How low can Republicans go?
“If it’s 2012 and our party is defined by Palin and Limbaugh and Cheney, then we’re headed for a blowout. That’s just the truth.”
- A GOP strategist for John McCain and Jon Huntsman
It's almost sad to watch the Republican Party's ongoing death spiral. The moment any Republican even hints at distancing the party from the Bush legacy or moderating their policies, they're immediately declared persona non grata.
Friday another sailor deserted the sinking ship. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is a pretty conservative guy (how else do you get elected governor of freakin' Utah) but he's hinted that maybe just maybe the GOP should rethink its homophobia. But now Huntman is on Team Obama as ambassador to China, a high-profile job for which he's apparantly extremely qualified.
Huntsman's defection makes both teams more conservative, in the paradox you see in the old joke: When Ole and Lena moved from Sweden to Norway they increased the average intelligence of both countries. (Insert your own geography or ethnicity here; I use Scandinavia because it's pretty safe plus it's my own ethnicity.)
The battle for the direction of the GOP is in its early stages, but increasingly it looks like it'll be delayed. Huntsman's move prompts Senate Guru at My DD to ask, Are Some Top Republicans Conceding Obama's Second Term?
The way this theory goes, the silent moderates, the 57 percent of Republican leaders who anonymously tell pollsters Dick Cheney should STFU, but are afraid to say so in public, decide that it's fourth down and punt the 2012 elections. They let the wingnuts choose Palin or Huckabee for a worthless 2012 nomination so they can say See I Told You So (no apologies to Limbaugh) in 2016.
They did it once before, in 1964, when the Nixon wing rightly realized that America wasn't going to elect a third president less than a year after Kennedy's assassination. Their vote percentage bottomed out at 38.5 percent that year (better than HW got in `92, but Perot makes the 1990s worthless for comparisons). The GOP did a modified version of this in 1996, conceding Dole's defeat and focusing successfully on holding Congress.
1972 is the mirror image of 1964, with McGovern dropping to 37.5. Thus it looks like in that era, three-eighths of the electorate was solid Republican, three-eighths of the electorate was solid Democratic, and a quarter was up for grabs.
The increasing polarization of the parties means we probably won't see popular vote percentages that rival 1964 or 1972. It's hard to say how big the maximum landslide is, since we haven't had a true two party blowout since 1984, when Mondale sank to 40.6 (still three points above McGovern). But one can guess that the GOP bottoms out somewhere below McCain's 45.6, especially if the nominate a candidate from the extreme edge. I'll pull a number out of this air and say... 42.5. That assumes that the number of persuadable voters, who won't automatically vote for a Goldwater-weak Republican or a McGovern-weak Dem, has dropped from 25 percent to about 15 percent.
In `12, Republicans lose their biggest case against Obama, experience (though, come to think of it, they threw that argument away with Palin). It'll be hard to argue that the four year incumbent president is "inexperienced," just like we had a hard time arguing that Ronnie was gonna blow up the world when he hadn't yet.
Sow what does a modern-era Democratic landslide look like in the electoral college? Kinda like this.
This was built at Dave Liep's US Election Atlas, only I reversed his colors to show the more conventional interpretations of red and blue. Also, these are mostly 2008 electoral college numbers. Of the red states Utah is gaining a seat, which I took from Iowa; doing a full reapportionment doesn't change the rest of the map.
The red states above are the places where McCain topped 60 percent. It's generous to Obama to assume that much flips, but I'm just illustrating the 500 year floodplain of a mega-landslide. Appalachia flips, most of the south flips, and Lincoln, Nebraska flips. Even Palin's Alaska and W's Texas flip. The GOP is left with 5 1/3 states: a compound in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and west Nebraska, with outposts in Oklahoma and Alabama.
That's a 508-30 score (Utah gains a vote), better than McGovern and Mondale's one state plus DC losses. The GOP low point still seems a little higher than the Dem's low points; even Goldwater took six states and 52 electoral votes.
How does this ripple through the downballot races? The House is hard to predict, as 2012 is redistricting year. But a landslide year would help in the Senate, when the class of 2006 is up. A weak top of the GOP ticket helps some of the senators that squeaked by in that watershed year. The names McCaskill, Tester and Webb come to mind. Virginia just flipped red to blue in 2008, and Missouri and Montana were Obama's nearest misses.
Mondale and Dukakis were not truly of the left, though they were protrayed as such in the flag factory ads of the era. But even seeming "moderates" like the Mitt are pretty far to the right. The Republicans are entering their version of the Mondale-Dukakis years in the wilderness, and their death spiral is likely to take them lower yet.