Republicans on the Rise

Michael Barone discusses the historic 2010 election at David Horowitz's Restoration Weekend.

[Editor's note: Below is the transcript -- and video -- of Michael Barone discussing what is emerging on the political national scene  at David Horowitz's Restoration Weekend in Palm Beach, Nov. 18-21.]

Video Part I:

Moderator: Michael Barone, American political analyst, pundit and journalist, is well known for being the principal author of the Almanac of American Politics.  Considered the dean of American political journalists, Michael started analyzing population statistics as a boy after the 1950 census by studying the New World Book Encyclopedia his parents brought home.  He has gone on to visit all 50 states and all 435 congressional districts.  He can still tell you, down to the last digit, the number of residents in the major cities of the United States.

Michael is a popular commentator on US elections and political trends for the Fox News Channel.  In 2009, Michael Barone joined the Washington Examiner.  Leaving his position of 18 years at US News & World Report, he is based at the American Enterprise Institute as a Resident Fellow.

Some of Michael Barone’s expert commentary has been concerned with the topic of immigration.  He’s the author of several books -- “Our Country -- The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan,” “The New Americans -- How the Melting Pot Can Work Again,” “Hard America, Soft America -- Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future,” “Our First Revolution -- The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers.”

Scholar, pundit, political ally and admired friend -- please welcome our very special guest, Michael Barone.

Michael Barone: I’ve been given a tough assignment here.  I have to wake up everyone who was put to sleep by Michele Bachmann.  So that’s tough.

We’ve just had another election, an interesting election.  In some ways, I think I could sum it up by saying that a tsunami spread across America from the George Washington Bridge to the Donner Pass.  Unfortunately, it’s still leaving the cannibals on each side still standing.  Speaking of the public employee unions, of course.

It’s really -- this has been a fascinating period for me.  Because we’ve actually had two historic elections in a row.  And I think it’s insufficiently appreciated by much of the mainstream media.  2008 in some ways was a record election victory for the Democratic Party.  And 2010 in some ways was a record electoral victory for the Republican Party.

Start off with 2008, although perhaps some people in this room would rather not reflect on this.  Barack Obama -- and keep this mind, by the way, when people tell you that the American people can’t stand having a black President.  Barack Obama was elected with 53 percent of the vote.  That’s more than any other Democratic nominee in history except Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.  It’s more than John Kennedy or Jimmy Carter, more than Woodrow Wilson or Harry Truman.  It’s more even -- and don’t think that he doesn’t know this -- than Bill Clinton.

In the popular vote for the House of Representatives, which is a kind of key metric of American political sentiment every two years, the Democrats beat Republicans by a margin of 54 to 43 percent two years ago.  That may not sound like a lot, but it was better than the Democrats had done since 1986, when they were still winning most of the popular vote for the House in the South, which of course they don’t anymore.  And in the 36 non-Southern states, the Obama Democrats won 57 percent of the vote.  That’s more than any time in the last hundred years -- perhaps ever.  It was actually a record victory for the Democratic Party.

Now compare 2010 -- Republicans won the popular vote for the House by 52-45.  That’s the same percentage as they won in 1994.  It’s higher than any percentage that they’ve won since 1946.  And at that time, the figures aren’t actually commensurate.  Because in 1946, only about 10 percent of the popular votes were cast in the South, which was then the most Democratic region in the country.  If the South had voted proportionate to population as it does today, the Republican percentage would’ve been lower than it was this year.

So we’re looking at a historic high for the Republican Party.  If you compare the popular vote for the House in 2008 and 2010, the Republican percentage went up nine percent; the Democratic percentage went down nine percent.  That’s a huge change.  Remember, a lot of congressional districts, even in a wave-election year like 2010, are not seriously contested.  There’s just sort of momentum for the incumbents.  There’s sort of a drag factor there that keeps those national numbers from changing too much.  In an ordinary election year, they change by one, two or three points.

This is a nine percent shift.  We are talking about a tsunami crest going across America between those two locations that I mentioned.  We haven’t seen as large a shift as nine percent of the popular vote since the elections just after World War II in 1946 and ’48.  And interestingly, American voters at the years just after World War II were faced with a choice something like the choice the Obama Democrats have presented.  And that is to say a choice between a vast expansion of the size and scope of government.

President Franklin Roosevelt in his last years called for national health insurance, public housing to replace the private housing market.  He called for the vast continuation of wage and price controls, the vast expansion of labor unions and so forth.  American voters and the Congresses elected in that period effectively rejected that policy.

So while Britain was voting for the Labour government after World War II that nationalized industries and put in national health insurance, the United States made another choice.  And I think that that is the choice that Americans made once again in 2010.

There’s two kinds of periods that we have.  We have periods of trench-warfare politics and periods of open-field politics.  Trench-warfare politics -- political opinion is relatively stable, voting behavior doesn’t change much from year to year.  Issue focus remains the same.  In periods of open-field politics, politicians and voters are moving around, issue focus shifts, and we get very different results sometimes from election to election.

And we had a period of open-field politics roughly from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, with sharp changes in voting behavior; and then a period of trench-warfare politics from 1983 to ’91.  Most voters voted Republican for President; Democratic for Congress.  And political scientists developed, as they do, theories why this would always be so.  The Republicans had a lock on the presidency; Democrats had eternal control of Congress.

That was promptly followed by a period of open-field politics from ’91 to ’95, in which all those theories were demolished.  American voters in their wisdom broke the Republican lock on the Presidency and elected Bill Clinton in 1992.  Republicans ended the supposed eternal Democratic majorities in Congress in 1994, as Newt Gingrich predicted.

And we had third-party candidates who were leading in the polls against major-party candidates -- Colin Powell, in the fall of 1995 and Ross Perot in Spring ’92.  You’ll all remember how Ross Perot got out of the race because he said the first President Bush was going to send the Air Force in to strafe his daughter’s wedding.  Then he gets back in.  Nineteen percent of our fellow citizens voted for a man who was obviously clinically insane.  But we had -- nonetheless, all the old rules were broken in that period.

And then, that was followed, between 1995 and 2005, by a period of trench-warfare politics, which the two parties, politicians and voters were like two almost equal-sized armies in a culture war, fighting it out for small bits of terrain that made the difference between victory and defeat, and in which the demographic factor most highly correlated with voting behavior was religion or degree of religiosity.  And many of the issues that were emphasized -- issues like abortion -- had, for many voters, specific religious content.

This was the nation I call the 49 percent nation, after the 2000 election.  In the five House elections, Republicans won pluralities of the popular -- they won the popular vote and won more seats [to] the Democratic Party, but never by a wide margin.

And I can remember how close this was.  Ten years ago, on Election Day, I was at Fox News headquarters in New York.  And we got the first tranche of exit polls, in those days, about 12:45 p.m.  And we got all these results, very close results, in, you know, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Florida -- close results in one state after another.  And I looked at these and contemplated the lengthy election night, and I had a two-word comment, of which I will relay only the first word to you, which was, “Oh….”

Brit Hume said, “Michael, this election may not be decided till the wee hours of the morning.”  And I said, “Brit, we may not have a result in this election for two or three days.”  As you remember, it was 36 days that we had the result.

So, since the summer of 2005, since Katrina, since the explosion of violence in Iraq, we’ve been in a very different period of open-field politics.  During this period, we’ve seen the issue focus change sharply.  2006, it was all on Iraq.  By 2008, you don’t hear about Iraq anymore.  Because the surge is working, and even Harry Reid has a hard time denying it.

You get the interesting phenomenon -- $4-a-gallon gasoline made a huge difference for Americans on environmental issues.  Before that, the attitude on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska was -- we must preserve the pristine environment.  When the gas went to $4, the attitude changed to -- nuke the caribou.

And in fact, you know, for people concerned about global warming supposedly caused by carbon emissions, I should point out that there are 377,000 caribou in Alaska.  They have multiple stomachs and considerable flatulence.  And I’m not sure that maximizing the number of caribou is actually the way to prevent global warming.

In any case, the Democrats, as we know, made big gains in 2006 and won historic majorities, as I’ve argued in 2008.  The political philosopher, James Carville predicted 40 years of Democratic dominance.  Carl Rove had predicted something a little more modest than that four years before, when Bush won by narrower margins.  It turns out Carville was wrong.  Forty years of Democratic dominance turned out to be more like 40 weeks.  Republicans moved ahead of Democrats in the generic ballot question -- which party’s candidate do you support for House of Representatives -- in August 2009, which is almost exactly 40 weeks after the November ’08 election.

In my view, the Obama Democrats made a fundamental miscalculation about the American people.  They interpreted the Republicans’ defeat as not just a negative verdict on their competence -- which I think it clearly was -- but as a rejection of their ideology.  And they assumed that economic distress would make Americans more supportive of, or at least amenable to, big government policies.

This is the lesson, after all, taught by the New Deal historians, which were bestsellers in their time.  I tried to advance a somewhat different view in my book, “Our Country -- The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan,” a more nuanced view, if you will.  That book is now available on Amazon for $3.50.  And maybe you can double-buy with Amity Shlaes’ “The Forgotten Man,” which attempts to do, in a somewhat different way, the same kind of thing I was trying to do there in the ‘30s.

Go back to the polling of the late 1930s.  Unemployment was stubbornly going above 10 percent.  You had -- most Americans believed that government was spending too much and choking off recovery.  They believed that uncertainty about government tax and regulatory policies were preventing business from creating jobs.  They thought labor unions had too much power and needed to be curbed.  It actually sounds kind of familiar today.

And at the same time, if you look at the other Anglosphere democracies in those days, you’ll see big-government parties were rejected by voters in the UK, in Canada and Australia.  You know, the New Deal historians said, Well, the Democrats won five elections in a row, Roosevelt won four times.  If you go back and look at that, at the 1940, ‘44 election, you’re talking about elections in time of war.  1940 was a period of foreign policy crisis.  Hitler and Stalin were allies in control of, or threatening to be in control of, most of the land mass of Eurasia.  It was the closest the world came to 1984.

And in that period, the voters went with Roosevelt as a seasoned leader against a utility executive who had not held public office.  I don’t think that that’s a big-government-supporting election.

Now, a lot of people would say that these old elections are irrelevant.  And I don’t think so.  I think they should’ve been a warning that in a time of lingering high unemployment in the wake of a financial collapse, recessions after financial collapses last a lot longer than recessions that just occur as incidents in the business cycle.  Voters are rejecting big-government policies as economically damaging, and they are politically dangerous.

And so we’ve seen, through this campaign, the Democrats ban the word “stimulus” from their campaign vocabulary.  I guess you were allowed to use it with appearances of former President Clinton.  The GM and Chrysler bailouts, which earlier speakers have talked about -- you know, that should’ve been popular in my home state of Michigan.  But Michigan voted for Republican Rick Snyder for governor by a margin of 58 to 40, and they won a majority of the state Senate at 27 to 11.  That doesn’t sound like support of the GM and Chrysler bailout.

Then the healthcare bill -- voters, speaking through the medium of public opinion polls and through the unlikely [agents] of the voters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, said don’t pass this bill.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided they should pass this bill.  She persuaded President Obama, or he went along with this.  And they did pass the bill, after marching one after another Democrat up there in an endangered district to say that they would support it.

This is, as far as I can tell, the most unpopular piece of major legislation passed by the Congress since the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  And Pat Caddell points out that the Kansas-Nebraska Act was campaigned against by the Republican Party -- the just-coming-into-existence Republican Party -- as the crime against Kansas; and that the healthcare bill might be thought of as the crime against healthcare.

In any case, the Kansas-Nebraska Act resulted in the disappearance of one major party, the relegation to minority status of the other major party, and civil war.  I don’t think those results -- you know, Obamacare’s not going to be as dire as that.  But it sure seemed that way to a few Democrats on the night of November 2nd.

The most unexpected development of the last 19 months -- and Michele Bachmann spoke to this, speakers at the different panels referred to it in different ways -- is the spontaneous inrush in the political activity of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of previously uninvolved Americans, in the movement which is symbolized by but not limited to the Tea Party movement.

And I find this absolutely fascinating.  We haven’t seen anything like this in quite a few years.  It is not Astroturf.  Nancy Pelosi was projecting when she said that.  She knows that those SEIU people that are picketing the Republican candidates are only there from noon to two because they’re only paid for two hours.

But the Tea Party people were there in those town hall meetings in August 2009.  And after those meetings, many Democratic congressmen basically abandoned having public schedules any time, or making public appearances where citizens and their constituents could actually talk to them.

And one of the fascinating things -- and I think it reflects a wider feeling in our society -- is that they dress up in the 18th century costumes but, more importantly, talk in the language of the Founding Fathers.  And I think, you know, over the last 15 years, those of us interested in the publishing business have noted that there’s been a fascination on the part of readers and book-buyers with books about the Founding Fathers.  Mean, we had one summer when the major beach book was a biography of John Adams.  Who’d o’ thunk it?

But the fact is, the American people are thirsty for knowledge of the Founders -- the challenges they faced, the ideas and thoughts they portrayed, the heroic acts that they overcame, pledging their lives, liberty and sacred honor to creating a new kind of government on the face of the earth.  We’ve got -- we want to learn more.  We’ve had wonderfully written books about Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton.

And so you hear people talking about how no person shall be deprived of life, liberty and property without due process of law; that the powers not directly given to the federal government are reserved to the states and the people.

This is suddenly part of our political dialogue.  And it’s -- you know, Phil Hare, the congressman from the 17th District of Illinois -- a district drawn up by gerrymanderers to be a safe Democratic district -- it squirrels all around downstate Illinois -- somebody asked him about the constitutional basis of the healthcare plan.  And he said, “I don’t care about the Constitution.”  That’s got a million hits on YouTube.  And he -- you know, these people take an oath to uphold the Constitution.  And when you see them saying, I don’t care about the Constitution, that seems to jar a lot of our fellow citizens.  And Mr. Hare lost to a pizza parlor operator from Moline by a margin of 55 to 43.

And so, you know, I think Americans -- funny thing, they do care about the Constitution.  Mean, Nancy Pelosi was asked about the constitutional basis of the healthcare bill.  And she paused in disbelief and said, “Are you serious?”  Turns out they are serious.

And I’ve kind of seen the election cycle this year as a kind of argument between the ideas of the founders and the ideas -- which are the guiding ideas for the Obama Democrats -- of the progressives and New Dealers.  Founders’ ideas -- 220, 230 years old.  The progressives, 100 years old; the New Dealers, 70 years old.

And you know, the progressives and the New Dealers basically said that, you know, the Constitution is a horse-and-buggy document.  This was a term used by President Roosevelt.  Woodrow Wilson used it.  These limitations on government are simply inappropriate in a modern industrial era.  We now have great factories that produce technological marvels like the Model T.  And in that kind of environment, you can’t expect the ordinary citizen to make his way through society.  He needs the guidance of centralized experts with command-and-control public policies to help them navigate through.  The intension here is to create a culture of dependence, where the ordinary citizen depends on an all-seeing and all-wise government to navigate them through life.

And what I think we see with the Tea Partiers, and I think we saw with the voters, was that Americans reject that culture of dependence and instead prefer a culture of independence, a culture in which people can choose their own way of life, make their way upward, make their contributions to society in ways that are particularly suited to their talents and abilities, and so forth.

So I think that we have seen an outright rejection of this.  And what’s fascinating to me is that the words and ideas of the progressives and the New Dealers 70 and 100 years ago now sound tinny and old-fashioned as the Model T.  The words of the Founding Fathers 220, 230 years ago ring as true as a silver spoon on a crystal goblet.

Now, we’re still counting the votes.  California, in its wisdom, takes five weeks to count the votes.  Brazil had an election on October 31st.  They had all the votes counted in five hours.  But California is not as advanced as Brazil, so we’re still waiting on that.

We know the Republicans gained six seats in the Senate.  That’s less than some people had hoped.  There are people who are going around saying, Well, that’s because Tea Party candidates ran and won.  I think there may be something to that.  When you get an inrush in political activity, you get a certain amount of people who prove to be maladroit candidates.  And you get some true-believers that knock off people in the primaries, and the other party wins the general election.  That happened with the peace or antiwar movement 40 years ago.  It happened with the Tea Party movement today.

But I think that there can be no doubt that the Tea Party movement, the broader movement that it symbolizes, really added energy, enthusiasm, ideas and principles to the Republican Party that enabled it to win up and down in a historic victory.  Six seats in the Senate is actually a good-sized gain.  It’s now at 61, 62 in the House of Representatives.  The Democrats are trying to count a couple other people out -- we’ll see what happens to that.

In 1994, when the popular vote for the US House was the same in percentage terms as it appears to be this year, the Republicans gained about 450 seats in the House.  This year, they gained about 680.  I’m just talking about state legislatures.  That was ballooned a little bit, because they won 122 new seats in New Hampshire, which has a 400-seat House of Representatives.  But the fact is, this is very big.  This shows the depth and the breadth of the public opinion movement that we’ve seen.

A lot of these people were not even queued to win.  I mean, I follow some of the political newsletters of insiders of various states and talk to the political insiders.  And I can tell you that Republican gains in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Minnesota, in North Carolina were larger than anybody expected.  I mean, in Michigan, the Repubs needed 13 new seats to get a majority in the state House.  The inside guys were saying, well, they probably pick up four or five; they may lose a few.  Then they started dialing it upward.  They gained 20.  They gained -- a lot of people that nobody figured was going to win those elections are now state legislators in the various state capitals.

That’s important for redistricting.  We shouldn’t overemphasize that, but Republicans will control redistricting in 13 states, which will have five or more US House members with 165 House seats.  Democrats control redistricting in only four states with 40 House seats.  That’s not a huge -- one of those states is Massachusetts which, bless them, elected 10 Democrats and no Republicans to the House once again this year.  They’re going to be reduced to nine by the reapportionment following the census.

And so, while we can all hope that Barney Frank has returned to the House so that he can confront, as ranking minority member, Chairman Ed Royce of the Financial Services Committee, he is going to have one fewer Massachusetts Democratic colleague.  No way the redistricting magic can work there.

So basically, we’ve got a country that has spoken loud and clear, that has made it a historic movement from one party to the other, and a movement that, it seems to me, is supported much more than that ’08 movement by serious thinking, intellectually rigorous thinking, about important public policy issues.

You know, what was the Democrats’ theme in ’08?  Well, we had candidate, as he then was, Obama saying things full of content like, “We are the change we are seeking.”  This time, we’ve got people talking about serious public policy, the Pledge to America from the House.  House Republicans said we’re going to take spending back to 2008 levels.  There’s -- you know, some people say, Oh, government can’t get along with that.  There’s a lot of people in this country that would like to have a W-2 that looked like their 2008 one, would like to have their 401(k) account that looked like their 2008, would like have house equity that looked like 2008.

And I think that the question facing us that we don’t fully know the answer to about public opinion is that -- will a public that seems clearly to have opposed a vast expansion of the size and scope of government -- will it now support cuts and changes and rollbacks and so forth?  You know, it would be logical, certainly, to do so.  Voters don’t have to be logical; they’re not confronted on “Meet the Press” with a YouTube of what they said four years ago and asked to justify the change of mind.

I’m optimistic, however, as I look around the country and around the world.  Looking around the country, you have people like Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana who has a record of cutting back government.  When he went to one school district, and they said, “This district has been hit terribly.  We had to lay off nine teachers and one administrator,” he said, “Why didn’t you lay off nine administrators and one teacher?”  I think we got on the public payrolls a lot of facilitators and liaisons and outreach officers that actually America did pretty well for 200 years without.

And I think Mitch Daniels was reelected in India by a margin of 58-40.  When Barack Obama was carrying the state, he ran one point ahead of Ronald Reagan in the most affluent county in the state, carried 20 percent of black voters, 37 percent of Latinos and young voters, 51-42.  That says to me that there may be a future in cutting back government.

We have seen emerging onto the political national scene the very large figure of Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.  How many here have seen Chris Christie videos?  Clearly, the Teachers Union has been spending $10 million on ads against him, $10 million that come straight from the taxpayers.  The taxpayers have not been deluded by this, and they seem to be on the side of Chris Christie.

We can see what’s happening in Europe.  You know, many of us have been saying that America was following the policies of Old Europe.  Now we’ve got a situation where the Chancellor of Germany has informed President Obama that the US is spending too much money to have an economic recovery.  We’re seeing the government of the UK have 25 percent spending cuts for many government departments.  They’re laying off 500,000 public sector workers.  The public approves.  We see center-right governments winning reelection in Sweden and Latvia.

This is something that seems to be happening around the world.  And I think that, you know, there’s a conventional wisdom out there that Republicans got in trouble after the 1994 election because we had a budget fight between Speaker Newt Gingrich, President Bill Clinton.  I think this is [among] many reasons the conventional wisdom doesn’t get the whole story.  For one thing -- and obviously, Speaker Gingrich can answer the particularities of this better than I can -- the result was spending went flat for a year, which went a long way towards the balanced budget in the later decade.

The other thing is that, you know, although President Clinton was reelected, the supposed disaster for the Republicans was they lost nine seats.  That’s a little less than 62, isn’t it?  At least if I’ve got my math here.

So I think we’re going to see some continued fights.  We’re going to see important fights between the administration trying to use regulatory apparatus to achieve policy goals, now that they no longer have supermajorities in Congress; and between Congress trying to do something else.  So it’s vitally important for Republicans to have effective committee chairmen on the Governmental Operations Committee, which Darrell Issa will be chairman of/ on the Energy and Commerce Committee and on the Financial Services Committee, which our friend, Ed Royce, is a candidate for chairman.

Let me just close with a few words about 2012.  Look, in a period of open-field politics, it is risky to make straight-line extrapolations from the last election to the next one.  Ask Karl Rove, ask James Carville.  You know, there’s some reasons to believe that 2012 won’t be as unfavorable to Barack Obama as 2010 was.  He’s not likely to have primary opposition, unless it comes from perhaps the peace wing of the party.  And if you [ever] want to send contributions to Howard Dean, I’m sure it’ll be appreciated.

But most Democrats -- you know, the primary electorate is 20 percent black on the average in the Democratic primary.  And I think, you know, most Democratic politicians wouldn’t want to run on that. People have asked me about Hillary Clinton.  And my line is that Hillary Clinton has saved a lot of money for the American taxpayers.  Because previous secretaries of state have travelled around the world on very expensive jet aircraft, and Hillary can get around on her broom.  That’s just a cheap partisan shot, it’s not meant as vicious criticism or anything.

But anyway, I think, you know, Republicans in 2010 were seeking control of one branch of government.  In 2012, they’ll be seeking two.  That’s a harder sell.  That requires more victories in the battle of ideas than have yet been won.  And Michele Bachmann, I thought, spoke very eloquently and wisely about that.

I think many voters will be reluctant, for reasons understandable in light of our history, to reject the first African-American President.  That is simply a factor in the election that is something that’s there.  And I think in addition, Barack Obama doesn’t have the kind of personal characteristics that made so many people on the other side of the political and cultural divide absolutely loathe Bill Clinton on the one hand, George W. Bush on the other.

But I do think we have evidence from this election that this is a pretty clear rejection of this vast expansion of the size and scope of government.  The Tea Party people are talking about numbers that are real.  Just go look at those CBO reports -- this is not a figment of their imagination.  And I think that voters have in 2010, as they did in 1946, basically rejected an attempt to create a hugely larger welfare state in this country.

I have no idea who will win the Republican nomination for President.  I think that if you gave me a list of candidates I could give you a reason why each one of them cannot win the nomination.  You know, zero-sum game -- all but one player must lose, but then one player has to win.  So somebody’s going to win that nomination.

But I think the feelings I’ve heard expressed by Michele Bachmann and by other people here are pretty sound, which is that if we are seeking to affect the style and substance of governance in this country, and seeking to influence the culture, winning the battle of ideas is at least as important as electing a specific individual as President.

People say, you know, we want to elect another Ronald Reagan.  Well, you know, there was only one Michelangelo, there was only one Mozart, there’s only one Ronald Reagan.  You don’t get seconds on something like that.  And I think it’s unwise to look for salvation in just one leader.  I think the kind of advances that we’ve made in the battles of ideas are heartening.  But they are not the end of the road, and they are not full victories.

So with that attempt to dodge predictions on 2012, I’ll conclude my comments.