Opinion

Republicans blew it in 2012 and could again in this year's midterm election

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Politics,Opinion,Op-Eds,Barack Obama,Republican Party,Democratic Party,Mitch McConnell,2014 Elections

It's almost universally accepted that Republicans will pick up a substantial number of Senate seats in this year's midterm election, with most analysts predicting a GOP majority in the upper house come January.

Even MSNBC's Chris Matthews, the godfather of liberal cheerleaders, lamented, "To the Democrats, this election, a rosy scenario is to lose five Senate seats, not six. They could lose 10."

The Democrats' depression may be short-lived because there is a good chance Republicans will blow their 2014 electoral opportunity.

A May 8-11 Gallup Poll reports that 80 percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing, with another Gallup survey showing 72 percent of registered voters feel most members of Congress should not be reelected.

A strong sentiment to "throw all the bums out" doesn’t translate into a partisan mandate for either side of the aisle.

The problem with conventional wisdom in politics is that it is often wrong. It is true that President Obama's job performance numbers are lingering around all-time lows.

It's also true that his status as a lame-duck undermines his ability to get much done for the second half of his second term, and that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, consistently has the lowest favorability rating of any congressional leader.

But none of this automatically translates into GOP victories. The 2012 election offers a warning against premature Republican exuberance.

Two years ago, the same factors were in play with a poor economy and low Obama approval ratings. The GOP only needed four Senate pickups to gain control, compared to six this year, and Democrats had to defend 23 seats versus only 10 for the GOP.

The end result, however, was a Republican net loss of two, including what should be ultra-safe Indiana, which at the same time voted for Mitt Romney over Obama by a 10-point margin.

Current public opinion suggests 2014 could be a reprise of 2012. As recently as May 18, Democrats enjoyed a 4-point edge nationally when voters were asked which party they intended to support for Congress in the fall.

Republicans have fallen 6 points in that category in three weeks. Across the country, views of the GOP congressional leadership are as low as Democrats. That’s hardly the stuff of a landslide.

One bellwether of future fortunes is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is fighting to save his own seat.

Despite Kentucky only giving Obama 38 percent of the vote in 2012, Republican McConnell is tied with Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes and has had disapproval ratings as high as 60 percent this year. At times, his numbers have sunk even lower than Obama's in this very red region.

The Republican establishment’s struggles in the Bluegrass State are about more than one man; trouble there reflects deep voter dissatisfaction with everything from which issues the GOP champions to how they go about fighting for them.

The pickle the party is in is based on the wide chasm between the conservative base and a more pragmatic leadership that has shown itself incapable of managing the different constituencies.

The GOP family feud over immigration is case and point. It doesn't matter what one thinks of the issue; the conservative base is split on reform.

Republican leaders recently have been insisting they will push through legislation before the midterm election, which only risks alienating their voters and depressing turnout.

For Republicans who support amnesty, it makes little sense to craft policy now that entails negotiating with crafty Senate liberals like New York's Chuck Schumer when there is a chance of taking control of the Senate in January and creating a bill better tailored to satisfying their supporters' competing demands.

For most of the Obama presidency, GOP leaders have been outplayed on everything from erstwhile spending cuts to Obamacare.

If they want to be given the keys to the Capitol, Republicans need to better articulate why they deserve power and what they will do with it. Just being meekly against Obama isn’t a compelling platform.

Brett M. Decker is consulting director at the White House Writers Group.
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