I haven’t seen any snap polls showing the impact, if any, of Bush’s big Iraq speech last night, but the circumstantial evidence seems pretty negative.1) Here he was doing a highly emotional speech, full of tributes to the troops, at Ft. Bragg, and he got one ovation other than at the end.2) Republican praise of the speech tended to focus on its rejection of a fixed timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, but rarely mentioned its other alleged functions, such as laying out a clear strategy for victory and reassuring the American people that he knows what he’s doing.3) I checked out National Review’s The Corner, a reliable Bush Amen Corner (at least on national security issues) which offers near-24/7 commentary, and was impressed by the subdued tone. Sure, the tireless Kathryn Lopez tried to break out the pom-poms once or twice, but most of the discussion focused on attacking media criticism of the speech, and some regular posters actually expressed concern about Bush’s “strategy” for Iraq.4) Most ominously for Bush, his speech pretty much uniformly exasperated the “Blair Democrats,” those who supported the war initially and who now oppose a fixed timetable for withdrawal. Indeed, some of the harshest criticism of the speech came from this quarter.In this connection, you should check out the DLC’s take on Bush’s effort, which may be the most thorough critique I’ve seen to this point.One point it makes is a really interesting question: why didn’t Bush appeal explicitly to anti-Iraq-war Americans to put aside their disagreements over his original decision to invade Iraq and focus on the broadly accepted negative consequences of abandoning the country to chaos? He could have quoted a long string of Democratic opponents to the original war resolution, including Howard Dean, who are on record as emphatically saying we can’t accept defeat in Iraq now that we’re there, rightly or wrongly. He could have helped marginalized the fixed-deadline advocates. He could have been a “uniter, not a divider.” And he could have probably bumped up support for his current Iraq policies, not just for a moment but for a while, by decisively severing the link between support for past Bush policies and support for what he’s doing now.Instead, Bush strengthened the link between past, present and future Iraq policies by repeatedly returning to a rationale for the original decision to invade that, frankly, is losing credibility every day: it was all about 9/11. Yes, yes, I know, that was his strategy for deflecting criticism about Iraq in the 2004 campaign, but now Bush isn’t trying to get re-elected; he’s supposedly trying to avoid a nosedive in public support for what he’s doing in Iraq today. And the fact that he still cannot let go of his dubious ex post facto rationalizations of the Iraq venture is a bad sign about what we can expect between now and the day he finally goes home to Crawford.UPCATEGORY: Ed Kilgore’s New Donkey
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By Ed Kilgore
Pouring over the details of the gubernatorial recall election in California, some significant patterns emerged, as I noted at New York:
The overwhelming defeat of the effort to recall California governor Gavin Newsom was a big victory for a Democratic Party that has had its troubles lately. With the margin of victory for the “no on recall” campaign roughly doubling the already-robust advantage shown in pre-election polls, the earlier scare that the recall threw into the ranks of the Golden State’s dominant party dissipated entirely. With about three-fourths of the expected vote now counted, “no” leads “yes” by a 63.8 to 36.2 margin (which could get even larger if the usual pattern of last-cast mail ballots leaning Democratic manifests itself once again).
The “no” vote was remarkably close to Joe Biden’s performance in California in 2020 (he won 63.5 percent). Given the extreme partisan polarization that underlay the recall vote (exit polls showed 89 percent of self-identified Republicans voting “yes” and 94 percent of self-identified Democrats voting “no”), that means the partisan patterns of the presidential race were reduplicated to a remarkable extent in a non-presidential special election, where Democrats often experience a “falloff,” particularly when they control the White House (and in this case, the governorship). That’s great news for California Democrats, and not a bad sign for Democrats nationally, who are bracing for the midterm losses the “White House Party” typically suffers.But in assessing the implications of the results, it’s important to look back at what happened down ballot in California in 2020, while looking ahead to the most critical 2022 battleground, the fight for control of the House. Of the 13 net House seats Republicans gained in 2020, four were in deep-blue California. There is no likely path for Democrats to hang onto House control in 2022 without flipping some or all of those lost seats in one of their strongest states.
Precisely because of the reduplication of the 2020 patterns, there’s really nothing about the recall returns that suggests Democrats are sure to claw back some House seats in California. Two of the four seats Republicans flipped in 2020 (with Asian-American women Young Kim and Michelle Steele as candidates) were centered in Orange County. While “no” won in Orange, the recall race there was closer than the Biden-Trump contest of 2020. A third battleground seat was the one Republican David Valadao won in a very competitive section of the San Joaquin Valley. The recall improved on Trump’s 2020 performance in every county in his district (e.g., Trump won 55 percent in Kings County, but “yes” on recalling Newsom won 63 percent). These results could reflect an intensifying alienation of this heavily agricultural area from Sacramento’s environmental and water-supply policies. Or it could reflect a drop-off in Latino turnout that could spell disaster for Democrats in close 2022 races. Either way the recall numbers should give pause to Democratic optimism about midterm House races.
One study of 2020 returns in California showed Latino turnout trailing non-Latino turnout by about 10 percent. One mail-ballot tracker for the recall showed the turnout gap between Latinos and non-Latino white voters swelling to 20 percent. Youth turnout for the recall was also terrible, exit polls suggest. Yes, these are constituencies that are difficult to mobilize in special elections. But that’s also true of midterm elections, which is a problem Democrats in California and elsewhere need to solve.
The bottom line is that Newsom won the Democratic and Democratic-leaning elements of the California electorate by strongly encouraging partisan polarization via his lavishly funded campaign. This was the obvious smart strategy in this heavily Democratic state. It’s less clear the same strategy will work wonders downballot for Democrats in 2022, which they probably will not have a big financial advantage and shifts in public opinion away from the presidential winner may have settled in, as they did for the last three presidents. Even if Democrats hang onto their monopoly of statewide offices and their super-majorities in the state legislature, any failure to make progress in House races could contribute to the much-dreaded moment when Californian Nancy Pelosi hands over her gavel to Californian Kevin McCarthy, and the Democratic trifecta that gives Biden a chance to implement his agenda comes to an end.