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Legacy Content / OFF TO THE RACES

Focus On Short Term Dominates

Both Parties Have Concerned Themselves Recently With Tactics At The Expense Of Strategy

April 27, 2010

To use some football analogies, we've seen some questionable play-calling and weak ball-handling on both sides in recent weeks, signs of an uneven and poor playing surface.

For Republicans, it's hard to make mistakes this year, but recently they might have started committing some errors.

For the typical GOP incumbent, there has been little price to pay thus far for opposing President Obama and the Democratic congressional agenda. On financial services reform, however, a little nuance is required. It is fair game to oppose the substance of what Obama and the Democrats are trying to do, but the one hard and fast rule is: Don't be seen as a protector of Wall Street. It's hard to say whether Washington or Wall Street is hated more, but you definitely don't want to be carrying the burden of both.

 

Republicans are writing the rule book for how the minority party should behave in the coming years.

You can say, "We all want to prevent a future financial crisis, but we want to make sure we get it right and don't make things worse." Any member from the far left to the far right can justify that statement. But the Republican argument that the Obama plan would encourage bailouts is ridiculous on its face, and the strategy really does seem to be "just say no to everything."

In recent days, the GOP leadership has wisely seemed to back off that. Things could hardly be going better for Republicans right now, and they should worry about doing anything that would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Even if one wanted to defend Wall Street, it would have to be done a lot more artfully. Opposition needs to be fact- and reason-based, not dogmatic.

For Democrats, the recent fumbling is on immigration. After having walked the plank on climate legislation -- only to see it languish in the Senate -- and then health care reform, members were told there would be no more tough votes before Election Day.

Well, the prospect of a fight over immigration makes the removal of wisdom teeth without anesthesia sound like a fun time for those Democrats running in tough districts.

However, the draconian immigration bill signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) last week makes it difficult for Democrats to stand idly by.

While Democrats certainly understand Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's need to deal with his re-election fight in Nevada, in which galvanizing Hispanic voters will be crucial, his decision to rearrange the Senate schedule to expedite immigration upset a lot of apple carts. That it jeopardized an energy and climate bill that was due for consideration seemed an imprudent audible called at the line of scrimmage.

Leaders of both parties have good reason to be careful about immigration. For Democrats, there is a lot of immediate pain and damage that can be sustained by tackling it the wrong way.

It's easy to see how this could further inflame the GOP base and demoralize working-class Democratic voters who don't think the party was as mindful about jobs last year as it should have been.

At the same time, however, there is a potential for long-term damage to the GOP if they are perceived as an anti-Hispanic party. If they are labeled as such, it is a sure ticket for White House exile, as there simply will not be enough non-Hispanic white voters for Republicans to win the presidency in the not-too-distant future.

In the Senate, two things are pretty clear. The first is that Democrats are going to suffer losses, at least four or five seats.

The second is that it is unlikely Republicans will get the 10-seat gain they need to recapture control of the chamber.

But, looking at future elections, it gets to be a lot more scary for Democrats. They have 23 seats up in 2012 compared to only nine for the GOP, and 20 seats up in 2014 compared to just 13 for Republicans. In total, there are 43 Democratic seats up in the next two elections compared to only 22 Republican seats, giving the GOP a number of targets in their quest to retake the majority for a couple of cycles to come.

The thing for Republicans to think about is that they are writing the rule book for how the minority party should behave in the coming years.

Anything and everything they do to the Democrats will come back to haunt them. That should give them some pause as they think about what their agenda might be and how they will feel about Democratic efforts to sabotage it.

Democrats, many of whom seem fired up to change Senate rules limiting filibusters, might also want to think long and hard about how they behave. Their time with 60 seats was fleeting, and it's not very likely that they'll have 55 seats after the election this November.

Many of the rules and practices they currently deplore will very likely become the tools they'll depend on soon. Democrats might want to contemplate what life will be like after some of the seats they picked up in the halcyon days of 2006 and 2008 are gone and they are looking at minority status.

We are seeing a lot of short-term tactical thinking at the expense of broader strategic thinking on the parts of both Democrats and Republicans. It's not a great thing for either side.

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