Karl Rove looks at the 2008 numbers and concludes:
History will favor Republicans in 2010. Since World War II, the out-party has gained an average of 23 seats in the U.S. House and two in the U.S. Senate in a new president’s first midterm election. Other than FDR and George W. Bush, no president has gained seats in his first midterm election in both chambers.
Since 1966, the incumbent party has lost an average of 63 state senate and 262 state house seats, and six governorships, in a president’s first midterm election. That 2010 is likely to see Republicans begin rebounding just before redistricting is one silver lining in an otherwise dismal year for the GOP.
In politics, good years follow bad years. Republicans and Democrats have experienced both during the past 15 years. A GOP comeback, while certainly possible, won’t be self-executing and automatic. It will require Republicans to be skillful at both defense (opposing Mr. Obama on some issues) and offense (creating a compelling agenda that resonates with voters). And it will require leaders to emerge who give the right public face to the GOP. None of this will be easy. All of this will be necessary.
Clearly the two biggest dangers for the Democrats are overreach (i.e., pursuit of a far left agenda not embraced by the majority of voters), and that the economy doesn’t improve, or indeed worsens. So let’s suppose the Democrats push through a tax increase, another round of massive bailouts, some protectionist trade measures, and abolition of secret ballots in union elections. The markets worsen, independent voters recoil, and the Republicans–with some minimal improvement in messaging and improved candidate recruitment–pick up a batch of House and Senate seats. It’s not inconceivable that the Democrats might go that route, since each of the items above is on their wish list.
The dangers for the Republicans: the same tired leadership remains, their tone worsens, they lack a compelling message other than “no,” and they harp on issues which turn off segments of the electorate. That’s also not inconceivable, since it is roughly what they did in 2008.
So the race is on: who will mess up first and most? If it’s the Democrats, then all the talk of an electorate-shifting race and a new age in American politics will be for naught. And if there is any doubt about the hubris of over-interpreting one or two elections, Karl Rove can remind us all of the Republican permanent majority that never was.