Josh Marshall asked today why Ralph Reed’s not in more trouble back home in Georgia for his central involvement in the Abramoff/Scanlon Indian Casino Shakedown Scam. As a native Georgian who’s watched this thing develop for a while, my answer is: Be patient, Josh. Ralph’s political problems may not be shaking, but they’re baking. You have to remember:He’s running for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, which may be Ralph’s stepping stone to an eventual presidential run, but is not a matter of gripping interest to Georgians at this point. Indeed, and ironically, Reed’s Republicans stripped the office of virtually all its once-formidable powers in 2003 after taking over the state senate.He may be a legendary figure nationally, but he’s actually not universally known among Georgia voters, and even those who recognize him mostly identify him vaguely with the Christian Coalition, which is rapidly shrinking in the rear-view mirror as a major player in Georgia and national politics. Sure, many Republican activists know he was a spectacularly successful state party chair in 2002, but others remember him as the political consultant whose ham-handed negative campaign for another GOP candidate for Lieutenant Governor, one Mitch Skandalakis, helped take down the whole ticket in 1998. And most of all, Reed’s slow-motion-riot of a scandal is clearly going to be the centerpiece of the primary opponent he wasn’t able to intimidate into withdrawing, state senator Casey Cagle. To be sure, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has given the Tribal Gaming scam a lot of attention, and Georgia Democrats have joyfully piled on, but it’s Cagle’s campaign that’s made it Daily Bread. In fact, the failure, so far, of Georgia Democrats to recruit a truly top-tier opponent for Ralph is not attributable to fear of Ralph, but mainly to the fear that Reed will implode well before the 2006 primary.Personally, if I were a gambling man, I’d bet big money that Ralph Reed is not going to capture the empty prize of the Lieutenant Governorship of Georgia in 2006, much less grab the brass ring of higher office. Beyond that, I don’t know what his future holds, other than to observe that the Lord does tend to reserve special punishment for self-righteous hypocrites.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
After absorbing a lot of Democratic gloom-and-doom about the midterms, I offered some silver lining at New York:
The 2022 midterms don’t look great for Democrats, who will try to buck history by hanging on to super-slim congressional majorities. Thanks to the particular lay of the land, Democrats have a decent chance of maintaining control of the Senate. But the House? Not so much: The two times since the New Deal when the president’s party won net House seats in a midterm (1998 and 2002), the president in question had sky-high job-approval ratings. Even if you believe Joe Biden’s plunge in popularity has been stemmed or even turned around a bit, he’s not going to have 60 percent-plus approval in November 2022 unless really crazy things happen. There’s just too much partisan polarization for that these days.
Thankfully for Democrats, even if they lose their congressional majorities next year, Biden himself won’t be an underdog for reelection in 2024. After all, the last two Democratic presidents were reelected after historically terrible midterms. Democrats lost 54 U.S. House seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010. Yes, they had bigger majorities going into those elections than Democrats have now. But they lost the national House popular vote by an identical 6.8 percent in both midterms, which is pretty bad, particularly since Democrats suffer from a voter-inefficiency problem in House elections (too many voters concentrated in too few districts).
It’s possible for a president’s party to lose a midterm so badly that bouncing back in the next cycle is all but impossible. Consider the man whose unique comeback accomplishment Donald Trump will be emulating if he runs in 2024, Grover Cleveland. The president Cleveland defeated in an 1892 rematch, Benjamin Harrison, was a Republican whose party lost an incredible 93 House seats in the 1890 midterms. This, mind you, was at a time when the House had only 332 members, which means the GOP lost over half their caucus in one cycle (an even worse percentage than in 1894, when Democrats lost a record 125 House seats during the midterm after Cleveland’s comeback triumph). In this era of polarization, nothing like that is going to happen to Democrats in 2022.
Looking more broadly at the power of incumbency, there have been 13 sitting presidents since World War II who were on the general election ballot. Nine of them won. The four losers all faced special circumstances. Gerald Ford had not previously been elected to anything more than the U.S. House; he ascended to the vice-presidency and then the presidency when disgraced predecessors resigned, and he pardoned the president who appointed him, the especially disgraced Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was caught up in a historical realignment that he had held off four years earlier by carrying his native South, which then resumed a massive Republican trend. George H.W. Bush suffered from a terrible economy but then also a party split (third-party candidate Ross Perot won a lot of previously Republican voters). And we all know about Donald J. Trump, who was impeached twice and seemed determined to offend swing voters.
In retrospect, what’s most remarkable is that Ford and Trump very nearly got reelected despite their handicaps, exhibiting not the weakness but the strength of incumbency. And it’s with that perspective that any early handicapping of a potential 2024 rematch should be considered. Trump benefited from incumbency in 2020, as will Biden in 2024. So the idea that the 45th president has some built-in advantage over the 46th — absent the renewed election coup so many of us fear — doesn’t make a lot of sense.