This morning as I speculated that Obama’s arrogance might lead to enduring Republican majorities, I anticipated a followup post, indicating that two perceptive psephologists offer an opposing view. In setting up his point, Barone distinguishes “periods of trench warfare politics and periods of open field politics“:
Periods of trench warfare politics are times when the lines of political conflict remain relatively fixed, with little change in partisan preference or issue focus. Periods of open field politics are when the lines of political conflict oscillate wildly, with vast changes in partisan preference and issue focus.
Calling this an era of “open field politics,” the sage statistician contends “it’s possible that this year’s Republican percentages will prove to be no more permanent than I believe the 2006–2008 Democratic percentages will have been proven to be.”
It is my strong belief that 2010 is not going to be a “realigning” election. This is not an electorate that is rediscovering its long-lost Republicanism. It is a frustrated, angry electorate turning back to the GOP simply because there are only two parties to choose from.
Both men may well be right, but two things could make this a realigning election, a prospect, I believe, Barone accounts for with the cautionary concluding line to his essay, “You don’t know a period of open field politics has been transformed into a period of trench warfare politics until several years after it has happened—or at least so has been my experience.”
If the Republicans of the 112th Congress act like their counterparts in the 104th and don’t backslide as they did in the early Congresses of this century, they could well keep their majorities for the balance of the decade. They would have to eschew earmarks, repeal Obamacare and cut, then hold the line on, domestic spending while promoting real free-market reforms in health care as the fix the congressional budgeting process and find a way to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (among other things).
Their task at holding the majority will be complicated if Democrats find a way to appease their left-of-center base and move, à la Bill Clinton, to the center. If the current majority party continues to tack left in favorite of big-government schemes, they’ll find themselves in the minority for a long time. A long time.
Incoming Speaker John Boehner does seem aware of the task ahead of him, having, in recent days, addressed the need for procedural reform and suggested Republicans might have to revisit, if not rewrite the 1974 Budget Act:
That law, passed over the veto of a Watergate-weakened Richard Nixon, further rigged the budget process to abet spending. It killed the President’s impoundment power not to spend money, and it established the annual “budget baseline” that makes spending increases automatic. Thus even a reduction in the amount of spending increase in a program becomes a budget “cut” that special interests can attack.
I have talked to many acquaintances who work in the D.C. think tank world who think the failure of Republican Congresses to overturn that law (or even revisit) was then-majority party’s greatest domestic policy mistake .
If a Speaker Boehner runs the House in the 112th Congress the way Minority Leader Boehner speaks today, we may no longer be in an era of open field politics, but face a new and real realignment favoring the Republicans. For as Barone cautioned, we won’t know if a period of open field politics has been transformed until several years after it happens.
A Speaker speedily tackling reform could provide a clue of that transformation.