The Ripon Forum

Volume 0, No. 0

Dec 2006 - Jan 2007 Issue

Mid-Term Consequences

By on October 26, 2015 with 0 Comments

The former Chairman of the RNC assesses the results and the implications for next year


The aftershocks of the 2006 election earthquake will reverberate through the federal scene for years to come, profoundly affecting governance, policy, and politics.   

Success or failure in the next two years in particular will cement the final legacy of the Bush Administration, signal the revival or demise of the Reagan Revolution, and demonstrate whether newly empowered Democrats can consolidate their congressional gains and use them as a springboard to retake the White House. 

How President Bush handles his lame duck status is the key indicator. He can retreat and work on his golf game (not in his character), begin to exercise his veto pen (will the minority GOP support him?), or triangulate and compromise (as president Clinton did).   

Triangulation is the path the President is most likely to pursue, if his dismissal of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his initial conversations with incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid are any indication.   

It is doubtful the GOP House Minority will be much of a force in these deliberations, although their GOP Senate counterparts, with their power to filibuster, will be crucial to every negotiation.   

Since the President can count on Senate Republicans to bottle up policy excesses potentially passed by an activist, liberal House of Representatives such as tax cut rollbacks or a defunding of the Iraq war, the initial list of “triangulated” policies is limited. Education issues such as increasing student financial aid limits and the repassage of the No Child Left Behind Act are likely candidates for compromise.   

hand face 2Bush and GOP presidential front-runner Senator John McCain seem willing to deal on the immigration issue, but Democrats have yet to signal that this politically charged issue is one of their top priorities. This is a noteworthy signal of just how serious the Democrats are about keeping their new congressional majority. After punishing the GOP at the polls by rallying Hispanics and the immigrant community on immigration, the Democrats are now shelving the action on comprehensive reform. Equally contentious issues such as a new energy tax, spending bills, and a reopening of the Medicare drug benefit also are prime candidates for legislative gridlock.   

Underscoring all of this is of course, politics. House and Senate Republicans will be desperate to regain their majorities and will run away from the Bush Administration if they perceive the Bush-Cheney term as a drag on their prospects.   

Interestingly, the President planted the seeds for his lame duck status six years ago with his selection of Dick Cheney and Cheney’s subsequent announcement not to seek the presidency. Vice Presidents seeking the presidency provide useful political stroke in the last two years of a presidency. They help keep rivals at bay, mute criticism of the incumbent, and keep the party apparatus united and loyal.   

House and Senate Republicans will be desperate to regain their majorities and will run away from the Bush administration if they perceive the Bush- Chaney term as a drag on their prospects.

All of this is absent as the GOP enters the post-Bush era, so to maintain his relevance and viability, the President will have to make triangulation, or the veto pen, work for him to regain his standing with the public. 

House and Senate Republicans have equally daunting tasks before them. To regain their majority, the House GOP will need to focus on 18 of the 30 seats that they lost, which are in districts won by Bush in 2004.  These seats are the easiest to take back, especially if their occupants end up acting like loopy liberals (my number one candidate for this: Carol Shea-Porter who won in New Hampshire’s 1st District).  

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… to maintain his relevance and viability, the President will have to make triangulation, or the veto pen, work for him to regain his standing with the public.

Senate Republicans face a double whammy: losing their majority in 2006 when more Democrats seats were at risk; and attempting to regain the majority in 2008 when more Republican than Democrat seats are at risk.  Twenty-one GOP seats (four in “blue” states) are up in 2008, while only twelve Democratic seats (six in “red” states) are up for grabs.   

Retirements also are a looming difficulty for the GOP congressional minority. Unlike congressional Democrats – many of whom have no interest in a livelihood outside of politics (think John Dingell, John Conyers, Charlie Rangel) – Republicans are more likely to return home to family and friends outside of the Washington, DC beltway when subjected to minority status. If key House and Senate Republicans choose the retirement option, the additional challenge of holding on to their seats will make it more difficult to win back the majority.   

The Presidential campaign will play a large part in determining whether there will be a pro- or anti-Republican wave in 2008. Among Republicans, Senator McCain is best positioned to take advantage of the current sour national political mood by virtue of his independence and reputation for straight talk. The possible emergence of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as a presidential candidate is a cause for worry for McCain, as is the emergence of a single conservative challenge once the GOP field winnows.   

On the Democrat side, Senator Barack Obama cut Hillary Clinton’s lead in half as the presumptive front-runner, just by mentioning he was considering making the race. If Obama does run, political odds makers may need to recalculate Ms. Clinton’s prospects.   

Additionally, waiting in the wings is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is reported to have a third party presidential run under active consideration. The non-flashy and competent Bloomberg will be a welcome contrast to the likes of Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and Ralph Nader, all colorful but kooky former third party candidates who ended up in the remainder bin of political history.   

President Bush and Republicans need to learn from their mistakes, return to core principles, and correct the ethics, profligate spending, and the out-of-step image that plagued them in 2006. Only with this type of course correction can the GOP regain its congressional majority and hold the White House.   

Democrats will need to show they can govern from the center and deliver more than just anti-GOP rhetoric to the voters.   

The ultimate question from the 2006 verdict is that once America knows where both parties want to lead the country, is that where America really wants to go?  RF

Richard N. Bond is a former Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

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