconfigured.

That said, I do think there are benefits to expanding the least-screwed tail of the party. Especially right now.

Doug M.


If voting for the least bad Republicans is unable to change the internal wiring of the Republican Party, then what are the benefits to voting for them? (As opposed to voting for an oppositional candidate within a Democratic primary, if your worries are based on a lack of opposition.) I would think that as a party grows more unresponsive, the less reason there would be to bother.

And why is it more urgent to do so "especially right now" than (say) in 1998?

Noel Maurer

First, I want to reiterate that I agree that state parties and the national parties are different animals. Frex, if I lived in NYC, I would vote for Bloomberg's reelection even had he remained a titular Republican.

Second, Carlos's phrase, "fallacy of composition," exactly captures my argument against Doug's (former) willingness to vote for a GOP senator or representative. There is a great deal of evidence that the modern GOP leadership is very successful at controlling the congressional agenda when it is in control of Congress. Let's call a party centralized in such a way a "parliamentary party."

There are two ways to change a parliamentary party from the bottom up. (1) Don't vote for it. Eventually the leadership will become desperate to regain power and change the party from within, or the party will die. (2) Vote for reformists but pray that the party doesn't go back into a majority before they get control of the apparatus.

(2) is a risky strategy.

Dennis Brennan

Doug: let me ask you this, because this is a choice that I personally will very likely have to make:

Arlen Specter or Chris Matthews?

Jussi Jalonen

Speaking as someone whose political context is a parliamentary democracy, Noel is right.

The solution one is, _for an average voter_, the only viable alternative. I haven't voted for the Social Democrats for ages for the same exact reason.

I have to add a proviso that the option two is, however, perfectly acceptable if you're not simply an average voter; that is, if you still feel some small affinity towards the party in question, and you actually want to be directly involved in its reform in order to restore or maintain that affinity. In that case, well, vote for the right person within the party, and just follow your conscience. That's the right thing to do.

Even though Douglas already noted that he's no longer a card-carrying member, and more or less completely outside the party, it may be that this is still an issue for him. His personal ability to reconcile with his own political past and with the current political situation can probably be determined from the post with which he started this thread.


J. J.

Mike Ralls

If you guys are right and President Obama is a lock in 2012 it's interesting to note that it will be the first time since 1801 - 1817 that we've had three Presidents in a row be elected to a second term. Dice hiccup, or part of the trend of increasing power to incumbent? I'd go for the former myself because 2004 was pretty close and I'm not convinced that 2012 is a lock (who was it that said "Event's me, boy, events" when asked what would determine his term in office?) but we'll see.



Just pray that it's Rendell v. Club for Growth.

OTOH, Madame Sec. and other players strongly dislike the idea of Sen. Matthews, including the potential future lady Sen. from NY. So, that might sink him before he starts.

Noel; I think that even leaving the parliamentary body aside, the RNC has a very high level of ideological...control. Centralization, perhaps. If you go back and watch the debates, the technocratic Governor of Massachusetts who introduced semi-universal health care tried to out Reagan the Tranny former Mayor of New York. Heterodoxy like Ron Paul was unacceptable, a sort of lesse majeste or something.

Though the Democratic Party tried to run against Hoover for a generation after FDR, it looks like the GOP has gone in for an overarching nationalization/centralization mixed with a cult of personality.

Mike; I'm not sure that 1801-1817 is really an instructive comparison, given how much American politics changed in the immediate post-war era, and how much American politics will change as Boomers flood social security/die off. And it's not so much increased power of incumbents, but a slight mutation of the American Party system after the 1994 revolution, where Congressional fates were tied to either taking out the other party's president (if you're the opposition and in majority) or defending your president at all costs, as his stature/success of agenda will bleed into mid-term elections.

At the same time, the post 2002-06 GOP-held Congress simply ceased to be an independent body and just followed whatever the President wanted, and kept doing it after two punishing electoral defeat. It'll be interesting to see what the Democratic leaders do now that they're no longer heads of party (though Reid is probably a better majority leader with a Democratic President minding the store).

Obama's not an autolock for 2012, but it's unlikely that the GOP will produce someone from their field who will be able to topple Obama, barring a wildcard. I doubt Duncan will keep his job, and the Christianist List with Blackwell and the lady from Texas holds about 40% of the votes, which almost makes Blackwell the next RNC Chairman, which would be...odd. But given that the party's major players like Pawlenty and Sanford are insisting on a balanced-budget congressional amendment and reductions in social services, I can't see how the party will reassemble its logistical tail for a win in 2010, let alone 2012.

On the Democratic side, the DNC has rehired a bunch of campaign staff for a project nick-named OFA 2.0, which is building up for races in 2009 and 2010, across the board, with an eye on the redistricting process, which should solidify Democratic control on a couple of state houses and stabilize front-line Democratic seats in places like Florida.

And even leaving aside the logistics, it'll take a long time for the last eight years to fade to black.

There's a number of ways for Obama to lose in 2012, but they're not the most likely outcomes; Democratic candidate has a lock on about 269 Electoral College Votes, which is one shy of a win. After the sting of the Congressional GOP's distain for the auto bail out, it wouldn't be hard for us to keep Indiana and Ohio, makes Missouri an easy target. Demographics make the case for VA or NC much stronger.

Sometimes a party has to sit out a round.

Noel Maurer

Jussi: I was once a registered Republican, but I never participated in the superstructure the way that Doug did. It didn't occur to me that there might be an emotional attachment there.

Luke: I'm not sure that a party can centralize an ideology without a mechanism to discipline its legislative members. Distinction without a difference, perhaps? I'm also not sure that the Democratic Party is centralized enough to enable anyone to stop Chris Matthews from running (given his personal wealth) except the voters of Pennsylvania.

Doug: a few independent questions.

(1) Why do you believe that Lingle would buck her party when the other "independents" failed to do so on any occasion when their vote would swing the chamber?

(2) Why is it important that the U.S. have an opposition party called the Republican Party?

(3) Why (to repeat Carlos's question) is it particularly important to have a moderate Republican opposition right now, when the Democrats just regained power and are both as centrist and as non-corrupt as it is possible to be?

(4) Given that President-elect Obama appears to be deliberately missing the opportunity to centralize the Democrats the same way that the GOP has been centralized, why is it important that the U.S. have a viable opposition party? Do appearances deceive? If so, how?

(5) Do you have (and there's nothing wrong with this) an emotional attachment to the idea of a viable GOP?

Jussi Jalonen

That's how I read it, anyway; I remembered the comment "Color me as someone who'd like to vote Republican again one day" from April 22nd, 2007.


This post simply seemed like a continuation of that old one. Given his "I don't think it's impossible" assessment at the end of that old post, perhaps Doug is now basically trying to consider how it just might become possible. Or is it something else?

But yes, there's certainly nothing wrong with the idea. Hey, I'd have liked to vote for the Social Democrats several times in the past (and not just once, in 2003, when there were some truly special circumstances [1]), but, well, you know. Political parties with red colour just happen to be out of vogue and out of sync with reality also on this side of the Atlantic.

The difference with me and Doug is, of course, that I'm actually willing to gracefully escort the ailing remnants of the SDP behind the shack and pull the trigger.


J. J.

[1] This thread isn't about Finnish politics, but just in short: back in 2003, the Centre was even more full of sleaze than usual, and involved in potentially illegal activities; the National Coalition had temporarily lost its balls; the Greens had some spectacularly weird candidates; and the Left-Wing Alliance was already cracking up with the delayed revenge of the old Stalinists. _Deo gratias_, the SDP managed to emerge as a viable alternative just by the virtue of being the least worst and the least crazy alternative. [2]

[2] I'm thinking that those Finnish politicians who have occasionally advocated two-party system as a potential replacement for our traditional multiple political sclerosis might be well-adviced to pay attention to this weblog discussion.



I should be clearer, I suppose. The GOP, on its face, has better ideological rigor than the Democratic Party does, post-1968. There are a couple of enforcement mechanisms; the fundraising organs of the party act as approximations of an enforcement mechanism. As the GOP became more successful in the post-1968 era, and has historical outraised the DCCC and the DSCC, the Republicans with certain ideological preferences got more cash. Other stuff too, obvious, pork, Presidential appearances during campaign season, committee seats, so on. That's inside the party.

Outside, the long-term work of the Goldwater refugees to build things like the Federalist Society and the Club for Growth have allowed the development of non-party ideological apparatuses, whose role probably expanded following Reagan with the help of the '94 Revolution. This tends to be more effective in the House than in the Senate, in part because it's cheaper to beat a Rep. in a primary than a Senator, and because our data points on this are few (Spector's Club for Growth enemy v. what happened to Wayne Gilchrist). But there are fewer pro-choice Republicans (Tom Ridge), and fewer pro-gay Republicans, than pro-life Democrats (the Arkansas Congressional Delegation, including one creationist and South Dakota) or anti-gay Democrats.

And that makes sense because until now, the GOP had access and control over the largest wedge of the demographic pie, which was mostly homogenous, post-1968. The post-1968 Democratic Party's college educateds, women, and rainbow coalition plan actually works when the numbers shift.

As for Matthews; I don't think that the Democrats could *stop* him from running (though I think the Sec. State is a Democrat, and there's probably some pretty painfully bad rules about getting on the ballot as a third party candidate) and given that he'd have to win a primary first, I feel like this is a dubious proposition. Ed Rendell's a loudmouth, but he has accumulated regional and in-party favors; if Matthews runs against Rendell in a primary challenge, I'd think the party would back Rendell, and I feel like Matthews would lose. Though it'd be interesting; the "Tim Russert" Democrat running against the Jewish Governor with Pennsyltucky...(shudder).

I'd just be surprised. The Democratic party is a spineless mess, except when it comes to defending its various incumbents, especially the least competent/most corrupt.


If I lived in New Orleans I would have happily voted for Joseph Cao in his successful race for the US House seat against the incumbent "Dollar Bill" Jefferson. This is an easy case because given the overwhelmingly Democratic nature of the district, Cao will very likely be a one-term congressman against any decent Democratic candidate even if the GOP makes substantial gains in the House in 2010.


By the way, Doug, what is this business about "the late" Harris Fawell? I have seen things on him as a Republican for Obama as recently as last month http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/11/03/former-gop-congressman-en_n_140679.html Nor have I seen any indication of his demise since then...



This thread interests me, but aren't people being a bit quick in predicting the death knell of the Republican party?

Fast forward to 2012; the Republicans campaign by harkening to a time when Americans could afford SUVs, when economic growth was real, when Pakistan hadn't fall apart on a President's watch.

ISTM that even Jindal would have a shot at the presidency, in such a scenario.


Noel Maurer

Probably not, unless the GOP changes. Simply put, neo-Hooverism will be a hard sell if the downturn worsens continuously.

Of course, that's also an unlikely scenario.

In other news, happy birthday, Doug!



It's not clear to me that they're pursuing Neo-Hooverism. What do you mean?

Sure, they voted against a stimulus, which was from a national point of view irresponsible, but:

1) if it works, they are no worse off. No Republican benefits running in 2012 on the platform of supporting Obama. If it doesn't, well, they voted against it. So what's the downside for it?

(Sure, approval ratings for Republicans are down now. Let's see if that stays...)

2) Amusingly, they're trying to capture into the wave of populism that's now going on against the financial industry and bailouts.

I don't recall many significant Republicans calling for no stimulus at all; I heard calls for a tax cut based stimulus, which, while I personally don't think could work, doesn't sound very Hooverish.

Moreover, ISTM that even when recovery begins, it'll be something of a slower, messier economic growth than people are used to; americans will probably continue saving more than they have the past few years, for instance, while people's retirement funds have been hit pretty hard. Put it together, and even with recovery people could still feel worse off than in 2007...

But I am not a huge Obama fan, even if I hate the Republican Party with the heat of a thousand stars, so perhaps my bias is shading into this. But it doesn't seem like an Obama victory in 2012, or the death of the GOP is the sure thing people here are portraying it as.

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