Partisan premises for the 2010 election

Keith Hennessey Contributor
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Here are a dozen premises that appear to be driving Republican and Democratic Party strategies as we approach the 2010 election.

As with any generalization about a political party these are tremendous oversimplifications.  I do not suggest that all Republicans or all Democrats agree with each premise.  This is instead my best attempt to describe the overall strategic postures of the two parties as defined by their leaders.  Like my post on fiscal stimulus camps, this is an attempt to frame and structure the discussion, not to resolve it.

I disagree with many of the Democratic premises but have tried to characterize them as fairly as I could.  I would appreciate input, especially from insider Democrats on how Democrats in leadership roles are thinking.

All of these premises are about economic and domestic policy, and I think each is important to this election cycle.  Are there other premises related to foreign policy, national security, or cultural issues that will be as important this November?  It’s easy to think of partisan differences on foreign policy, trade, social issues, immigration, energy/climate, or Guantanamo.  But to me none of these seem central to the partisan strategies this cycle.  Maybe my perspective is skewed because I care most about economic policy.

I hope you find this framework useful.

Premise #1:  Health Care

  • R:  Those who voted for health care reform will suffer in November.
  • D:  Health care reform will be a net plus for those who supported it.  At a minimum it will help with base voters and will be a net wash for most vulnerable Ds.

Premise #2:  Health Care Timing

  • R:  Health care will continue to be important in November.
  • D:  Health care will fade as an issue as enactment moves farther into the past.  It won’t be a big deal on Election Day.

Premise #3:  Economy

  • R:  Voters will reject the party in power because the absolute condition of the economy is weak.
  • D:  Voters will recognize that, while weak, the economy is improving, it’s because of our policies, and we inherited a very weak economy.

Premise #4:  Stimulus

  • R:  The fiscal stimulus didn’t work.  Democrats are now trying to throw good money after bad and breaking their promises to pay for their spending.
  • D:  The fiscal stimulus rescued the economy from a depression.  We need to do more even if it increases the short-term deficit.  After the election we’ll combine it with long-term deficit reduction.

Premise #5:  Deficits vs. Spending

  • R:  We have a spending problem which Democrats make worse each day.
  • D:  We have a deficit problem.  Health care reform reduced the deficit as a good first step.  Tax increases on the rich and a bipartisan commission are next.

Premise #6:  Taxes

  • R:  Democrats will raise your taxes.  A lot.
  • D:  We will only raise taxes on rich people and those who deserve it, like Wall Street, Big Oil, and Health Insurers.

Premise #7:  Size of government

  • R:  Government is too big and Democrats are making it even bigger.
  • D:  Republicans want anarchy and are opposing sensible new protections in financial reform, health insurance reform, and protecting the environment.

Premise #8:  Big Government vs. Big Business

  • R:  Voters are rejecting the expansion of Big Government.
  • D:  Voters want more government protection from Big Business.

Premise #9:  Right/Wrong Direction

  • R:  Democratic policies are moving America in the wrong direction.
  • D:  Democratic policies are the beginning of a long healing process after eight years of the Bush Administration.

Premise #10:  Role of the Tea Party

  • R:  The Tea Party phenomenon represents an opportunity to recapture independents and disaffected Democrats we lost in 2008.
  • D:  The Tea Party is overblown.  This is a traditional rally-the-base midterm election.

Premise #11:  Rejecting Democrats vs. Rejecting Washington

  • R:  Voters are angry with the ruling party in Washington.
  • D:  Voters are angry with the Washington establishment.  Voters are rejecting R incumbents too and would hate/oppose Rs just as much if they were in power.

Premise #12:  Blame someone else

  • R:  Voters will hold the Democratic majority responsible for outcomes, even if those outcomes are largely out of their control (e.g., unemployment, BP spill).
  • D:  Voters will recognize that we’re trying to fix problems caused by others:  President Bush, Wall Street speculators, evil Health Insurers and Big Oil.  Blaming those villains redirects voter anger in support of us.

Are these fair representations of the strategic premises and messages of each party’s leadership?

If so, how do they affect the party strategies for the fall?

Keith Hennessey served as the senior White House economic advisor to President George W. Bush and spent more than eight years previous working on Capitol Hill as a policy adviser. KeithHennessey.com is his in-depth blog on American economic policy.