Friday, October 26, 2007

Conventional Wisdom on 2008 Could Be Wrong

In his new column, "Hold Your Conventional Wisdom," William Kristol gives three reasons why it's wrong to predict 2008 as the year of the Democrats:

1) The Democrats' takeover of both houses of Congress last November turns out to have been a mixed blessing for them. The approval numbers for the Democratic Congress have been trending downward. It hasn't been easy for Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to keep the party's liberal base and its new supporters happy at the same time. And the Bush White House has made some adjustments. The election defeat coincided with a crisis about how to move forward in Iraq. Bush decided against Donald Rumsfeld but also against the Iraq Study Group, and for General David Petraeus and the surge. Democrats forecast an even deeper quagmire. Instead, we've seen progress -which could well continue and broaden. Meanwhile, Michael Mukasey - not Alberto Gonzales - will be making the case for the Administration on the tools it needs to conduct the war on terrorism. A respected and independent former judge, Mukasey will have credibility that Gonzales could only dream of.

2) Polls still show a hangover from November 2006, with Democrats having an advantage. But history suggests that may not hold up. Winning control of Congress doesn't necessarily signify much about the next presidential contest. The last time Congress flipped was 1994 - and that GOP sweep was followed by a Bill Clinton victory in 1996. Democrats took back the Senate (and thus control of both bodies of Congress) in 1986, and George H.W. Bush won easily in 1988. Voters like checks and balances.

It's true that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama now run ahead of the GOP candidates in matchups. But as often as not in recent presidential elections, the candidate who eventually won had trailed at some point by margins as large as those now facing the likely Republican nominees. This was true of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bush in 1988 and Clinton in 1992. And in the two most recent elections, Republicans haven't done badly. The GOP candidate made a far closer race of it than expected in a special election in the strongly Democratic 5th Congressional District in Massachusetts, losing by only 6 points despite being outspent about 4 to 1. And 36-year-old Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal won the governorship of Louisiana with a majority in the first round of balloting.

3) Watching the Republican candidates in the debate in Orlando, Fla., I wasn't filled with dread about the general election. The Democrats are going to nominate either a one-term Senator (Clinton) or a half-term Senator (Obama), neither with much in the way of legislative achievements. Against that, the GOP will offer one of the following: a remarkably successful two-term mayor (Rudy Giuliani), a business leader as well as Governor (Mitt Romney), a four-term Senator and war hero (McCain), an effective two-term Governor (Mike Huckabee) or a Senator with as much experience as Clinton and who was a star prosecutor and has an appealing personal story (Fred Thompson).
The strength of Kristol's argument lies in his points on Iraq (where security has improved and the public has recognized the gains) and the success of Republicans in recent elections (like Bobby Jindal in Louisiana).

But I'd be careful myself in throwing too much water on the Democrats' parade. While polls show
deep dissatisfaction with Congress, voters are twice as likely to view the Democratic majority favorably compared to Congress in general.

Also, there's deep unease in the country on health care and other issues. The Repubicans need to decide quickly on their nominee in the primaries - no matter which candidate ends up getting the nod. The race for the general election will be tight, but Republicans can't afford a long, drawn-out nomination battle (better to unify early around a standard-bearer), and they need to run the best presidential campaign in party history.