“The Ryan budget is an excellent rallying cry for Democratic partisans, much as health care reform was a rallying cry for Republicans last year,” one Republican operative said. “Not only is Democratic enthusiasm up, but a part of the Republican electorate has reduced enthusiasm. Plus, it reduces our numbers among seniors, who are very important to us next year to offset the increase in turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds.”
This doesn’t mean that Ryan’s budget and his proposed changes for Medicare will be fatal to Republican prospects next year. The 2012 presidential contest will create a very different context than the one that existed for this week’s special election in New York.
But at some point, conservatives will realize that Ryan’s proposal is a considerable problem for the party and that a Ryan presidential bid would be an even bigger problem.
When they do, those Republicans and conservatives will be relieved that Paul Ryan, no matter how courageous, articulate, thoughtful and intelligent they think he is, isn’t the GOP nominee for president.
At National Journal, Charles Cook adds context:
Last week’s smartest observation came from Steven Law, the president and CEO of the Republican uber-PAC American Crossroads after Republicans lost the special congressional election in New York’s 26th District.
Law said, “What is clear is that this election is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that 2012 will be just like 2010. It’s going to be a tougher environment, Democrats will be more competitive, and we need to play at the top of our game to win big next year.” Law is a former campaign manager and chief of staff to the most cold-blooded of Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He did that before directing the National Republican Congressional Committee and later working as general counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Law’s observation and polling indicates the forward momentum Republicans enjoyed in 2009 and 2010 is over. We are in a jump-ball situation. Polling metrics show neither side with a meaningful edge in terms of favorability, generic ballot test, or party identification. It’s not that Democrats have gained ground but that Republicans have dropped to their level.
But it’s one thing for Republicans to lose their momentum and a special election and another to suggest that Democrats have even a fair chance of winning 24 seats to recapture the House.
There is no historical precedent for the party of a president seeking reelection scoring a net gain of more than 15 seats; presidential re-election coattails do not exist. Franklin Roosevelt’s Democrats only picked up 11 seats in 1936, Dwight Eisenhower’s Republicans lost two in 1956; Republicans under Richard Nixon picked up 12 seats in 1972 and 14 seats in 1984 under Ronald Reagan.
In the last two reelection years, Democrats gained nine seats in 1996 under Bill Clinton and Republicans three in 2004 under George W. Bush. Only with the victory of an unelected incumbent, Lyndon Johnson, just over a year after the assassination of John Kennedy, has there been a significant gain, in that case 37 seats.