In 2004, President Bush captured the popular and electoral vote and Republicans kept control of both the House and the Senate. But it was a tight race with just a three-point margin of victory. Looking ahead, what will be the opportunities, challenges and dangers facing Republicans and Democrats over the next few years? Here are the views of Matthew Dowd, chief campaign strategist for Bush-Cheney '04; Grover Norquist, Republican anti-tax activist; Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee; Christine Todd Whitman, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency and former governor of New Jersey; Mary Matalin, former adviser to President Bush and Vice President Cheney; and Dan Balz and Thomas Edsall of The Washington Post.
Chief campaign strategist, Bush-Cheney 2004
Where do we really stand in America, Democrats and Republicans?
The honest answer, I think, is that we don't know yet, because you had an election that was dead even in 2000. You had an election in 2002 where we won a lot of close races. And then you have an election that we won by 2.7 percent, 2.8 percent in 2004, with some huge turnouts and all that. And so I don't think we know the answer to that. I don't think the Democrats have been marginalized yet, though I do think that they have been put in a position where they can't compete with important constituencies right now. They can't compete with people that really care about certain values in this country, so it makes it very difficult for them to carry certain states or certain districts. And so I think they are in a more difficult spot.
I think a bigger part of their difficulty is they have no organizing principle right now. And that is, they have no person to organize around. They haven't had this since Clinton left the presidency. Their entire organizing principle for the last four years has been anti, meaning it's all been against the president. It hasn't been for somebody. … And they don't have a set of policies that people, average voters in their minds say, "This is what the Democrats stand for. This is what they stand for in foreign policy. This is what they stand for in the war on terror. This is what they stand for on the changing economy."
And so without a person, and without a set of policies, that puts them in a difficult spot, because they have to solve, I think, both of those problems before they can really start winning elections. Can they? Yeah. They can, because this country is very, very close, very, very tight. It's still a country that Democrats do very, very well in urban areas, and can compete in suburban areas, and are having a more difficult time in exurban and rural areas.
The way I look at it is, it's like a basketball game that's close. We have a slight lead and the possession arrow is in our favor. But that doesn't mean that you can't lose the game, and that doesn't mean there's still a lot of time left for the Democrats to find a person, find somebody to organize around, and find a set of policies that the public will support. …
[What are Republicans worried about?]
You know, for me, being Irish, I worry about everything. I always do. You do everything right, basically, and you have a candidate that has led this country in the war on terror, and you win by 2.7 percent… So, this isn't Ronald Reagan, win by 19, 20 points in 1984. I much prefer our position than the Democratic position, but we're in no way a party that just will win elections no matter what. …
The good news for the Republicans is that the people have a sense of what they want to do on the war on terror. They at least know they like tax cuts. They at least know they want to have something that helps business grow and foster. But there are a whole wealth of other issues. You know, what's going on with trade, and how it affects people's jobs, and what you can do about that will be a constant issue that's going to have to be dealt with. The cost of healthcare, both parties are going to have to come up with something to do with that in a really serious way.
So, a tight election that we won closely and that we hold the Senate, we hold the Congress, and we hold the presidency, is a good place to be. But you don't hold them by huge amounts. And if your policies go awry and you have the wrong candidates, you could easily lose those elections.
Republican activist, president Americans for Tax Reform
Do you believe that the re-election of this president is a kind of proof-positive of the Republican hegemony/plurality for the next couple of election cycles?
The president's re-election in 2004 was a confirming election for 2002 and 2000. But we've now had five, six election cycles with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate and now two presidential elections. When you look at what redistricting does, the Republicans will hold the House until 2012. When you look at the 30 red states and the 20 blue states, the Republicans will hold the Senate indefinitely unless there's some radical change in the nature of the two parties. The party that carries all those lovely square states out West will dominate the Senate.
So the Republicans have the House until at least 2012, but probably another decade. They have the Senate indefinitely and the question is -- they'll win and lose presidencies just as the Democrats when they were the dominant party would sometimes mess up and lose the presidency in '52 and '68.
Nothing can happen? What are you talking about that something dramatic could happen? What would it be?
If Iraq was in the windshield instead of the rear-view mirror in two or four years, people would go, "We're tired of this." If somebody took the success in Afghanistan and what's going on in Iraq to suggest we should do 12 of these, I think that would probably end Republican control of the presidency. But I think the administration is learning from the success of Afghanistan and the challenges in Iraq, there are not going to be three more Iraqs. So, I think it would be difficult to see what would turn it around.
Obviously some great depression or something could do it. But, given the list of things the Republicans are doing in Congress -- tort reform, getting rid of the death tax, tax reduction, free trade -- all of these things strengthen the Republican coalition and their numbers and reduce the Democratic coalition.
In addition, the age cohort that is most Democratic by party ID are people who grew up and became 21 years of age between 1932 and 1952. People of that age who came of age during the New Deal and the Great Depression are now 70 to 90-years-old and every year 2 million of them pass away. So, the Democratic Party -- the Yellow Dog Democrats are passing away and the 20 and 30 and 40-year-olds coming up are more likely to be Republican than Democrat. So they have a demographic disaster ahead of them for the next 15 years that mirrors what happened to the Republicans from '60 to '75. That was the period where the older people who were passing away were Republicans who'd come and become 21-years-old before the Great Depression, and if you were north of the Mason-Dixon line you were Republican.
So, there are these period of times when younger people look around and decide to be more Republican or more Democrat and they hold that until they die. And so the Republican Party had this implosion in their numbers from '60 to '75 and the Democrats are in the middle of that now. …
If I'm a blue-state Democrat sitting there, I've been crying watching you talk on this television program, and I say to myself, what is it going to take for me to be viable in 2008? Is it already too late for the Democrats?
I think it would be difficult to see a Democrat winning in 2008 because of the demographic trends, because of some of the successes that you can see the Republicans will have in the next four years to weaken the trial lawyers and strengthen the constituencies. The Democratic Party needs to restructure itself as something other than the trial lawyer, labor union, government worker, aggressively secular party. That isn't a majority strategy. ...
Reporter, Washington Post
… Is it over for the Democrats?
I don't think it's ever over for any party, particularly in a country as dynamic as this one is demographically. The demographic changes in this country put America up for grabs politically for the foreseeable future. It's not clear that Republicans will be able to enlarge and consolidate their gains that they got out of 2004. They very well may be able to do that. You can make an argument that it's not that difficult to see the Democrats winning back the White House. Even in what Bush and the Republicans believe was a very solid victory, it was not an electoral landslide, and it was certainly not a popular vote landslide. He got a lot of votes, but it was only a three-point margin. The movement of a couple of states, again, could push the presidency back to the Democrats.
It is harder to see the Democrats easily winning back the Congress at this point, because of the consolidation that has gone on, particularly in the South. The South now gives the Republicans a leg up in holding the Senate and the House, and redistricting through the rest of this decade makes it much more difficult for much change at all in the House. I mean, those districts are locked in. Their incumbent protected districts. They are not marginal districts, for the most part. It would take an upheaval, probably, to really move the House before we get another census and reapportionment. So the Republicans have an opportunity, if they handle themselves right, to deepen what they've got politically.
The danger for the Republicans is the same danger that any winning party has -- and we've seen it repeatedly over the last two decades -- which is to over-interpret any election as a mandate for something, and to presume that because they won a certain victory that they now have the right to essentially do what they want to do. The art of politics is to take what you have and try to expand on it by reaching out to more people with each election. And if you do things that go too far in one direction, you do that at your peril. So if the Republicans overreach, as the Gingrich Republicans did in the Congress in 1995 and 1996, there could be a backlash against the Republicans that would first be felt, I would guess, in some of the off-year elections in 2006, and certainly could be felt in the 2008 presidential election. …
… Was [the election] a mandate [for President Bush]?
Yes, it was a mandate. I mean, it was a tough, tough campaign in a very tough time for the country, and Bush prevailed on that. So I think in that sense, it was a mandate. It was a popular vote victory; it was an electoral victory. It was something he didn't get four years ago, and it came after one of the most controversial first terms of any modern president. The question is, how big of a mandate is that? And Bush is always one to try to push the edge of the envelope on anything like that. You know, he talks about political capital and political capital earned but not used is political capital wasted. You know, it's very much their style to take the numbers and put them in the best possible light so that they talk about the size of the popular vote, the number of votes that he got, those sorts of things, to suggest this was a historically big victory. And the flip side of that, as many have said, is a much narrower victory than most reelected incumbents and therefore suggests that the country is still divided.
I don't think there's any question that the country is still divided. I don't think Democrats would be as tough as they're sounding if they felt Bush had a real political mandate. This is not like Reagan in 1980 or even 1984 where Democrats said, "We've got a real problem on our hands and this guy has a real popular mandate." But Bush doesn't worry that much about that. I mean, Bush believes you fight an election, you win it, you ought to do what you said you were going to do. And he'll pursue the policies that he talked about in his campaign as if he got a 59 percent vote, as opposed to 59 million votes. And it's just his style to do that. And Rove's as well. They do not assume that because things were a little closer than some people might have expected, that they've got to trim their sails. …
Chairman, Republican National Committee (2003-2005)
[What's happened] is that the political parties are reaching equilibrium. This was the first election in which there were an equal number of Republicans to Democrats who voted in the presidential election. Thirty-seven percent of the electorate were Democrats and 37 percent of the electorate were Republicans. Just in 2000, there was a four-point advantage to the Democrats. And what we've seen is, the Democrat line coming down, the Republican line going up. They've crossed in this election; they've reached parity. Independents obviously [have been] rising as well over the past two decades.
What has happened? Is it, as James Carville said on election night, that the Republicans have won the argument? Or is it more people are being enfranchised in the political process?
Well, both things are happening. People are being enfranchised in the political process. The fact is, that we as a party at the Republican National Committee registered 3.4 million new voters in the past two years, and brought them into the political process. The president won by 3.5 million votes.
So it's partly that, but it's also partly the fact that I do believe that the center right is the prevailing world view today in America. And I believe that the left and the liberal approach to government, that's personified in this election by John Kerry, has been rejected by a vast majority of Americans. …
… How did it happen that Republicanism became something people could sign up for?
Well, I think the Republican Party is the more populist party. I think one of the problems the Democrats have today is that they are an elitist party. That is personified in their instance by people like Michael Moore and others in the entertainment industry who seem to have a pretty healthy disdain for the broader electorate. …
There is a sense among us, many of us who are in leadership positions in the Republican Party, that we have a unique opportunity, that we can build on the gains we made with traditionally non-Republican voting groups.
We increased our share of the Jewish vote from 19 percent to 24 percent. I think we can go further. We increased our share of the Hispanic vote from 35 percent to 44 percent. I think we can go further. We increased our share of the African-American vote from 8.5 percent to 11 percent. I think we can go much further. I think we can double that here in a very short time frame. So I think the key for us is not only to continue to maintain energy amongst our rank and file Republicans, but to bring more people into the party. I believe the Republican Party today is the natural majority party. It won't always be.
Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (2001-2003); governor of New Jersey (1993-2000)
If you look at the makeup of this country now, Republican/Democrat control of statehouses and things, it's absolutely even. I mean, it is dead even in control of statehouses and the legislators. ... There are 7,315 state legislators around the country, and there are only four more Republicans than there are Democrats. So that's about as even as you can get. …
After the last election, we heard the word "mandate"; we heard lots of people say "Republican hegemony." We heard everybody say the Democrats were about to be a marginalized party, that there will be Republicans certainly in federal offices for the next generation. Do you believe that?
No, I think the majority was very slim. I mean, I will say that I think redistricting has made things a lot more problematic in the sense that it's much harder to get rid of incumbents. And Republicans control now, so that does give them a leg up. But when you look at this president's re-elect numbers, he was elected by less than three percentage points, his margin of victory. Bill Clinton was elected by eight, Ronald Reagan by 18, Richard Nixon by 23 points. Even Harry Truman beat Tom Dewey by a greater margin than this president beat John Kerry.
Now, yes, you can say he got more votes than anybody who's ever run for president, but the same could be said about John Kerry. He did as well. He had more people voting, more people out there. And while it was a very historic election because it did bring in -- for the first time since FDR, an incumbent president brought in more senators than congressmen, the actual fact is that the margin was very, very close. And as I had mentioned earlier, if you look at statehouses across the country, you look at legislators across the country, this country is almost evenly split. ...
And so to me, it says if you're Republican and you care about the future of the party, don't take this plurality as being such a big one. And in fact, Paul Wyrick, who is one of the more conservative of the grassroots organizers, sent the very same message about two weeks ago. He said, "You know, Republicans have been sinning since '94, but by slim majorities; they'd better recognize that losing even one faction of the coalition could end it all."
Reporter, Washington Post
So when we look at this arc from Goldwater to 2006, and certainly 2008 … some people are saying, "This is validation of that notion, and that most of America is red, and some of America is purple. But almost none of America is blue." Not true?
I would say not true. I think that the arc has been moving, overall, from 1964 to 2004, in favor of the conservative and Republican movements. I think there's no question that the trend line has been upward steadily by almost every measure. Whether it's achieved dominance -- it certainly has not achieved the kind of dominance that the New Deal coalition had achieved after 1932, all the way to the post-World War II period. Where there was a clear Democratic majority, where over 50 percent of the people identified as Democrats, and only 25 percent of the people said they were Republicans. …
We haven't reversed that, although the Republican Party has, does dominate the agenda and does dominate government. I mean, so we're close but it ain't there. … And how successfully Bush governs over these next four years, and how well Karl Rove guides that governance, will be very important factors. And they both -- especially Karl, though -- believe that the Republican Party has a legacy they want to leave, a successful Republican Party. Karl is, if nothing else, you can say a deep Republican to his core, and he is a deep believer in the party. He wants to see that party successful. But God knows what's going to be the reality, but his dice are rolling for that party. …
Former assistant to President George W. Bush; former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney
How far behind in the election cycle, or in catching up, are Democrats to what this campaign actually performed, both in the details of the science of election or electoral politics, and the art of policy and other things? How many cycles behind are they? Are they obliterated?
No, the Democrats are not obliterated. I don't pretend to be an expert on them, I think I know a few occasionally well. But, the metrics of their profession, they did what they needed to do. They not only met, they exceeded their turnout goals. They needed to cross the threshold into the visionary aspect and why would you vote for these guys? They turned their people out. They turned them out in numbers in excess of what their projected needs were going to be.
What they didn't get was capture the imaginations, if you will, of practical voters who want something new to attend to their needs. So that's a policy issue; that's not a mechanical issue. They have great mechanics, and they have great spokesmen. They have very skilled professional campaigners. They do not have a rationale as a party, for the moment.
What this country was founded on, has prospered by, has only made progress with [is] a two-party system. We need competition. We need debate. It's healthy. And there needs to be loyal opposition. They're not just going to go away. I hope they do regroup. It makes us stronger. It makes Republicans stronger when Democrats are better.
One of the things I saw that night of the election was James Carville near the end of the evening, pushing back from the table and saying, "The Democrats have lost the argument. It's clear that the Republicans have won in lots of ways." Do you agree with that?
Well, having been across the table in another way with that very same person throughout the election and argued with him about it, they really did have an opposite view. They had a different view, and that view lost. That's really true. They lost the big argument on are we more secure with this more aggressive and new national security strategy, and new foreign policy? Is this time akin to the 1940's, and post-World War II? Do we have to restructure? We won that argument. …
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posted april 12, 2005
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