What if the Republicans DON’T Take Back Congress?

Holding onto to Congress gives us a glimmer of a chance to effect the most positive change in US political culture in 30 years.

This summer and fall, the Democrats are playing defense — and that makes sense.  A rotten economy puts the majority party on the defensive, and retirements combined with the big victories in 2006 and 2008 means that we are mostly trying to hang on.

But it doesn’t get the base energized very well.  “Let’s try not to make our losses too big” really doesn’t inspire the faithful.

So let’s try looking at it another way — what if the Republicans DON’T take back the House and Senate this year?  What might that mean?

They have waged all-out war on the Democrats, on Obama, on American institutions of governance, on the economy, on common sense, on decency, on facts, and even on the Constitution.  They have their entire noise machine going full throttle.  And by far most importantly, they are massively helped by the greatest recession since the Great Depression, a recession they created and for which the voters are now blaming the Democrats.  This should be a piece of cake for them. So what if Nancy Pelosi still holds the gavel in January?

Put another way, we can think of this election as an opportunity — simply by virtue of maintaining control, we can begin the work of destroying Movement Conservatism in this country.  Not conservatism, surely; no one should want that.  Nor the Republican Party; no one should want that, either.  But the Conservative Movement — the nexus of shadowy (and not so shadowy) institutions, fake think tanks, insider pressure lobbies, 527s, Wednesday Morning Groups, astroturf organizations, talk radio gasbags, media echo chambers — that has done more to poison the political culture of this country for the last 3 decades, might show itself, much like the Soviet Union in the late 1970’s, to be superficially powerful but rotten at the core.

Consider the issue from the perspective of a conservative.  The Democrats have elected the first Black president, enacted universal health coverage, restored New Deal regulation in the financial sector, put together the biggest domestic spending bill in decades, openly supported gay marriage and made it stick — and even then, with all of the financial resources and institutional infrastructure, in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the Movement still cannot engineer a political victory.

Perhaps — just perhaps — conservatives might begin to consider that the Movement they have placed so much of their hope on might not be the way to go.  Perhaps — just perhaps — they might consider that actual argument based on actual facts might be a useful method of reaching the electorate.

Politicians often talk about bipartisanship, but how are you to achieve it?  Not in the first run through reason, or through compromise.  You do it by beating the crazies like a drum until they realize they simply cannot continue to survive as a political force until they recognize that reality exists.

No, I wouldn’t bet on it, either.  But if the GOP does take back either or both Houses of Congress, the Movement will see it as vindication.  If it fails, perhaps someone on the other side of the political spectrum will realize that it is time to change course.  Political scientists call this a “realignment.”  I favor the disease analogy: it might just be time to let the fever break.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

15 thoughts on “What if the Republicans DON’T Take Back Congress?”

  1. It does seem as though we've made gay marriage "stuck", but I suspect you had another, more optimistic vowel in mind.

  2. Conservatism will always be with us; destroying it isn't really an option and I wouldn't favor it if it were. But I don't see why we shouldn't want the Republican party destroyed. It seems to me that what we should want is a replacement party which is actually conservative, perhaps a bit more responsible and preferably a bit more honest.

  3. enacted universal health coverage, restored New Deal regulation in the financial sector

    neither of these is true. We made progress on both, but we don't have Universal coverage and won't when the health care bill finally kicks in in 2014. Nor do we have a return to Glass Steagal regulation, even if we get Elizabeth Warren confirmed.

  4. If they pick up seats, even without taking back either house, they'll declare victory and their donors, voters, volunteers etc will believe them. No, the only thing that will work will be a really convincing electoral defeat – a 46-state loss in 2012, say. Once they get tired of being stomped in elections, you'll see the old positions and strategies being tossed off, very quickly. But not before. And the think tanks and other institutions won't disappear – institutions never do.

  5. The analogy I'm thinking of is the Democrats in the 70s and 80s. It took three embarrassing presidential defeats – 72, 80, and 84 – to convince Dems that they weren't victims of circumstance, but of a seismic shift in public attitudes, and that there was an unalterable contradiction between idelogical purity and winning elections. Republicans will only turn towards the center when they run out of excuses.

  6. "The Democrats have…enacted universal health coverage." A relative of mine has recently returned from an extended sojourn in East Asia. She may have a very serious health problem and to get it treated without losing every dime of the little amount of cash she has, she may have to return to her former place of residence (essentially a third-world country) where she still has access to health care through insurance she has already paid for. That is, unless you can tell me where she can get some of this "universal health coverage" you write about, Jonathan. We will be watching this space.

    The RBC wants us to note how much Obama really has done. It's true, his doesn't suck as much compared to the previous administration. But as a practical matter that is all we have to go on. It is thin gruel.

  7. Is it not possible that the Democrats have given (are giving) the Republicans enough rope to hang themselves? They try one thing after another and haven't found traction until the mosque business, which itself is pretty thin gruel. Maybe the Democratic strategy, such as it is, is to let the idiots in the Republican Party (Gingrich, Palin et al) fulminate all they want and peak too early. At least, that's my hope.

  8. "Maybe the Democratic strategy, such as it is, is to let the idiots in the Republican Party (Gingrich, Palin et al) fulminate all they want and peak too early. At least, that’s my hope."

    I haven't seen planet-wide cataclysms and fire raining from the heavens, so I doubt that is what is happening right now.

    That said, Mr Kleiman has a decent outline of an argument to change a mindset. To such an argument one must add Murdoch's blatant funding of Republican campaigns, which should be framed as being entirely too confident that no one will notice.

  9. I don't know. I could easily see the Democrats holding congress and the tea partiers taking it as clear evidence that *Republicans just haven't gone far enough*. Remember, these are the folks that interpreted widespread disgust with the Bush presidency as a consequence of him not being a true conservative.

    As long as Republicans are trying to please these nuts, there will be no rational insight. And given their overwhelming strength as a movement, and in the right's media sphere, I don't see disengagement happening, regardless of November's outcomes.

  10. Jonathon,

    Why shouldn't I want the total collapse of the Republican Party? They've shrunk their tent to the size of a meadow-basher (big enough for a sleeping bag, with a vestibule for your pack): if their goal was to become a small regional party based primarily in the South, they've succeeded.

    It strikes me that we've got a perfectly good crowd of conservatives in the Democratic Party who would be welcome to go find any sane Republicans remaining after the collapse and form the New Whig Party (or whatever they want to call it).

  11. I'll agree with Basilisc and Eli. The only way to destroy the conservative movement is to hand it a crushing defeat. And under no realistic circumstances will the movement be crushingly defeated in 2010. The worst plausible outcome I can see (from Republicans') perspective is a gain of 3 in the Senate and 15 in the House. And this will be seen as a victory by the movement–grounds for doubling down further.

    Now a Palin nomination followed by 65 percent of the vote for Obama and the electoral votes of Texas? That's an outcome even a Movement conservative could understand! Wait until 2012!

  12. Jonathan is simply unhinged. Luckily for all of us, Republicans will take the House and will make substantial gains in the Senate.

  13. I like this weblog and it's been in my regular surf cycle for ages. No disrespect intended. But, c'mon, saying that the Dems have "enacted universal health coverage, restored New Deal regulation in the financial sector" … this is wishful thinking and pretty dang close to flat out false. If the Dems had done either of those things or even attempted either, they'd be looking at landslide victories this fall.

  14. Jonathan Cohn has an excellent book out The Big Con, in which he argues that business interests have taken over the Republican Party and run it for their own ends (lower business/high-earner taxes, anti-labor, anti-entitlement, just enough social conservatism to keep SoCons engaged). If Cohn is right, they won't change as a result of electoral losses, only by some kind of change of leadership. Dems have to keep saying "We are the party of labor: health care, Social Security, making business/high-earners pay their share, pro-consumer business regulation. They are the party of fat cats"

  15. Recently there has been even more over-the-top vitriol than usual coming from the right. Are they beginning to think they peaked way too early?

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