Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 2002 / 3 Kislev, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | President Bush has finally won his mandate -- the mandate he did not get in 2000.
After all, Presidents are supposed to have coattails when they get elected. They are not supposed to have coattails in a midterm election. Midterms are when Presidents are supposed to see their parties suffer setbacks in Congress. That's been the rule in virtually every midterm election since the civil war.
In the 1990 midterm, the first President George Bush saw the Republicans lose one Senate seats and eight seats in the House of Representatives. The 1994 midterm was a legendary setback for President Bill Clinton. Democrats lost 8 Senate seats, 52 House seats and control of Congress for the first time in forty years. That was more than a setback. It was a repudiation, albeit a temporary one.
1998 broke another that longstanding precedent. Under threat of impeachment by the GOP Congress, Democrats suffered no net losses in the Senate and actually gained five House seats. The shock was enough to force House Speaker Newt Gingrich to resign.
What are we to make of the fact that the tradition of presidential party setbacks has been broken for a second midterm in a row -- more impressively, in fact, than four years ago? Under George W. Bush, the Republicans have taken back control of the Senate from the Democrats.
And expanded their majority in the House.
Here's one reason why the rule of midterm setbacks no longer applies with regularity: Presidents rarely get elected with coattails any more. Ronald Reagan was the last President who did. Neither George Bush nor Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush saw their parties gain congressional seats the year they first got elected. If a new President doesn't bring gains for his party when he gets elected, his party is less likely to face losses two years later.
The huge Democratic losses of 1994 had nothing to do with Bill Clinton's coattails. They had to do with Bill Clinton's unpopularity.
The reason for the Republicans' impressive gains on Tuesday were essentially political. The election was turned into a referendum on a popular President. Democrats may try to console themselves by claiming that ``all politics is local,'' but that is quite wrong. Republicans enjoyed a massive sweep across the country.
In the Northeast, Republican governors got re-elected in New York and Connecticut. Republicans won open races for governor in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maryland. In the South, Democratic governors got swept away in South Carolina and Georgia, while the GOP held on to four open Senate seats.
If the election proved anything, it was that governors are uniquely vulnerable to bad economies. As of Wednesday morning, twelve governorships had switched parties (seven from Republican to Democratic, and five from Democratic to Republican). Most governors are constrained by balanced budget laws They can not live with deficits, the way the President and Congress can. Governors have to make tough choices either to raise taxes or cut spending. That's why so many of them got the axe.
The governors of the four largest states survived, but they did so for very specific reasons. In the case of Republican George Pataki of New York, it had much to do his enhanced stature after September 11, 2001. In the case of Republicans Jeb Bush of Florida and Rick Perry of Texas, it had much to do with the enhanced stature of George W. Bush after Septembe 11, 2001.
In the case of Democrat Gray Davis of California, it had much to do with the diminished stature of his opponent, Bill Simon, Jr. Simon's campaign was so inept that it appeared to depress GOP turnout across the state. California was the great exception last Tuesday: it was the one state where Democrats turned in a strong performance.
In the rest of the country, the election turned out to be a referendum on Bush because the Republicans set out to make it one. At a time of mounting economic anxiety, Republicans had little going for them except the President's popularity. President Bush's relentless campaign schedule had the effect of rallying his party. In a Gallup poll taken the weekend before the election, 64 percent of likely Republican voters said they felt ``more enthusiastic'' about voting this year than in past elections. The comparable figure for Democrats was 51 percent.
Democrats failed to rally, for the obvious reason that they had nothing much to rally around: no message and no messenger. Democratic congressional leaders let President Bush have his way on Iraq, and they could find no unifying position on the defining issue of Bush's economic program, the tax cut.
Recriminations are now in order. Democrats are scourging themselves for their party's timidity. If only the had been tougher in opposing Bush on the tax cut and Iraq, they say, they might have rallied the party and averted disaster. But such a leftward lurch might have also revived two of the party's most negative stereotypes: tax-lovers and defense-haters. It might have been an even worse disaster.
President Bush took a calculated risk by making himself the central issue in the
campaign. It could have ended badly for the GOP, in which case the election would have damaged
the President's political standing. With a 63 percent job approval rating, however, the risk
looked like one worth taking. President Bush put his clout on the line. And saw it immensely
enhanced by the election results.
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