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A Different Take on the 2012 Elections



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I haven’t been on the Corner much in recent months. The main reason is that issues and campaigns here in North Carolina have consumed a great deal of my time and attention. The Republican party in my home state is about to have its most successful election cycle in its history: Voters will vote Republican for governor this year for the first time since 1988. The GOP nominee, former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, will probably get 55 percent or more of the vote. Voters may also elect Republicans to the office of lieutenant governor (for the first time since 1988) and other statewide offices that Republicans have never held. Thanks to favorable redistricting and other developments, the GOP will retain control of the state legislature (for the first time since the 19th century) and win as many as 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats.

It’s not just in North Carolina where state Republican parties seem poised to maintain recent, historic gains, or even add to them. Montana and possibly New Hampshire will replace Democratic governors with Republican ones. That will take the partisan split of governorships to 31–18 or 32–17 Republican. At the state-legislature level, 2010 was the GOP’s best cycle since the 1920s. It gained 720 seats and control of an amazing 23 legislative chambers. Republicans now control 59 of the 98 chambers elected on a partisan basis (Nebraska’s legislature is nonpartisan and unicameral) and constitute about 55 percent of state legislators nationwide. In 2012, there will likely be only marginal changes in state capitals. Arkansas sticks out like a sore thumb as the only state in the South where Democrats still run the legislature, but both of its chambers are in play this year. Republicans are also taking a run at the senates in Iowa, Nevada, and Washington. Democrats’ best prospects are retaking the Colorado house, New York senate, and Minnesota house.

Am I as fascinated as everyone else is by the presidential race? Sure. Like many, I’m puzzled at the discrepancy between the tight national polls and the Obama-leaning state polls. In a few days, we’ll know which samples proved to be the most accurate in predicting the turnout differentials. But unlike some of my conservative colleagues, I don’t assume I know the answer to this question. I wonder about the state polls’ implicit predictions of a high Democratic turnout — the reelection of the first black president is unlikely to be as exciting as the election of the first black president, for pretty much the same reason that Neil Armstrong was more famous than Buzz Aldrin. On the other hand, the notion of a widespread conspiracy to rig the state polls for Obama strikes me as silly. So I’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Neither a Romney nor an Obama win would shock me.

#more#Here’s something I am more confident of: Whoever wins the presidency will do so by a modest margin. Almost as many American voters will have rejected the winner as will have endorsed him. There will be no corresponding wave in the U.S. House, where numbers aren’t likely to budge much one way or the other. The U.S. Senate will be closely divided. It won’t be the electoral equivalent of the fabled End of History. Come to think of it, the End of History didn’t happen, either.

If President Obama wins reelection, I suspect 2013 will be a challenging year for him. The mainstream news outlets will suddenly rediscover the location of Benghazi and start doing their jobs (if Romney loses, the Right will blame his reticence to press the issue aggressively in the third debate, and rightly so). The economic recovery will remain underwhelming. It will soon become clear that Obamacare cannot and will not be implemented as originally intended in 2014, for a host of technical and political reasons. It will also become clear that Obama has no intention of ever fashioning a big budget compromise with Republicans, and voter frustration about deficits and debt will grow even stronger. In short, his administration will sink further into the mud, not bounce out onto the highway and accelerate.

If Governor Romney wins election, Obamacare will either be repealed outright or repealed de facto as his administration lets the 2013–14 implementation problems fester that President Obama will try to fix. Federal spending will be more restrained, and there is at least the possibility that Senate Democrats will make some kind of long-term budget deal with him. Other than that, however, even under a Romney administration, I don’t see big initiatives coming out of Washington even under a Romney administration.

Instead, I see the action on many of the issues conservatives care about playing out in state capitals. If you are a social conservative, it will be governors, legislatures, and voters in state referenda who shape our public policies on marriage and abortion (even if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn or substantially change the precedent of Roe v. Wade). If you are an economic conservative, it will be governors, legislatures, voters, and local officials who act on such issues as tax reform, deregulation, school choice, union power, infrastructure, energy development, and housing policy. State officials will also be the ones who block the largest and most expensive chunk of Obamacare, the expansion of Medicaid, and reduce the cost of health care by adopting tort reform and loosening licensing restrictions on the delivery of primary care.

In other words, conservatives need to remember that there are many races on the ballot this year. Of course Obama doesn’t deserve a second term. Our country deserves better. But it isn’t all about the presidency. On the ground, and in the war of ideas, conservatism remains ascendant. The “Chicago Way” is a means of winning elections. It isn’t a means of governing the country or fundamentally transforming America, despite all grandiose claims to the contrary.

One more note about polls and statistical models: While sports is a good source of metaphors and similes, it is not a good source for insight about presidential elections. We have had fewer presidential elections in the modern era of mass media than the number of games NFL teams play in a single season. Multiply by the number of teams, and you have many, many data points from which to draw statistical conclusions. Substitute basketball or baseball and you have an even larger pool of discrete events to study.

By contrast, presidential elections are rare, idiosyncratic events. “Improbable” things don’t happen — until they do. Everyone should stop trying to force this game to look like other games. It doesn’t. My suggestion? Don’t fixate on the polls. Work hard for the candidate you support. Argue your case. Then go do something fun and nonpolitical. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, there’s no need to worry yourself to distraction about the election. It’s big enough to take care of itself.



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