Why the Republicans Could Still Lose in November

The political fortunes of the Republican Party give every appearance of rising from the ashes, like the mythological phoenix of old. Aided by the unpopularity of the radical Democratic agenda and the nakedly overbearing efforts by that party to ram this agenda down the nation’s collective throats, the Republicans are poised to roar back onto the national political scene in November in a way reminiscent of 1994.

Indeed, the talk is generally not about whether the GOP will take back the House, but by how many seats. Regaining control of the Senate, similarly, is viewed by many as an attainable goal for the Republicans. This sort of talk is aided by favorable polling, not the least of which being Rasmussen’s gold standard tracking polls, which have consistently shown that the GOP holds a decent lead in generic preference on congressional ballots -- something that bodes quite well for Republican fortunes this fall.  Following on spectacular victories in 2009 in which they took back the governor’s mansions in New Jersey and Virginia, there seems to be good reason for this optimism.

However, we should never underestimate the power of the Republican Party leadership to ruin a good thing.

The Republican Party can certainly still blow it and lose in November. Indeed, there are a number of disconcerting trends that potentially point in that direction, and these trends help to reinforce the gut feeling I am getting that the GOP is losing the momentum that it had coming into this spring.

First, there is the squishiness that seems to be nothing short of genetic in the present GOP “leadership.” This ruling caste never seems to miss the opportunity to apologize for a principled stand taken by a truly conservative elected official, to bemoan the resurgence of conservative activism in and around the party, or to condemn some element of their own party in Democrat-like terms. How else can we explain National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Cornyn’s statements to the press announcing that the GOP might not try to repeal that there health care takeover after all, if they retake the Congress?  Remember the health care takeover? The one that a majority of Americans hated? I can’t imagine that this won the GOP any points with either their own base or with crucial independent voters who despised this legislation to almost the same degree that conservative Republicans did.

But that’s not all. Michael Steele, apparently stealing a few cards from the Democrats’ deck, planted himself in front of a camera every few weeks and complained that a black man just can’t make it in the GOP. Thanks for turning those millions of dollars spent in minority outreach into so many wasted greenbacks, Mike. Or how about the recent decision to reject Phoenix, Arizona, as the 2012 Republican convention site, yielding to pressure from self-appointed spokesmen for the Latino community, in opposition to that state’s wildly popular new enforcement law? What of that band of Republican elected officials -- such as Lindsey Graham and John McCain -- who always seem to be looking for ways to part with and condemn their own party, and who always seem to provide convenient sound bites to the media?

The problem here is a lack of leadership, from the top all the way down. The Republicans seem to have little to no concept of organizational discipline. Can anyone remember the last time a sitting Democratic official -- elected or apparatchik, regardless of ideology -- openly criticized and opposed their own party the way so many liberal Republicans do? Even when a Democrat votes against his party’s line, do we ever see them running to the Sunday talk shows, eager to explain why they “had” to vote the way they did, as a protest against the ignorance and stupidity of their fellow Democrats?  No, of course we don't, because they don’t do it.

Republican “leaders” seem unable to establish true cohesion among elected Republicans, except in opposition to the most extreme of Democratic proposals. It’s to the point now where most of the major Republicans who are vocal about standing up for conservative principles and opposing the Democratic agenda are those who do not actually occupy leadership positions within the party apparatus itself. Think Jim DeMint. Think Sarah Palin. Think Michele Bachmann, Jan Brewer, and Paul Ryan.

This lack of leadership is what will kill the GOP with moderate and independent voters. Let’s face it -- your typical “moderate” voter is not such because he or she is some sort of hyper-rational exemplar of reason and even-handedness. Instead, the majority of these types of voters are what they are because they don’t know much about politics, they don’t take the time to educate themselves about the issues, and they are more driven by emotion and perception than they are by ideology.