Signs of a coming Republican wave
Americans appear ready to march right on Election Day
Although signs of the political wave Republican leaders have been praying for may be peeking over the horizon, it’s been late in coming this year as many contestable Senate, House and gubernatorial races have remained up in the air for months. There are a number of reasons for the lack of clarity. Republican Senate challengers face entrenched Democratic incumbents who have been raising money for years and, in almost every case, have more cash in the bank. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has put together a series of super PACs to do whatever may prove necessary to protect his Senate majority and has been running attack ads against Republicans that have set a lower standing for truthfulness than anyone could have imagined possible when the current cycle began. Even The Washington Post’s “fact checker” has marveled at the way Mr. Reid’s friends are playing fast and loose with the facts in their attack ads this year.
Democrats may not want to appear with President Obama, but they’ve welcomed the millions of dollars he has raised for them. The president has already appeared at two dozen Senate committee-sponsored fundraisers, more than President George W. Bush attended and twice as many as President Reagan attended in their eight years in office. Those millions have kept afloat Democrats who might have already drowned, if left to their own devices.
Still, last week, Republican candidates finally began putting distance between themselves and their Democratic opponents as voters began actually looking at the candidates, facing the fact that they are going to have to make a choice on Nov. 4 not between a dream candidate with whom they agree on every issue and an opponent they really dislike, but between two human, flawed contenders seeking their support.
That decision was easier for voters in 1994 and 2010, two GOP wave elections similar to what Republicans have been hoping for this year. In both, voters angry at the policies the Democrats were pursuing, as well as at the condition of the country, couldn’t wait to fire them and happily voted for their Republican opponents. In both cases, millions of voters were willing to take a chance on the Republicans because they thought they just had to be better than the Democrats they wanted to send packing.
This year, voters aren’t so sure. They’ve voted Republican in the past and have been disappointed. They don’t want to wake up on Nov. 5 to find that nothing has changed. It’s why pollsters tell us voters have been saying they aren’t as excited about voting this fall as one might expect, and it’s why significant numbers are weighing the wisdom of casting a “protest” vote for independent, third-party or libertarian minor candidates — even in close races.
As Election Day approaches, many, if not most, of these hesitant voters are rethinking the consequences of sitting this one out or casting a protest vote that could leave the Senate in Democratic hands. It’s easy enough to suggest, as some have for decades, that there isn’t much difference between the two parties, but that simply isn’t true. The differences between the most conservative and most liberal Republicans pale when one compares them to the stark differences between the most liberal Republicans and the most conservative Democrats.
The parties are, for good or ill, more starkly homogeneous today than at any time in our history. The Democratic Party of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy has morphed into a European-style Social Democratic party that neither man would recognize. The national Democratic Party doesn’t have much ideological breadth as it appeals mainly to class envy, racial prejudice and moneyed liberal elites.
They may have to rely on a narrow base, but Democrats are more convinced than ever that to win, all they have to do is secure their base vote, figure out how to outdo the opposition mechanically, and so demonize the opposition that even voters who don’t like Democratic candidates or the direction they’re taking the country won’t be able to bring themselves to vote Republican. The strategy proved deadly effective in 2012, and Democratic leaders are hoping it will work again.
As the Democrats prepare to deliver their voters on Nov. 4, Republicans and conservatives upset enough with their party’s candidates to sit this one out or vote for a third candidate are the Democrats’ ace in the hole. Early polls show upward of 90 percent of Democratic voters have already decided to support their party in important races, while 20 percent or more of Republicans remain undecided.
As the prospect of another two years of Mr. Obama’s uncontested power sinks in, voters disgruntled with the president and his party are finally deciding to express their displeasure by voting for Republicans. As that happens, the wave Republicans have prayed for is building and could leave the big-spending friends of Messrs. Obama and Reid wondering why all the money they raised and spent didn’t make that much difference in the end. David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.