Less Republican, more conservative

The last big round of primary elections is coming up next week, and so it’s a good time to take another look at what we’ll be facing in Congress after the midterm election of 2006.

There’s a lot at stake this year, although perhaps less than you think. In the event that Democrats take the House — the Senate is likely to remain Republican — the impeachment of President Bush is highly unlikely. A Democratic House would probably just mean two years of drawn-out hearings regarding kooky conspiracy theories surrounding President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Democrats will subpoena high-ranking administration officials and grill them endlessly on the big questions of life: “Why did you cause Hurricane Katrina by not signing the Kyoto treaty?” Or maybe, “After you revealed the name of Valerie Plame in a vicious act of political revenge, what did you eat for lunch?”

Granted, there will be some serious consequences if Democrats take over. A lot of good policies that require annual renewal — such as the current provisions preventing discrimination against pro-life doctors in federally funded institutions — will probably fall by the wayside as soon as the Democrats can manage it. After all, abortion is the Holy Grail for the Left and a key source of its political money.

Other changes will surely follow as Republicans are actually forced to negotiate with Democrats on key bills, but those changes will be minor — for example, it wasn’t the Democrats who saddled us with the prescription drug benefit.

It Ain’t Over Yet

But the thing about the coming Democratic takeover of the House is that it just might not happen. Republicans are talking doom and gloom right now — various GOP sources have described to me and my employer the possibility of a 25 or 26 seat loss that would hand control to the Democrats. That could still happen, but it is pretty much impossible to construct that scenario with a seat-by-seat analysis, given where things stand right now.

Last week’s Evans-Novak Political Report has a chart showing Democratic challengers ahead in 15 Republican-held districts. With one expected Democratic loss, that translates to a net gain of 14 seats — one shy of the 15 they need to take control. But that is probably the optimistic scenario for Democrats, barring an incredible streak of good luck.

I helped make that chart, but I really don’t believe that all of those Republican seats will flip in November. In several cases, the Republican candidates should come back after they start spending their money, and then pull off hard-fought but comfortable victories.

Things can always change, but my money is on a Republican net loss of nine seats — or perhaps just five if we catch Osama in October. And about half of the traders on the Iowa Futures Market appear to feel the same way.

Just look at the general conditions this fall. Crude oil prices are slipping, and analysts now openly discuss the possibility of $2 gas by October. Unemployment is down again to a ridiculously low 4.7 percent, and unemployment claims are down as well. The stock market, oversold through months of jitters over inflation and interest rates, rallied all last week at the prospect of a soft economic landing — about half of American households own stock or equity-related funds. Wages are up, and overall compensation (including benefits) is way up. Even the housing market, which has slowed or dipped in many regions, should not crash and burn, thanks to high rents, still-low interest rates and a sharp slowdown in new residential construction.

Meanwhile, no one is talking about Jack Abramoff any more, or a “Republican culture of corruption.” Last week, liberal journalist David Corn, in a new book he co-authored, debunked the mini-scandal over Valerie Plame which he was mostly responsible for creating. And the White House has finally hired a communications team that isn’t embarrassingly bad.

If no one has a reason to complain about how bad everything is, how bad can it really be?

The Iraq War remains an albatross for President Bush, but it was an albatross in 2004, and that didn’t stop him from winning re-election, despite being a mediocre president and a terrible political candidate. Iraq has already cost Republicans some street-cred on national security issues, but they could reverse that if they’re willing to swallow hard, pass a border fence, and then campaign on Democrats’ perennial and continued resistance to the successfully tested missile-defense system that just might save us from North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il.

Conservative Primary Winners

It is true that conservatives are upset about spending and immigration, and that plus dissatisfaction over Iraq accounts for President Bush’s low approval ratings. But that doesn’t mean conservatives aren’t going to vote this year.

In fact, they have been voting already, throwing seven of this year’s eight hottest GOP House primaries to staunch conservatives in Idaho, Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Tennessee, Ohio, and Michigan. In that last one, conservative voters recently showed up in great enough numbers to oust their liberal Republican congressman, Rep. Joe Schwarz (R). This week, they will cast their votes for a conservative in an open Florida seat as well. All of these new nominees — plus two others who face more serious opposition in November — would represent conservative upgrades for their districts. Surprisingly, this ideological cleansing of the GOP has gone almost unremarked in the mainstream press. Moreover, moderates number prominently among the Republicans who are retiring or targeted for defeat.

None of this means that Republicans will necessarily hold Congress — after all, Sen. Joe Lieberman’s loss in his primary election last month shows that the Left is pretty juiced up as well, and even willing to shoot a 90 percent liberal just to make a point. But it certainly doesn’t bear out the idea that the Right has given up on all Republicans just because of President Bush’s poor performance in office. Moreover, all that media chatter about a Democratic takeover appears to have scared the Hell out of a number of previously arrogant Republican incumbents, who are now wisely fighting for their political lives.

Finally, Republicans will have a lot more money to spend plugging holes in their dam than the Democrats have to create new ones. For that we can thank DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who has been busily paying off the state party leaders who elected him by sending Democratic staffers to Utah and other states with little electoral relevance this year.

At the end of this election, we could have a less Republican but more conservative House of Representatives. And for a conservative, that could be the best of all worlds.

David Freddoso, a native of Indiana, is a political reporter for Evans and Novak Inside Report.

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