The current state of American politics presents a paradox. On the one hand, survey after survey testifies to the rock-bottom standing of the Republican Party. Fewer Americans identify with the party than in the past, and fewer trust it to deal with the country’s problems. On the other hand, there are hard-to-ignore signs of a conservative resurgence. A 15,000 person
These findings would be less compelling if they were not linked to conservative shifts on specific issues--but they are, and the
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that unified Democratic government has sparked a conservative counter-mobilization. Because we cannot rerun history as a controlled experiment, we will never know whether this could have been avoided had the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats adopted a different strategy. In any case, it’s too late to reverse it.
Still, Democrats must ask themselves whether there’s anything they can do over the next year--for example, a meaningful shift toward fiscal restraint--to reduce the intensity level of the conservative assault. If not, the combination of an energized opposition and an electorate battered by high unemployment, slow growth, and the perception of out-of-control spending could set the stage for an ugly outcome. This wouldn’t mean that Republicans had regained credibility as a governing party; odds are that it will take more than two years to erase the public’s sour memories of the Republican congressional majority and George W. Bush’s presidency. It would mean that a substantial portion of the electorate wanted to send Democrats a message that they had gone too far.