Next year in Washington is not going to be a replay of 1995. The analogy is on everyone’s mind in the capital. Many Republicans worry that President Obama will win the public-relations war against Speaker-to-be John Boehner as handily as Bill Clinton bested Newt Gingrich. They should relax.
The parallels are obvious. Both times, a young Democrat had succeeded George Bush in the presidency and then worked with a Democratic Congress to push a liberal agenda. In the next election Republicans ran against big government and won elections up and down the ballot, picking up governorships and seats in the Senate, the House, and state legislatures. Pollster Kristen Soltis points out that much of the data from the 2010 election looks nearly identical to the numbers from 1994. In both elections, for example, roughly 55 percent of independents chose Republican congressional candidates.
Republicans don’t want what happened after the last Republican takeover to recur. During the winter of 1995–96, the new Republican Congress battled with Clinton over the budget — a battle that reached its climax in partial shutdowns of the government. The public sided with Clinton. His approval ratings rose while Gingrich’s plummeted.
The conservative campaign to limit the size and scope of the federal government never really recovered from this defeat. Within a few years congressional Republicans were beginning to run for reelection on pork and incumbency rather than reform, and George W. Bush was advancing a “compassionate conservatism” as a way of distinguishing himself from the Gingrichites.
But there are several differences between 2011 and 1995 that should work in favor of Republicans.
First, Republicans won a larger House majority. In 1995, Republicans had the smallest majority of any Congress since the 1950s. Conservatives were a majority of the majority, but not a majority of the House. Holding the conference together on votes was a constant challenge: Budgets would be too tight for party moderates and too loose for conservative firebrands.
Boehner’s task will be easier. Republicans have the largest majority they have had since the 1940s. For the first time in the modern history of conservatism, the House has an outright conservative majority. Michael Barone says that House Republicans are in the sweet spot: They have enough members that Boehner can let some Republicans out of tough votes, but not so many that they have no cohesion.
Second, Republicans did not take the Senate, as they did in 1995. As a result, the public will be less likely to hold them responsible for governing the country. When House Republicans passed legislation that could not pass a Republican Senate, conservatives were demoralized and the party looked incompetent. Neither effect will be as pronounced if a Democratic Senate kills House-passed conservative legislation.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, will have an easier time keeping his conference together in the minority. Getting Rand Paul to sign off on a McConnell agenda would be a lot harder than getting him to agree to oppose Harry Reid’s. Finally, if there are veto fights with President Obama, they will necessarily involve legislation that had significant Democratic support.
Third, the fact that Republicans came up short in the Senate elections will probably temper their triumphalism. At the start of 1995, a lot of conservatives believed that history was on their side and would roll over anyone standing in their way. They thought Clinton was a sure loser. The Republican takeover was widely described as a “revolution.” This time Republicans are well aware that Obama could win reelection and that Republicans could lose House seats in 2012. [...]
Ramesh Ponnuru goes on to give a total of eleven reasons why things are going to be substantially different this time. Read the whole thing; there are so many reasons! The way he explains it is very well thought out.
At last, some hope for optimism. If the Republicans screw up this time, it will have to be for very different reasons than last time. Lets keep their feet to the fire, and say our prayers that they do good this time.
Obama Can't Play Center
Should Obama pull a Clinton? This has been a burning question inside the Beltway ever since the polls showed the Great Shellacking bearing down on the White House.
As most know by now, pulling a Clinton isn't anything kinky; it simply means moving to the center, or "triangulating" between the unpopular left and the unpopular right. That's what President Clinton did after the Democrats' historic drubbing at the polls in 1994, and it's what a lot of would-be sages argue President Obama must do now after the rout of 2010.
But the argument is deeply flawed for a few simple reasons: 2011 will be very different than 1995; the Republicans and the Democrats are different than they were then; and Obama is very, very different than Clinton.
Other than that, the analogy is perfect.
Even outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi concedes the political importance of the economy. In 1995, the economy was poised to take off like a rocket. Today, no one thinks the economy is about to perform in a way that would provide a glide path to re-election for Obama. If at the end of Obama's first term, near 10 percent unemployment is the "new normal," as Obama fretted recently on "60 Minutes," then his chances for re-election are bleak -- so long as the GOP doesn't throw him a lifeline, the way it did Clinton in 1995-96.
And the GOP is not only determined not to repeat those mistakes, it is well positioned to avoid them. With Democrats controlling the Senate, it will be much harder for Obama to run against a do-nothing Congress. [...]
Yep. It will indeed be different this time. It goes on to point out that Clinton's road map wouldn't help Obama, even if he were inclined to use it. The terrain is too different. It will be up to Obama to find his own way through it, and make it work. If he can.