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Republican Death Spiral?

Nate Silver argues that we are seeing “The Republican Death Spiral,” as House Republicans vote against issues ranging from the stimulus package to delaying digital TV to a bill encouraging more gender equity lawsuits.

As I have opined before, the Democratic message will essentially be one of two things in 2010:

  1. Obama’s accomplished X, Y and Z and showed the country the way forward, let’s give him leaders in Congress who can continue to deliver for the middle class, or,
  2. Obama accomplished X, but he couldn’t accomplish Y and Z because the Republicans obstructed those measures to protect the special interests … let’s put partisanship behind us and elect leaders in Congress who can represent the common good.

One can understand the Republicans betting against #1, which won’t work unless the economy recovers. But in so doing, they seem to be writing the Democrats’ taglines for them on #2, the partisanship message. Of course, this is not necessarily an easy hand for the Democrats to play: they at once have to maintain the continued pretense/appearance of bipartisanship while at the same time attacking them for their non-cooperation.

The problem with that analysis is the presumption that going along with Obama is somehow politically useful.   It seems to me that the following set of options and outcomes obtain:

Republican Vote Policy Outcome Political Result
Yes Good Obama Gets Credit, Republicans Nothing
Yes Bad Obama Gets Cover, Republicans Nothing
No Good Obama Gets Credit + Issue, Republicans Lose
No Bad Obama Gets Excuse, Republicans Get Issue

None of them are particularly attractive for the GOP, frankly.  The opposition party is invariably in the position of being reactive.  They seldom win on their own, having to rely on the governing party to drop the ball.

No matter what they do, Obama gets credit for good policy outcomes and either cover or an excuse for bad outcomes.  Politically, then, it makes the most sense for Republicans to vote on an issue-by-issue basis considering their ideological preferences, the interests of their own constituents, and the likely policy outcomes.

In terms of the stimulus, the House Republicans have sent a strong message that they’re opposed to simply throwing money around.  Further, they’ve identified particularly egregious bits of pork barrel spending that they can campaign against in 2010.

As Steven Taylor notes, they’re not done voting yet.  They’ll get at least one more bite at the apple once the Senate passes their legislation — eventually, something will pass the Senate — and the conference committee hammers out a compromise bill.   House Republicans can then vote their conscience and interests on that bill, claiming that they’ve made the bill better by standing up for principle while still having the parts of the bill they don’t like to blame if things don’t turn around.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Not only will the House itself get at least one more vote, Republicans writ large will likely get several more votes (numerous Senate votes, a conference vote or votes and final vote in both chambers on the final bill). As I noted in the post you link to, I am constantly amazed at how reporters and commentators treat the legislative process–and they should know better.

    And beyond all of that, you make some key points with your matrix.

    As such, the overall Republican legacy on the bill is far from over.

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  2. Raoul says:

    Perhaps the conference bill will bring some acolytes back. As a Dem, I find the GOP position very easy to demonize. I understand the “opposition” thing, but frankly, I think the GOP would be better served if a few members (10-20?) did vote for the bill. Right now the entire party seems to be bleating on Hooverism.

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  3. Matt says:

    No matter what they do, Obama gets credit for good policy outcomes

    That would be an even better sentence if you included “from the media” at the end. For all of the idiotic things Bush did while in office, there were a few decent ones. I’m just having trouble remembering a lot of front page stories about his triumphs of policy despite obstructionist Democrats.

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  4. sam says:

    No matter what they do, Obama gets credit for good policy outcomes and either cover or an excuse for bad outcomes. Politically, then, it makes the most sense for Republicans to vote on an issue-by-issue basis considering their ideological preferences, the interests of their own constituents, and the likely policy outcomes.

    I see an Obama rope-a-dope in the Republican future.

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  5. Part of the Republicans problem is that even people who think the stimulus bill shouldn’t be passed are looking at the Republican vote and wonder where this sort of discipline was the last eight years when it might have actually mattered.

    The Republicans don’t look like they’re standing on principle, they just look like partisan hacks. The party’s problem is, I can’t think of anything they can do right now that doesn’t make them look like partisan hacks.

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  6. Moonage says:

    You’re assuming two things:

    1. The policies labeled as “good” translate into something tangible.

    2. The policy itself does not totally undermine the difference between being extremely liberal versus conservative.

    What the Republicans have to do at this time is solidify their base. They can’t do that pandering to Obama. If Obama were more moderate then that possibility exists and your chart means something. However, if they abandon their base right now with a media annointed saviour at the helm, they cease to exist.

    A good example is the current bailout bill. Initially everyone was wildly for it. Therefore, on your chart, it would be “good” and the Republicans lose. As more details have come out, it’s not looking quite as “good” as it did initially. If it does pass, which I’m sure it will, and the economy continues to tank, it will become “bad”. The initial appearance of obstructionism will fairly quickly become a position of not cooperating with bad legislation that was neither “good” for the country or aggreable to true conservatives. They then have an issue to hang their hat on. If they just simply went along with it because of the appearance of obstructionism, they have no issue whatsoever in the future.

    I don’t agree with pure obstructionism at all. What I am saying is they need to solidly stick to the party values. They didn’t lose because of those values, they lost because they forgot them and people noticed.

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  7. goofy says:

    wishful thinking. You will see a conservative resurgence sooner than you think. The only ‘bi-partison’ vote was AGAINST the bill. Congress is going to get the blame if all goes wrong an Obama is going to have to triangulate right if he wants to survive politically

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  8. mickey says:

    how can the Republican possibly be ‘obstructionist’ if the bill can pass without them?

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  9. [...] are already judging the Republicans based on what has transpired in the last week or so.  James Joyner, who I admire a lot, has written an excellent piece over at Outside the Beltway.  The problem he addresses is the issue of the Republicans being either obstructionist, or [...]

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  10. Franklin says:

    I’m not sure why Obama gets an excuse if the Republicans vote no and the policy outcome is bad.

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  11. Rick Almeida says:

    Matt,

    I’m just having trouble remembering a lot of front page stories about his triumphs of policy despite obstructionist Democrats.

    You may remember No Child Left Behind, 2 rounds of tax cuts, the Iraq War, 2005 energy bill, and other greatest hits. A quick trip to your local library’s microfilm room should be enlightening.

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  12. Floyd says:

    Unfortunately, there may be a lot of truth in the above article. With the leftist media as the vanguard for what may well become a one party Marxist government, America could easily become a pathetic imitation of the former Soviet Union.
    ["CHANGE" for sure]
    Fortunately, elitist propaganda can’t keep the illusion of Marxism alive forever, not even with the man behind the curtain[Axelrod]maintaining his position as puppet-master.

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  13. Jeez, the is going to cease to exist stories usually come out right after the election. Mr. Silver seems a bit slow on the uptake.

    Of course, the heads Obama wins, tails Republicans lose game is nothing new. We’ve been playing that for a little over a year now.

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  14. Dantheman says:

    Rick,

    “You may remember No Child Left Behind, 2 rounds of tax cuts, the Iraq War, 2005 energy bill, and other greatest hits. A quick trip to your local library’s microfilm room should be enlightening.”

    Having debunked this with bithead yesterday, I think you’re the one who needs to hit the microfilm room.

    No Child Left Behind 197 Democratic votes in the House, and a higher percentage than Republicans.

    2001 Tax Act 28 Democratic votes in the House.

    2003 Tax Act here, you have something of a case, as only 7 Democrats voted for it.

    2005 Energy Bill 41 Democratic votes for it.

    Care to revise and extend your remarks?

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  15. Bithead says:

    Funny you should mention this, James; I’ve been doing some research on the history of Republicans ‘going along to get along’ and the times they’ve played ‘me, too!” politics, and how that’s affected them and the country. The biggest issue right now is keeping the thing under 800 words.

    In breif; I submit that the ‘me too’ Republicans in the 30’s were exactly why the Republican party was relegated to near outcast status from the 30’s until Reagan.

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  16. Raoul,
    I know that Hoover is demonized for letting the Depression get started (something with I whole hardheartedly agree) to say that Hoover “did nothing” is to completely misread the historical record. Hoover massively increased Gov spending and intervention into the economy. Every heard of the Hoover Dam? He also instituted wage and price controls. I know the Mises institute is Austrian in its economics but it was the first link I could pull up . Money quote from Hoover himself

    We might have done nothing. That would have been utter ruin. Instead we met the situation with proposals to private business and to Congress of the most gigantic program of economic defense and counterattack ever evolved in the history of the Republic. We put it into action…. No government in Washington has hitherto considered that it held so broad a responsibility for leadership in such times…. For the first time in the history of depression, dividends, profits, and the cost of living, have been reduced before wages have suffered…. They were maintained until the cost of living had decreased and the profits had practically vanished. They are now the highest real wages in the world.

    Creating new jobs and giving to the whole system a new breath of life; nothing has ever been devised in our history which has done more for … “the common run of men and women.” Some of the reactionary economists urged that we should allow the liquidation to take its course until we had found bottom…. We determined that we would not follow the advice of the bitter-end liquidationists and see the whole body of debtors of the United States brought to bankruptcy and the savings of our people brought to destruction

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  17. Raoul says:

    SAM-I used the term colloquially but I certainly appreciate the historical update.

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  18. odograph says:

    There is a book, by Clayton Christensen, called The Winner’s Curse. It is very popular and respected amongst the tech crowd.

    One of the central ideas is that while “listen to your customers” is usually true, and as old as the hills, it can also lead you wrong. The idea is that you build a “value network” with your installed base and miss the growth of a newer (and sometimes larger) group. One example was that Caterpillar listened to their customers and built bigger, missing Bobcat when they came in from the bottom.

    I wonder if the reduced ranks of active (and passionate) Republicans are leading to that kind of misleading value network now. I don’t doubt that … well, charles and bithead, love the current moves.

    The question is what is happening outside the network, and if the effect is further isolation.

    IOW, poll the independents.

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  19. Sorry, but some of my comment didn’t make it through the parser above. The first sentence should have read:

    Jeez, the (party which just lost the election) is going to cease to exist stories usually come out right after the election. Mr. Silver seems a bit slow on the uptake.

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  20. just me says:

    Part of the Republicans problem is that even people who think the stimulus bill shouldn’t be passed are looking at the Republican vote and wonder where this sort of discipline was the last eight years when it might have actually mattered.

    While it bugs me that the GOP struggled to have party discipline and any real principals as the majority, I think it is important to note that party discipline is always easier, when your party is in the minority. I think in the house it is even easier-especially in the Pelosi house, because the rules have been created in such a way that meaningful input form the GOP is difficult-sometimes a party line vote is the only thing they’ve got.

    When a party is in power, it is harder to keep the coalition together, especially when it comes to congress members from districts that lean more the other way. There is a reason conservatives complain about Snowe, Collins and some other moderates-and why a lot of liberals complain about their blue dogs.

    Speaking of blue dogs-note just who swung to the nay column on the stimulus bill-the reality is that while there may be a need for stimulus, some are questioning the need for these specific bill as stimulus.

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  21. just me says:

    Oh, and I think talks of “death spirals” and “permanant majority” tend to lead to overconfidence and mistakes. Not to mention the pendulum generally swings back at some point. I think in the era of the 24 hour news cycle and the internet holding on to either house of congress or the white house is going to be more difficult. I suspect in the future these two branches of government will swing from one party to the other more frequently-I seriously doubt you will see any one party hold the house, senate or white house for decades.

    i do think the GOP has a lot of work ahead of them, if they want either house of congress back, but acting as if the GOP will never do it again is naive.

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  22. tom p says:

    Having debunked this with bithead yesterday, I think you’re the one who needs to hit the microfilm room.

    Dantheman: I think that was Ricks point.

    As to the larger point, I think the GOP is in a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” position. Only the future will tell who is right.

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  23. Thomas Jackson says:

    Odd isn’t it that the GOP suffered so badly from attacking the Carter and Clinton regimes.

    Stand strong against the socialists and give the voters a clear choice between socialism and big government and individual rights and free enterprise and I bet the GOP wins big. Not with faux Republicans like McCain but with real conservatives like Reagan.

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  24. odograph says:

    Stand against socialists? Seriously? (Is Paulson an unperson yet?)

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  25. tom p says:

    Stand strong against the socialists and give the voters a clear choice between socialism and big government and individual rights and free enterprise and I bet the GOP wins big.

    tj: where have you been for the last decade?

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  26. [...] By Romulus A lesson to myself.  I started out this postas a rejoinder to a James Joyner post making the argument that the Republican Party is at least politically smart for opposing everything [...]

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  27. [...] a gander at that chart.  James Joyner put it together to illustrate why the Republicans might not be that concerned with cooperating with [...]

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  28. blue says:

    I think the real issue is 2010 is that the voters will not have forgotten Republicans of past. How can we forget 8 years of excessive spending?

    What voters will believe that they have now seen the light at precisely the same time as Obama was elected?

    For Republicans to gain power, we will need many new faces…

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  29. Tel says:

    Republicans have to regain the trust of those Americans who still believe in Liberty, Individuality and who read the US Constitution. The best way to prove that Republicans truly regret the mistakes of the Bush era is to push for Karl Rove to stand trial.

    Face it, Rove is tainted now, he will never be an asset in future elections. If Obama gets the credit for bringing Rove to trial then the taint will spread out into the entire Republican party (probably unfairly). If Republicans fail to make it clear that they support Law & Order without fear of favor, they will be forever be seen as the party of cronyism and corruption.

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  30. Stopthepresses and Professor Wagstaff predict fall of liberalism soon. read it at, http://stopthepresses2.blogspot.com/2008/12/stopthepresses-makes-first-prediction.html and http://stopthepresses2.blogspot.com/2009/01/professor-wagstaff-conservative.html

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