There is an old law school adage that goes something like: if the law is against you, pound on the facts; if the facts are against you, pound on the law; if both the law and the facts are against you, pound on the table. As the 2014 congressional campaign begins to take shape, I see elements of truth in that.
The Republicans go into the campaign with demographics against them. The numbers of young, minority, and women voting are up and none of these groups find the party very appealing.
At the same time, the unemployment rate is going down, the sluggish recovery at least continues, GDP growth is the highest it has been in years, and the American involvement in Afghanistan is drawing down. President Barack Obama’s approval numbers are not great, but they are not in the tank — although only 29% feel the country is headed in the right direction. Meanwhile, public approval of the Republican Party and its role in Congress is very low.
Which is a good place to ask the question: what is the GOP formula for getting the country rolling again? If the centerpiece is tax cuts, small wonder the party’s numbers are very low. The last two Republican presidents who dramatically cut taxes — Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — couldn’t find enough in their budgets to cut to pay for them. President Reagan’s tax cuts were more than offset by the huge spike in defense spending ($3 trillion over three years), a massive stimulus program if there ever was one. President Bush 43's tax cuts were undercut by two massive wars.
The party needs to do something about immigration because it barely registers support among the growing numbers of Hispanic and Asian voters. Speaker John Boehner says there will be no legislation because Republicans cannot trust the President to enforce stronger border controls — a President who has deported more illegal aliens than any of his predecessors. Isn’t that lack of trust reason enough to pass the law, then embarrass the chief non- enforcer?
Don’t look for budget cuts in the farm bill loaded with lots of Red State pork. And does the party really want to run on cutting food stamps, unemployment benefits, shutting down the government, and investigating Benghazi?
That takes us to Obamacare? Even Republican economists are arguing that the GOP plan for health care cannot seriously be about repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Will the party truly tell twenty-somethings that they have to get off their parents’ policy? Tell those with pre-existing conditions that they are on their own again? Shutdown all of those exchanges that now insure hundreds of thousands? The short answer is “no”.
So what is the agenda? They will rely on their safe districts and run against immigrants, gun control, gay culture and marriage, and so on. Then they will do all they can to ensure that the 2014 turnout model is much closer to the 2010 model than the turnouts of 2008 and 2012 — older, whiter, more conservative. I think that is going to be very difficult. Unlike 2010, Obamacare will have its beneficiaries and cheerleaders in 2014. More Americans will be back to work, if things continue the way they do. And women and Hispanics will be energized to vote — perhaps not in as high numbers as in presidential years, but enough to vote against the GOP.
Meanwhile, the GOP agenda will be focus on one thing: distrust and disgust with the President of the United States. This means that instead of a pro-active, forward-looking agenda, they will run against the man, something they have done twice before and lost at both times.
As things stand today, advantage GOP to keep the House of Representatives and have a shot at winning the Senate. But, despite real disappointment with the President, he has the potential to run against a Congress that is much less popular than he is, admits to stalling on a key piece of legislation because they simply don’t like him, and speaks of states’ rights and the family when they haven’t done much to enable either.
Or maybe just pounding on the table will work.