4:15 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Okay, welcome back. We’re going to continue our Election Day coverage. To my left here, we have Mr. John Fortier. He’s a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and he also is a principal contributor to the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project. So he’s here to speak about the new Congress and the Obama Administration. So without further ado, let’s welcome Mr. Fortier.
MR. FORTIER: Thank you for having me here. I’m going to spend a good amount of my time talking about the aftermath of the election. Of course, we haven’t had the election yet, so I’m allowed to speculate a little bit. But I do want to spend a brief time at the beginning talking about the election itself and how it’s going to shape the outcome of the next two years.
First, I want to take you back a little ways and think about our political parties and how, for a long time, we thought of the Democratic Party as the majority party, after World War Two, really, until the early ‘90s. And I think the Democratic Party had, by most measures, more voters, was higher in polls, controlled the presidency, controlled Congress, for many, many years. To give you one example, control of the House of Representatives from 1930 to 1994 for all but four years, or from 1954 to ‘94. So there was a long period of Democratic dominance.
It was also a time when the Democratic Party, while the majority party, was a strange type of party. It was a party that had a very strong right wing, a conservative wing in the South of America, and then it had a progressive wing in the rest of the country. So while it was the majority party, it didn’t always agree on things. And there were Republicans sort of in the middle also, and often shifting coalitions between Republicans and Democrats. So we saw this mix of people all across the political spectrum, especially in the middle.
To over simplify what happened over the years was, as Republicans started to become a more significant force and come closer in parity to Democrats, they did so by taking the South and by making the parties much more significantly ideological. The Republican Party is more clearly on the right; the Democratic Party has lost a lot of that conservative wing and is more clearly the party on the right.
So by 1994, we found ourselves with two parties that were pretty much equal. Republicans had just taken the Congress by a little bit. Democrats had – were still controlling the presidency. We had lots of close elections in those 10 years afterwards, from 1994 to 2004. We had elections like the 2000 election which was very close, but also many, many times where the margin in Congress was just a few seats away from the other party having control. If Democrats were to have gained eight or 12 or 15 seats in certain given elections, they would have taken the majority. So we became a party – a country that was – we called ourselves a 50/50 nation, two parties very equal, left and right.
And that changed very significantly after George Bush’s reelection. That was the high point of Republican fortunes. They increased their majorities. But not too long after, Republicans became somewhat unpopular. And that was partly due to the Iraq war, but certainly due to some other factors of Republicans being in control for a significant amount of time. What we saw then was the pendulum swinging dramatically to the Democratic side, with the Democrats taking, first in 2006 and then 2008, lots of seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate, ending up with more significant majorities than Republicans had in 2004 or 2002.
And who were the Republicans who lost in those elections? Well, a lot of the time, they were Republican moderates. There were some people in the Republican Party at that time who were representing Northeast states, who were a bit in the middle of the political process, who were often dealmakers on Capitol Hill. And 2006 and 2008 wiped out many of those Republicans, replacing them with Democrats, some of them more liberal, some of them with more conservative backgrounds.
What I think you’re likely to see in this election, and this is why I want to bring this up to think about the aftermath of the election, what I think you’re going to see this election is, yes, a very big swing back in the Republican direction and in some ways a return to where we were after 2004. At least in the House of Representatives, the numbers might not be so different. But in another way, I think that it will look even more different, or we’ll continue this trend that I mentioned before of polarizing of the parties. Because if you want to look at who’s going to lose on the Democratic side, you’re going to find a lot of moderate and conservative Democrats will be losing. And this middle part of the Democratic Party, which is still there – not so much on the Republican side – is going to be wiped away. And I think you’ll see similar numbers, but an even more clearly right and even more clearly left Democratic Party.
To give you one example, the – one key group that we look at in the Congress and the House of Representatives is the blue dogs, sort of moderately conservative Democrats who are typically both economically and socially conservative on matters more than their fellows in the – the rest of the fellows in the Democratic Party. And there are 54 blue dogs in Congress today. And looking at the numbers, anywhere from 20 to 35 of them could lose. So really, you’re going to see a very significant chunk of the moderates on the Democratic side not with us anymore.
So what’s – what might be the end result of this election? I think common wisdom is right. We’re likely to have the House of Representatives in Republican hands. We’re likely to have the Senate probably narrowly in Democratic hands. There’s an outside chance Republicans could take the 10 seats they need to win the election, but more likely eight or nine, so a close Senate, and clearly lots of polarization, a Republican Party who will be winning seats not in – not winning back those moderate liberal seats that were held by some Northeast Republicans in – prior to 2004, but winning back conservative districts, conservative districts they’ve lost, or by winning some more in the South. There are still a fair number of Southern conservative blue dog Democrats that are – a lot of those seats are in danger for Republicans to take. So two parties very polarized, and that will drive what we will see after the election, which I expect will be a significant amount of gridlock.
I should step back a bit and say I’m a political scientist, and if you look at political science literature, you can find a lot of examples that divided government, Congress of one part or part of the Congress and a president of the other, is sometimes very productive. We have major pieces of legislation that are passed in that way. Sometimes, the parties need each other. And I’m going to spend some time talking about a similar case in 1995 after Republicans took the House of Representatives and Bill Clinton was still president. And that’s one of the cases where at least there was some grounds for cooperation after a while. But I’m skeptical that there will be significant cooperation after this election. One reason is the polarization which I mentioned. There isn’t a lot of middle ground between the two parties.
And as you know, our American elections are quite long and they will begin in earnest after this midterm election. You will see presidential candidates on the Republican side announcing they’re running for president, and that will be another dynamic which is likely to pull the parties apart as the presidential candidates on the Republican side argue amongst themselves, probably appeal to a more conservative primary electorate, and are less likely to be voicing interest in cooperation with the President.
So what do we – what should we expect after an election? Well, we can look back to some earlier cases. And I mentioned, in particular, Clinton. It’s not as bad as you – you don’t realize how bad it is until you get there. I think that’s one thing that the Obama Administration will find. Yes, I think they know that a bad result is coming. Even a slightly better than expected result will probably be the loss of the House of Representatives. A very bad result might be 60 seats or 65 seats, which I don’t predict quite that much, but certainly, there will be a very, very large move in the Republican direction.
The largest number of seats in the last 50 years that’s gone in a midterm election is 54 seats. That was 1994. Boy, we’re looking like that’s not a bad number to pick these days. Certainly, some forecasters have it higher. So it’s tempting to think that here we have a Democratic majority. You can come back, for example, in the next month or two in the so-called lame duck session of Congress and do a lot of things with that majority. I think it’s going to be very hard to do so. And I think the big headline, no matter what exactly the numbers are, is going to be the Democrats beaten, Obama Administration sent a message. Mr. President, what did you get out of this election? How do you view the results? How are you going to respond to what the American people are saying?
And it certainly doesn’t mean that that’s the last question that will be asked, but the Clinton Administration was ultimately successful in coming back from their loss in 1994, as other presidents have done. But it didn’t happen overnight, and those first four or five months for the Clinton Administration were very tough. If you were here, you remember there was a frequent question asked: Is the president still relevant? Maybe Congress is the important body. Now, I don’t think we’ll quite have that level of questioning now. That was an extraordinary time where Republicans had been out for many years and Newt Gingrich was something of a more charismatic figure, and they had the Senate and the House. But it certainly will be a question, how much do we really want to follow the President, and what sort of agenda are we going to have? Is it going to be the President’s agenda or someone else’s? You’ll remember also Newt Gingrich was Times’ man of the year that year, and it wasn’t President Clinton. So it certainly took quite a while for the Clinton Administration to get its feet back on – to get back on track.
How does the President react to the election result? Well, Clinton again – here are some examples. Clinton certainly indicated he got the election result. He famously, in the State of the Union address following that election, said the era of big government is over. He indicated he had a kind of more moderate or centrist side, brought back some of the themes that he had nurtured in this earlier life as the head and one of the founders of the Democratic Leadership Committee – Council, which is a more moderate, centrist, Southern-oriented, Democratic group. He changed personnel. He brought in people to say hey, look, I’m – these people indicate that I’m not moving in the direction I was before; I’m changing direction. He famously brought up the strategy of triangulation, focusing on sort of small initiatives which were common sense initiatives – school uniforms, things like this – which had a kind of general resonance with the American public; less about the big programs like healthcare, which he had talked about in the first two years.
And then ultimately he found some ways to fight Republicans, too, and that – but that didn’t happen right away either. He kind of allowed Republicans to, they would say, overreach, to lose some of their momentum in this fight that we had over shutting down the government in 1995, where Republicans were arguing, hey, we need less spending. You might hear that again from Republicans this time. To do this, we really need to send the President a budget that is more frugal. It’ll be his fault, the President’s fault, if he vetoes it and shuts down the government. And yet, at the end of the day, Republicans found that was not a good strategy for them. They ended up – found that the American people started losing some confidence in them rather than the president on this. So he found this way to fight back. And I think you can also credit the unexpected Oklahoma City bombing, which the president reacted to. And we shouldn’t discount that presidents, as players in emergencies, both foreign and domestic, often can change the debate by how they react to a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. A foreign policy crisis might be something that also brings you back. So there are a few things to think about of – as to how the President would respond to this.
What might be the big flashpoint between the Administration and Congress? Where are they going to disagree? Well, I think they’re going to disagree on a lot of things, but the two big ones right off the bat will be the Bush tax cuts. The Bush tax cuts are 10-year tax cuts which are going to expire as of the first of the year. And we’ve had this political debate for a while on both sides as to what we will do with them. The position of the Obama Administration is that the tax cuts which are for those who are making less than $250,000 a year as a family will be kept and those for the higher income brackets will be let – allowed to expire. And Republicans essentially are not fans of this procedure. They’d like to see everything extended. But there’s also the possibility of temporarily extending both sides of those tax cuts. And so I think we’re going to have a significant battle about that. You may be hearing that we’re going to do that in the lame duck session; we’ll do that in the election in November, when Democrats still have a big majority. Again, I’m very skeptical that that happens. Right after a big election, a big message sent, and Democrats kind of come back into town and say, hey, we’re going to pass some last-minute legislation to move in that direction. Both Republicans will oppose them but also you’ll find that many of the moderate Democrats, I think, will not be excited about doing that right away. And that normally would be a – I think that’s a normal situation that we put things off, but in this case the actual tax cuts will expire as of January 1st, so it will really be the first thing on the agenda between both parties come January.
And the most recent set of skirmishes is, well, maybe Democrats want a temporary extension of both or a temporary extension of the high-income tax cuts but a permanent one of the lower income ones. Will that fly or not? Republicans, I think, will be in some position of strength. We may end up seeing just a couple year extension of both of those. That’s the other possibility. But I think we’ll have a big fight about that in January.
We’re also likely to have big fights about the budget. And here it won’t look so different than 1994, although it will be important, for those of you especially who cover Congress, to think about the position of more experienced Republican leaders and of these new firebrand Tea Party members of the caucus. They may have slightly different tactics as to how they want to pursue this. John Boehner, interestingly enough, now a wise old leader, been through the revolution before in 1994, part of the leadership, and now – and then out of the leadership and back as leader in 2010, likely as speaker, might think, well, it didn’t work out so well for us in 1995, shutting down the government. Maybe we should indicate our differences on spending in strong ways but not go to that extreme. But there may be many people, and there are some people in Congress today who say, hey, look, it’s a good thing for the Republican Party to emphasize differences, to force another government shutdown, at least to force a very, very large conflict. So I think you’ll see some maneuvering on the Republican side. Certainly, Speaker Boehner is not going to be timid about expressing the differences with President Obama, but I do think that he will be wary of what had happened to Republicans in 1995, looking for sort of less monumental conflicts that might serve their purposes.
Repealing healthcare, that’s an issue that’s mentioned by many Republicans on the campaign trail. And many Republicans would like to repeal it or some – repeal and replace with something else. I don’t think that the possibility of that actually being enacted is very strong. It’s almost certain that it won’t happen that way, but it will be something you’ll hear a lot from Republicans about. Speaker Boehner came to our institution, the American Enterprise Institute, and indicated that, for example, that he might put the individual mandate or pieces of healthcare reform up for vote. And there are parts of it – especially – the whole of it is slightly unpopular but there are parts of it that are very unpopular, and that they might try to unravel the whole thing by having votes on different pieces of it. I don’t think those will do more than probably just get through the House of Representatives. It might get some Democratic votes in the Senate, possibly. If they were to get through the Congress, they’d have – the President would veto them, but they will serve as markers for future elections and campaign issues.
Are there ways of slowing down healthcare? Well, sort of. It’s a plan that takes effect over many, many years, so a lot of it has not actually even come into effect. But certainly, governors have – an interesting phenomenon will be the Republicans will take many governorships in the – in these elections, as they will in the Senate and the House, and many governors will be dragging their feet implementing healthcare. Will some of them be slow or not at all set up the exchanges called for by the plan? That’s a possibility. We certainly have a lot of attorneys general suing the federal government over things like the mandate in health insurance. Some of that will continue. So I think it’ll be an issue. We’ll talk about it. It’ll be a frequent set of votes. Some small things might be pulled back, but ultimately it’s meant to be a set of issues that will be there for another day to be fought, in the presidential election of 2012 or for a future president.
What about some of the other parts of the Obama agenda, the original agenda? I think you have to realize, in our politics, the time that President Obama had is something of a rare time. When you come in as a president and you win a good, significant victory and you bring in more people in the House of Representatives of your party, and you’ve also won in 2006 and there’s kind of momentum for you and you have all the control, that’s not typical for our politics. It’s a rare moment. And the beginnings of presidencies are much more about the legislative agenda of the candidate. And often, the rest of the presidency is about some negotiation between the parties or a smaller agenda.
And I think things like cap-and-trade and immigration, which I think the President is still holding out some hope that there would be some work on, are going to be nearly impossible. And to the extent that there is some work on immigration, it probably will be just some relatively small additional border security measures. And if there’s work on cap-and-trade – I know the Administration was trying to sort of step back and do something more energy related. And something like that is possible, but now the goalpost will have moved yet again, and so it will have to be something that’s really quite favorable or amenable to Republicans on energy and not so much on environmental matters or climate change matters.
I do think we’ll see some big fights again with Congress about the role of the EPA. The Obama Administration has often said, well, we don’t need legislation to do everything we want to do; we can do a lot of climate change regulation. We can do that within the executive branch and not ask Congress for a law. But you already saw even in this Congress some significant pushback from Republicans but also some Democrats who are moderate or energy state Democrats on these issues, and I think there will be a lot of pushback in that direction. So while the Administration probably can do some things with that power, it probably can’t do – I’m sure it can’t do as much as it had promised. And you may see, actually, Congress trying to curtail that power a fair amount.
A couple other things. Trade, maybe. There’s some talk that the President will be more favorable to trade. I’m a little skeptical of that. He has some competing pressures. Both on the one hand, I think he might be able to reach out to Republicans on some specific trade deals, but he does have an election coming up and he’s going to have to balance some of the constituencies within the Democratic Party. Possibly early on, that’s something that he could do something about.
Afghanistan. I think Afghanistan is a looming issue for the President. This is an area where the President actually has much better ratings on how he handles foreign policy than how he handles domestic policy. And the Republican – one of the reason is Republicans are more supportive of the President’s foreign policy, and at least in areas like Afghanistan and to some extent Iraq, they are providing him with some votes and some support. It’s his own party that’s more skeptical of Afghanistan. And while they have been with him and I would say certainly in the campaign wholly with him early in the Administration when he wanted to add more troops to Afghanistan, with him but a little wary of being with him, they are still probably going to be with him for a little longer, but there are some looming deadlines. And certainly, the 2011 summer timetable mentioned by the President, where at least there is the thought that we will begin to draw down some troops in Afghanistan, there was a potential flashpoint for him within his own party. Is he able to maneuver that so that his own party is more or less okay with his actions on that, or is there a stronger reaction? Say, look, you really do need to be more forceful in pulling out, or in the other direction, that things aren’t going well. Does the President really feel the need to drag his feet on that timeline? I think those are potential deadline – dangers for him.
And one thing to think about is it’s unlikely but the President could face a challenger from his left, and that would be one issue which would ignite the Democratic base and might encourage somebody to run against him in a primary, which he would not want.
One other issue potentially they could work together on is education. Again, I’m a little skeptical of that. There are a lot of Republican education policy people who like the President’s general approach to education, but much of the Republican base in Congress is actually very skeptical even of the Bush type of education policy, the idea of having standards in Washington, and would rather actually sort of be out of the business of education altogether. So I don’t think that’s a very good idea for them to work on either.
I guess one last question is will Republicans overreach? My answer is maybe they will. Certainly, in 2000 – in 1995, that was one of the things that Clinton was able to – one of the ways in which Clinton was able to rebound, by having this big battle with Republicans and portraying them as the ones who are more extreme, willing to shut down government to get their aims, and helped them claw back into the good graces of the American people and ultimately win in 1996. I’ll note that that’s true, but Republicans also won in 1996. So it – Clinton was helped by his clash with the Republicans and the Republicans weren’t hurt that badly by it. They certainly didn’t win the presidency, but their majorities in Congress were continued.
And it would – it’s sort of a mixed case. You think about 2006. Democrats were in a similar position. They had a majority. Would they – would the American people be happy to just vote in Democrats in 2006 and then in 2008 everything would be back to a neutral political environment? No. Ultimately, even though Democrats were pushing pretty hard against President Bush, the atmosphere was still with Democrats in 2008. So I think it’s a bit of a hard thing to tell whether Republicans will overreact or not. They will have a very enthusiastic and populist set of candidates who come in, not unlike 1994. Although I will say, even though they didn’t have a Tea Party in 1994, I think many of them were more neophytes in politics, a lot more people who had never been in politics. This group is conservative and populist and appeals to the Tea Party, but many of them actually have experience in state legislatures or some other lower levels of government. So it’s a bit of a mixed case. One can see it.
But ultimately, I think the biggest focus will be on the President. And as much as there will be some attempt to contrast how Republicans are versus the President, many, many more people still will follow the big office, the President’s office. And how the President himself recovers from the election, I think, is much more important than exactly what Republicans do. And on that score, we have a big lesson that midterm elections, yes, they’re important. Yes, they are going to affect the presidency. But they don’t really determine what happens in that next presidential election. That next presidential election is two years away, and what can clearly change in that two years is the conditions on the ground. When Bill Clinton lost in 1994, or more clearly when Reagan lost in 1982, the economy was quite bad. For Reagan, in Reagan’s case, by 1984, the economy was much better and he won all but one state in the reelection. So if things are better for the President, everything looks better for him – reelection prospects, regardless of how badly he loses tomorrow. Similarly, if those conditions are the same as they are today, it’s a bad set of conditions for the President and we think his reelection prospects would not be good.
So I’m going to leave it there and look to your questions.
MODERATOR: Are there any questions? Okay, right here up front.
QUESTION: Thank you. Good to see you, John. Raghubir Goyal. I attended many of the AEI programs, including Mr. Gingrich and also Vice President.
Two quick questions: One, why the immigration issue is stalled, this while the Republican from President Bush and supported by the Democrats. And now this issue is from President Obama, why Republicans will not support this issue? Because it is going to affect both the parties This is such an issue. And finally, as the Tea Party is concerned, do you consider this is a third party? Because in many countries, like in India, you have a hundred fifty, 200 parties but then a government is formed with more than 20 parties. What is the future of the U.S. political system?
MR. FORTIER: Good questions. Immigration. Immigration is an issue, it’s a complicated issue because there are some differences between the parties, but there is also some division within both parties and, I think, especially on the Republican side. Twenty years ago, I would have said that both parties were equally divided. I mean, the Democrats, with their union manufacturing base, was often a little bit skeptical of immigration. That’s lessened some as especially the union side of Democratic politics is now much more of a mix. The service sectors, the government sectors, are not as hostile to immigration – in fact, have many Hispanic members in the hospitality business, and so they have moved, I think. That’s not to say that there still isn’t within the Democratic Party still some opposition to immigration. White working class voters tend to be worried about it, and some of them are still Democrats.
The Republican Party, too, has divisions. I mean, you could oversimplify and say that there’s kind of a business wing of the Republican Party which is pro-immigration, and what I think is a majority of the Republican Party, which is skeptical of immigration today. Interestingly, we had a president, George Bush, and a presidential candidate, John McCain, who, at least earlier in their careers, had been more on the pro-immigration side of this. And I think that President Bush, perhaps had he brought this issue up earlier in his presidency, might have succeeded on this. It was considered late in his presidency, when he was weakened. And one way to see the dynamic of this issue is to think, if you had had the president even be able to pull a third of his own party for immigration reform and just the natural percentage of Democrats who would vote for it, you would have had a majority of people to vote for that bill in the last couple years of the Bush Administration. But Democrats did not want to be providing all the votes for that. They didn’t want to be out there by themselves. And I think that shows, while they’re generally a little more for immigration, comprehensive immigration reform, they still have their own worries within their own party. They weren’t going to vote for it unless Republicans provided some cover for them.
So that may not have been the best moment to do it. I think today may be even a worse moment. And the feelings about immigration are not as strong today. They are more anti-immigration, partly because of the economy. You see John McCain and others in some ways having pulled back on this issue. People who went out and tried to do this issue on the Republican side felt like they went as far as they could go and they still couldn’t get the deal. I look at John Kyl in Arizona, the other senator from Arizona, a Republican, who – more conservative than McCain, had spent some political capital trying to get that deal done and found that it just wasn’t there. So I think right now the – I think there’s a long-term worry. I think Bush was right to – Bush and Karl Rove were right to think about the future of the Republican Party and how Hispanics fit into that equation and that there would be a benefit to doing some sort of comprehensive immigration reform which would have some penalties but also would allow people who are here some path to normalization, whether it’s citizenship or some other status. But that’s probably a minority of the party, and we haven’t really opened up that debate in the
Republican Party that much. We had a nominee in 2008 who – with similar views to President Obama. We had some voices in the primaries which have been more strongly anti-immigration but haven’t come out. And I do think in the long run there is a concern for the Republican Party about losing Hispanic voters. In the short term, I think it’s actually probably a winning issue for Republicans. And certainly, some Democrats in the West are worried about that issue this time.
One small, I suppose, bright spot for Republicans is they are going to an elect an interesting Hispanic candidate this time. Certainly, Marco Rubio is one I read that – maybe many of you will be covering him in Florida. He’s been one of the most covered senatorial candidates, covered from around the world. But you’ll also have elected a governor, the governor of New Mexico, and Nevada, and several representatives are – at least one but probably two or three interesting new representatives on the Hispanic – Hispanic Republicans. So Republicans do better among Hispanics than they do among African Americans, but it’s a group that they probably should do better on in the longer term as it’s a fast-growing demographic segment of our population.
QUESTION: The Tea Party.
Oh, the Tea Party, yeah. You had two questions. Good. Tea Party. I don’t think there’ll be a third party, or at least not in the near future. I do think there is – you did see the numbers of Republicans drop after 2004. And when people were asked in polls, are you a Republican or not, no, not as many people say they are Republican any more; a lot more independents. But they’re still conservatives. And so there are a number of independents. You watch the polls, you’ll see that they are former Republicans and in some way they’re more conservative than some of the Republicans.
Republicans are not popular themselves now. They’re likely to win a big election victory, but the are still a little bit – people are still a little bit skeptical of them, and especially Tea Party figures. This election, though, I think it’s a very, very positive force for Republicans. Two reasons. One, the energy, the turnout, the – yes, in the primaries, there was a lot directed against some establishment Republicans, but it’s basically going to be directed against Democrats. And then we’ll try to figure out who the Tea Parties are, and there are all sorts of polls about their characteristics, but the big thing that they believe in, of course, is sort of smaller government and lower deficits and debt. And while they believe it in the sort of strongest say way, that’s an issue that actually resonates pretty well across the middle of both the Republican Party and also independents. You have a kind of green eyeshade or people who really believe in just balancing the budget, you have people who believe in smaller government, who may not believe in – as strongly in smaller government as the Tea Party, but economic issues like that – lower taxes, lower debt, lower deficits – they unite the Republican Party much more than foreign policy or social issues. So in some ways, it’s a big winning issue today. I think the longer-term question is, yeah, how will they interact with more traditional Republicans?
I do think in the next Congress, I mentioned one example, I think some of them will be pushing very hard for stronger measures against the President and wanting to have a bigger fight about spending. And a lot of them say, look, we are not Republicans. And if Republicans start to waver on their commitment to lower spending and lower cuts, then they’re likely to go find their own way. I don’t think that third party is likely to happen very soon. I think Republicans, in the primaries, will be – Presidential primaries – will be appealing to them. If for some reason we get to a case where Republicans couldn’t win, if they have a candidate that just looks really weak and Obama is going to win anyway, and there is kind of a more conservative Tea Party alternative, you could imagine maybe somebody running as a third-party kind of Tea Party person.
But I think it would have to be that set of circumstances, at least for now, that you – the two-party, in many ways, is strong. And what tends to happen is the parties tend to take on the concerns of those other movements, like Ross Perot affected both the Republican and Democratic parties after 1992. The Tea Partiers certainly are going to affect Republicans. They’re going to make sure to have the concerns of the Tea Partiers, you know, foremost in their minds for the next couple of years.
MODERATOR: Okay, we’ll go up front here, and then we will go to you. Yes, right here. That’s fine.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sonia Schott with Globovision, Venezuela. Everybody is talking about the – this will be a referendum for Obama. But I would like to know. Will it be a referendum for Obama or for the Democratic Party? Thank you.
MR. FORTIER: It’s a good question, although I think some people think it’s unfair – Democrats think it’s unfair that it’s a referendum, that Republicans should have to put up a strong program to kind of look at what – here is the Republican program, here is the Democratic program. It should be more of a choice, rather than a referendum.
And this is not meant to be a partisan point, but it’s really sort of a political science point that our midterm elections do tend to be more referendum. And, in a way, it’s odd because the President is not on the ballot. But he is the biggest figure. One of the biggest predictors as to how the midterm elections will go is what the President’s job approval rating is, how he is doing, how he is seen as doing his job, not so much how Congress is doing the job, for example.
Right now everybody thinks Congress is doing a bad job, Republicans and Democrats. It’s about the lowest level of approval you could imagine. But it’s – the President’s party, even in pretty good years for Presidents, President’s tend to lose a little bit. But when Presidents aren’t doing well, they lose a lot of seats. So I think it is a kind of referendum on him.
Now, is the Democratic Party easily separated from Obama? No. I mean our parties are not as membership-oriented, they’re not as clearly separate entities from their President. It’s actually stranger on the Republican side. The Republicans have no leader, right? There is no person who is the face of the Republican Party today. You could say it’s Mitch McConnell or John Boehner, or Rush Limbaugh, or Sarah Palin. You could come up with a whole bunch of people who might be leaders, but there is on one person. Whereas, in the Democratic Party, there is a face of the party. That doesn’t mean that there is not some dissention within the ranks about how we should have managed his presidency, but right at this – yes, there are individual factors and individual races. But the idea of the energy and the turnout and why people are either excited or not excited about voting has a lot to do with how they perceive the President, as how he’s doing.
MODERATOR: Right here, and then we will go to New York next. Stand by, New York.
QUESTION: I am from the French Daily Liberation. Two questions. Is there any chance that President Obama could become, after this election, the bipartisan President many people wish?
And second question is the previous briefer told us if the Democrats lose no more than 54 seats today, actually this will not be such a defeat for them. Just they will lose what they gained earlier. In the historical context, can you comment on that?
MR. FORTIER: Let me take the second part first. Yes, it’s true, I think everybody is trying to find a kind of level of expectation. What’s a good night for Republicans, what’s a bad night? And I think more or less almost any night is a good night for Republicans coming up. Any of the scenarios you’re going to mention, it’s still going to be pretty strongly in the Republican direction.
Yes, you’re right. I mentioned – I wouldn’t be surprised to see us back to a similar level of seats as 2005, after the 2004 election. So that’s true. But, historically, if one thinks about the last 50 years of midterm elections, the most seats that any party gained in a midterm election is the Republicans in 1994, this big win of Gingrich. So 54 seats would be tied for the most in the last 50 years. That’s a bad result. Even if they fall short of what we’re thinking, and they won 42 seats, boy, that’s a huge election victory. That’s bigger than Democrats took in 2006. And they would have the majority.
So – and I think you can also look just – this is an election – most of these wave elections are like this – it will not just be the House – I mentioned the Senate, 8 or 9 seats, that’s – the records are 8 and 9 in the last 50 years. That’s a lot of seats. We’re likely to see 500 or 600 state legislative seats go in the Republican direction, and between 5 and 8 governorships. Those are all big numbers.
So there is – occasionally a President is doing very well, they still tend to lose some seats and they lose little bits here and there. But this is not an election like this. This will be an election where Democrats are going to lose pretty big. And as much as there is an expectations game, I think the big story is, “Big Republican tide; what are you going to do next, President Obama?”
Your first question, or first part of the question, was about the bipartisan President. I express my doubt, and I don’t lay that on him, necessarily, or Republicans. One, it’s a very polarized era, right? We have parties that don’t have a lot of middle to them, so there is different visions. And one thing you will see is any change in the House of Representatives means the chairman from the Democratic Party who was over here on the left, and now there is a chairman of the Republican Party who is over here, on the right. It’s a big change in ideological outlook.
I also just – I – it’s hard to know what President Obama will do. I do think he has some bipartisan instincts. Bill Clinton had, I think, maybe a different set of bipartisan instincts. He, as a southern governor, had been working in the party to find a way to bring the party back to the middle more clearly. He had worked as a Democrat in the more conservative part of the country, in Arkansas. So he had some bones in him that knew how to move around a bit.
And another thing to think about is both Reagan and Clinton, you look through their presidencies, you saw a lot of ups and downs, or times where both had some very low periods, but they found their way to come back. Look at the Bush Presidency. You found a high beginning and then a low end, and not a whole lot of ups and downs. We don’t know about Obama. Will he be able to come back or not? We will just have to see. But I don’t think that there is great room for being a bipartisan President.
I do think they will – both sides will say a lot of things that – try to do this, and maybe have some sincere efforts at it, but they’re pretty far apart. And there is the potential of 2012, that next election, where maybe Democrats will take back the House of Representatives, or maybe Republicans will take the Senate and the Presidency. So they will both be looking at that prize of having everything in 2012. And I guess I am skeptical that we will do that much together.
MODERATOR: Okay, it looks like we have time for one more question. So go ahead, New York. You want to go ahead?
QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me? Hi. My name is Kodaka from Nikkei News. Thank you very much today. Could you please elaborate on the impact to the business world if Democrats lose, especially business leaders are now quite anxious, saying that Obama’s Administration is anti-business administration, and they are refraining from hiring, and it results in low, slow recovery of the economy.
So, do you think the situation will change after the election?
MR. FORTIER: That’s a good question. I do think that there is a perception in some business circles that the Administration is anti-business. And the President is concerned with that. The President indicated in an interview over the weekend that he was – thinks he was unfairly seen as a sort of tax-and-spend liberal, and that he wanted to find a way to get back to a kind of sensible business-oriented set of policies.
So I don’t think the President is going to come out with populist rhetoric and move against business. I mean just the opposite. He will probably be somewhat conciliatory. But is there a lot of room for Republicans and Democrats to work together on these things? Yes. There are some areas. I mean the President has talked about pushing some free trade agreements in the near term. I think the politics of that is not always perfect for the President. And I do think the big things we will be arguing will be the Bush tax cuts and the budget. And while not necessarily business concerns, that’s going to take up a lot of our energy. It isn’t going to be a great set of issues the Republicans and Democrats will be agreeing on.
So, it’s a tougher question to think, well, what if Republicans and Democrats had to come together for a significant second downturn, and do something like they did in 2008 and 2009? That’s a difficult question. Maybe both sides would be forced to come to the table. But I guess I think the President won’t run as a populous, won’t come out in that way – will be more conciliatory, but I don’t think that there is a great agenda for Republicans and the President to work on together.
MODERATOR: Okay. Actually, that’s time. So thank you for coming. Stand by and Mr. will be here in a few minutes.
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