If the Republicans inherit the White House amid continued economic weakness, they’ll be lucky if the left gives them the nine months they gifted Nixon. The better bet is that we’ll hear a cacophony of “Romney’s recession” (or some appropriate alliteration should Perry win) from the liberals at the first hint of bad economic news in 2013. The mainstream media won’t be very far behind. All in all, it could be worse than it was for Nixon in the late 1960s. And to put the idea of “worse than Nixon” into perspective, it’s worth remembering what Charles Colson once said about being at the White House in the 1960s – “like living in a bunker.”
Why should we expect it to be worse? For starters, the left is much more partisan now. That is, the ideological goals of the left are now completely intertwined with the partisan goals of the Democratic party. It wasn’t always this way: Vietnam as an issue split the Democrats, with the AFL-CIO, for instance, coming down on the pro-war side. But those days of a divided Democratic coalition are long gone – the left and the Democrats are now one and the same, meaning that we should expect a much quicker reaction to a GOP administration. Additionally, the left is a much broader alliance now than it was in the late 1960s – African American, Latino, feminist, environmentalist, and consumer rights groups have all now joined the traditional labor-liberal alliance. That means we should expect a better financed, better coordinated, and more effective set of protests than what Nixon saw. Right now, the broad network of left wing groups is dispirited and unsure of itself, but that’s just a temporary condition. Rest assured, it will go all out to mobilize against the GOP, almost as soon as the 2012 election is over.
I mention all this not to rain on the Republican party’s parade, just when the GOP seems to have a leg up for 2012. Instead, the point is that conservatives and the party leadership must think carefully about how they will respond to this inevitable public relations onslaught.