Republicans: Hold the Hubris

Mona Charen

10/29/2010 12:01:00 AM - Mona Charen

I am as delighted as any conservative could be about predictions for Tuesday's election. But the exultation among some on the right is making me nervous. It's not just superstition. The votes haven't even been counted, and yet some are already over-interpreting Republican victories as a thorough repudiation of everything Democratic, socialist, and liberal. The era of big government is over ... again.

As nice as that would be, there are reasons to doubt that the coming election, even if it turns out to be the tsunami of some forecasts, actually conveys quite that message.

Yes, the Republicans have achieved a 50 to 43 percent (WSJ/NBC) or a 51 percent to 41 lead (Gallup) over Democrats in the generic congressional ballot -- Gallup's result being the largest gap ever recorded in a midterm election. But, as Rasmussen reports, Democratic Party affiliation still exceeds that of Republicans by a narrow margin. The Democrats have lost ground since 2008, but the disenchanted have moved into the independent column, not toward the Republicans in party affiliation.

Republicans are overwhelmingly likely to regain control of the House and thus ring in the end of the Pelosi regime. They will then be situated to prevent President Obama from doing a whole lot more damage to the nation. But a Republican Congress, even with control of both houses, cannot repeal Obamacare, or FinReg, or even the Lilly Ledbetter "fair pay" act, over Obama's veto. To repeal these damaging laws, and to pass new ones, a new president will be required.

Midterm electorates differ from general election voters. Typically, only about 40 percent of eligible voters show up for midterm elections. In 2008, by contrast, 61.6 percent of voters participated. African-American voters, 65.2 percent of whom voted in 2008, continue to offer 90 percent support to Obama. Historically, African-American turnout in midterm elections has been lower than white turnout, usually significantly so. But in 2012, with Obama again on the ballot, black voters can be expected to show up in force. Some analysts suggest that even with his low standing among white voters, Obama could win a second term if his 2008 margins among Hispanic and Asian voters were to hold.

Even as Republicans have benefited from dissatisfaction with the passage of Obamacare -- the symbol of all that is wrong with Democratic governance -- some polls suggest that enthusiasm for repeal is mixed. While conservatives long to annul that execrable law and replace it with thoroughgoing free market reforms, the electorate is not so unambiguous. According to an AP poll, while 37 percent of likely voters favor outright repeal of Obamacare, 36 percent want the law modified to do even more. When likely voters were asked whom they trust more as stewards of the health care system, 46 percent cited Democrats and 47 percent cited Republicans -- a statistical tie. And those under the age of 30 were most likely to favor expanding the health care law.

A strong majority of likely voters, 56 percent, according to a CBS poll, are optimistic about the next two years of the Obama presidency. And as recently as last month, a larger portion of respondents to an AP poll (68 percent) disapproved of Republicans in Congress as disapproved of Democrats (60 percent).

Republicans and business interests continue to be blamed by a majority of voters for the recession. A Bloomberg poll found that 88 percent pointed to the mortgage industry, and 82 percent to Wall Street and bankers for the economic crisis. Sixty-six percent of respondents blame George W. Bush's stewardship for the poor state of the economy, 57 percent cited Republicans in Congress, and 53 percent named congressional Democrats. Only 32 percent of respondents to a WSJ/NBC poll said that Obama's policies were responsible for the poor economy.

Obama and the Democrats misinterpreted the 2008 results -- concluding that the nation's exhaustion with Bush represented a wholesale conversion to aggressive liberalism. Newt Gingrich and the Republicans similarly misread the 1994 election, concluding that rejection of President Clinton's initial policies represented a comprehensive endorsement of a conservative, small-government philosophy.

Wise Republicans will pocket the coming victory but hold the hubris. One in ten Americans is out of a job. Independents are swinging, for now, to the opposition party. But the case for free market reforms -- in health care and in other realms -- has yet to be made. Republicans are being offered an opportunity to persuade, nothing more.