As the battle for November continued to unfold this week, House Republicans unveiled their long-awaited, long-debated version of the 1994 classic Contract With America. This one was called the Pledge to America.
In figuring out where to fall between cautious national GOP figures who basically would like to overturn the 2006 and 2008 elections and bring back the splendors of the Bush administration, and the elements of the conservative base, radicalized into the Tea Party Movement, who would like to turn back the clock quite a few decades further, the authors of the Pledge struck an interesting balance. The Preamble and Forward of the document are full of fiery Tea Party rhetoric suggesting the illegitimacy of the Obama administration and the need for a radical restructuring of the federal government and the immediate abolition of deficits and debt.
But when the Pledge gets into is specifics, it immediately retreats into limited demands for total repeal of the Obama administration’s initiatives, along with a return to Bush tax and economic policies, and notably abandons the fiscal radicalism that so many Republican candidates this year are campaigning on. There’s no balanced budget promise; no endorsement, even, of a constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment (now, as once before, boilerplate for GOP candidates); and certainly no mention of plans to take on major structural reforms, much less phase-outs, of Social Security and Medicare.
Indeed, the Pledge gives the impression that if the clock could be turned back to August of 2008, before the enactment of TARP, everything would be fine. It will be most interesting to see how that approach squares with candidates and activists who think a return to 1933 is the only possible solution.
The Pledge does create a sort of whack-a-mole problem for Democrats seeking to exploit it. Do they focus on the radical rhetoric that suggests a willingness to go after the basic New Deal/Great Society safety net? Or do they focus on the details that suggest a more modest but equally vulnerable determination to bring back the policies that voters repudiated in 2006 and 2008?
In any event, the very existence of the Pledge offers some hope for Democrats struggling to make the midterm elections something other than a straight-up referendum on the status quo. Under Republican governance, they will be able to argue, things could get worse, unless you really do pine for the salad days of 2006 or 1933.
The other big political development this week, which is still unfolding, is the decision by Senate Democrats against taking the lead on extending middle-class tax cuts and forcing Republicans to champion the extension of upper-class tax cuts, at least until after November. There is still a chance the House will move first, but it’s unlikely given vocal Blue Dog opposition, and the decision is being widely derided as evidence of Democratic over-cautiousness, if not surrender, going into the midterms. It’s an issue that will likely come up, however, in a lame duck congressional session after the elections, though with Republicans, who want to make all the Bush tax cuts permanent, holding a stronger hand.
There’s been some craziness in the polls this week, most notably a Quinnipiac survey showing the very off-the-wall Republican nominee for governor of New York, Carl Paladino, suddenly closing to double-digits against prohibitive Democratic front-runner Andrew Cuomo. The Q-poll did not exactly reinforce its credibility by then releasing a survey showing another lowly-regarded Republican, Joe DioGuardi, trailing Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, by just six percent (Siena, meanwhile, had Cuomo up by 33percent and Gillibrand up by 26percent).
Most survey results this week were more conventional. Mason-Dixon showed Democrat Alex Sink with a 47-40 lead over Republican Rick Scott among likely voters in Florida. The respected Field Poll, also moving to a likely voter model, showed a dead heat between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman in the California gubernatorial race. And a new national Pew poll showed an unusually large 10-point swing in the GOP’s favor between registered voters and likely voters—though interpretations of such results as reflecting an “enthusiasm gap” often ignore the structural reasons for a Republican advantage in midterm elections.
Finally, Google has come up with a very useful series of maps comparing some of the most credible handicappers’ projections of Senate, House, and gubernatorial elections.