Thanks to Greg Sargent, in his new personal blog The Horse’s Mouth, for a heads-up on Rudy Guiliani’s appearance at a fundraiser for Ralph Reed down in Georgia yesterday. Yes, indeedy, “America’s Mayor” lent his name and mug to the doughty if dingy former Poster Boy of the Christian Right, who is struggling against the backwash from his complicity in the Jack Abramoff scandal and other past sins to get himself nominated for the mighty post of Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Greg’s post led me to check in with the indispensable Political Insider blog maintained by Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters Jim Galloway and Tom Baxter. Their take on the Guiliani appearance noted that ol’ Rudy followed up his appearance for Ralph by cheerfully telling reporters he was still in favor of civil domestic partnership rights for gays and lesbians. This is, ironically, a position that’s anathema to Ralph and his supporters, who are currently up in arms about a state court decision striking down Georgia’s constitutional ban on any kind of official acknowledgement of gay and lesbian relationships. Indeed, George W. Bush’s disinclination to talk much these days about a federal constitutional ban on gay marriage or anything like it is one of the major grievances of the Cultural Right, and one of the reasons, along with his opposition to Deporting All Mexicans, that the “conservative base” is threatening to take a dive in November. Naturally Greg’s analysis compares Rudy to John McCain as a former ideological heretic getting a long look from GOP establishment types worried about 2008. But there is a big difference between the two. As Michael Kinsley explains in today’s Washington Post, McCain’s a guy who’s problem is that people who largely agree with him ideologically don’t like him or trust him. Rudy’s a guy that conservatives like and trust, but don’t agree with. His attack-dog appearance at the 2004 Republican Convention showed he was willing to please the conservative base on the national security topics they agree on, and his agreement to eat rubber chicken with Ralph Reed shows he’s willing to overlook differences on domestic and cultural issues. But are his putative partners in the GOP really willing to accept his positions in favor of what they think of as Holocaust-level baby-killing and rampant, triumphal sodomy?Personally, I’ve never taken Rudy’s presidential prospects that seriously. And until he starts spending less time raking in cash on the motivational- speaker circuit, and more time hanging out at pot-luck dinners in Iowa, I won’t be convinced that events like his appearance for Reed represent anything other than fluffing pillows with the Right. But if I’m wrong, and Rudy commits himself to a presidential race, then this man who at some roast once jokingly (in drag, no less) called himself “a Republican pretending to be a Democrat pretending to be a Republican” is going to have to discard the disguises and tell us precisely why he clings to the party of Ralph Reed, and George W. Bush. And a Guiliani candidacy would definitely hurt McCain, and increase the likelihood that someone (Allen? Gingrich?) will emerge as the True Conservative alternative to front-runners who have dissed the almighty Base.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
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.