Dan Foster over at NRO has the clip and the transcript from Robert Gibbs’ Meet the Press appearance that had people buzzing yesterday about the White House finally acknowledging what everyone already knows: Democrats are in trouble in the midterms. Not only will they likely lose the House, losing the Senate is now within possibility, although still unlikely. The press secretary’s admission is intended for Democratic ears, but is it too late?
MR. GREGORY: Two final points. First of all, I want to get a prediction from you on, back on the political debate. Is the House in jeopardy, the majority for the Democrats in the House, in jeopardy?
MR. GIBBS: I think there’s no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall. But I think there’s no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There’s no doubt about that. This will depend on strong campaigns by Democrats. And again, I think we’ve got to take the issues to them. You know, are—do you want to put in, in to the speakership of the House a guy who thinks that the, the financial calamity is, is tantamount to an ant? The guy who’s the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Joe Barton, started his congressional testimony of the CEO of BP by apologizing, not to the people in the gulf, but to the CEO. I think that’s a perfect window, not into what people are thinking, but the way they would govern. Joe Barton, John Boehner, those are the type of things you’ll hear a lot, I think, from both the president and local candidates about what you’d get if the Republicans were to gain control.
So this is the Democratic platform for 2010 — an ant and an apology? That’s supposed to make people forget about millions of jobs lost, trillions of dollars wasted, and the most radical Congressional agenda ever? I guess Gibbs and the Democrats have to play the cards they have left, but if that’s all they have, the midterms may be even better for Republicans than they dare hope.
This admission is obviously intended as a wake-up call. Democrats have decided that they probably can’t hold the independents, but that they need a base turnout model to minimize the damage. The problem with that strategy is that the base is already awake — and not enthusiastic. Some are angry that the White House didn’t pursue an even more radical agenda and instead expanded the war in Afghanistan. Others are displeased with the radical nature of an administration that billed itself as moderate and centrist. Still more have little interest in saving Nancy Pelosi’s bacon.
A warning flare at this point is probably far too late to change the momentum of the midterms, and is all the White House can talk about is ants, Congressional Democrats might prefer they just keep their mouths shut.
Update: Can you guess how long ago this was written?
These days, Republicans have the desperate aura of an endangered species. They lost Congress, then the White House; more recently, they lost a slam-dunk House election in a conservative New York district, then Senator Arlen Specter. Polls suggest that only one-fourth of the electorate considers itself Republican, that independents are trending Democratic and that as few as five states have solid Republican pluralities. And the electorate is getting less white, less rural, less Christian — in short, less demographically Republican. GOP officials who completely controlled Washington three years ago are vowing to “regain our status as a national party” and creating woe-is-us groups to resuscitate their brand, while Democrats are publishing books like The Strange Death of Republican America and 40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation. John McCain’s campaign manager recently described his party as basically extinct on the West Coast, nearly extinct in the Northeast and endangered in the Mountain West and Southwest.
So are the Republicans going extinct? And can the death march be stopped? The Washington critiques of the Republican Party as powerless, leaderless and rudderless — the new Donner party — are not very illuminating. Minority parties always look weak and inept in the penalty box. Sure, it can be comical to watch Republican National Committee (RNC) gaffe machine Michael Steele riff on his hip-hop vision for the party or Texas Governor Rick Perry carry on about secession or Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann explain how F.D.R.’s “Hoot-Smalley” Act caused the Depression (the Smoot-Hawley Act, a Republican tariff bill, was enacted before F.D.R.’s presidency), but haplessness does not equal hopelessness. And yes, the Republican brand could benefit from spokesmen less familiar and less reviled than Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich, but the party does have some fresher faces stepping out of the wings. (Read seven clues to understanding Dick Cheney.)
The Democratic critiques of the GOP — that it’s the Party of No, or No Ideas — are not helpful either. It’s silly to fault an opposition party for opposition; obstructionism helped return Democrats to power. Republicans actually have plenty of ideas.
That’s the problem. The party’s ideas — about economic issues, social issues and just about everything else — are not popular ideas. They are extremely conservative ideas tarred by association with the extremely unpopular George W. Bush, who helped downsize the party to its extremely conservative base. A hard-right agenda of slashing taxes for the investor class, protecting marriage from gays, blocking universal health insurance and extolling the glories of waterboarding produces terrific ratings for Rush Limbaugh, but it’s not a majority agenda. The party’s new, Hooverish focus on austerity on the brink of another depression does not seem to fit the national mood, and it’s shamelessly hypocritical, given the party’s recent history of massive deficit spending on pork, war and prescription drugs in good times, not to mention its continuing support for deficit-exploding tax cuts in bad times.
16 months ago, by Time Magazine. Their prescription? Become Democrat Lite in order to win another election.