Callaghan: Contrary to reports, Republicans are alive and well

By Peter Callaghan, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

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photoPeter Callaghan covers the state Legislature for The News Tribune in Tacoma. Blog: thenewstribune.com/politics; or Twitter: @CallaghanPeter. Reach him at peter.callaghan@thenewstribune.com.

If you’re a consumer of political news, keep in mind this important rule: “Every prediction about the next election made in the immediate aftermath of the last election is wrong.”

There’s a reason for this and it’s explained by another rule, this one articulated by urban studies writer Jane Jacobs: “People who try to predict the future by extrapolating in a line from what already exists — they’re always wrong.”

It’s a natural human tendency, I guess, to expect that what is happening right now will continue to happen. Some fans even expect the Seattle Seahawks to win the next Super Bowl or three because they won the last one (Shameless Seahawks reference? Check).

Still, I thought about these rules after seeing the latest predictions for the 2014 election. Republicans, for the first time, are now expected by some smart folks to win the U.S. Senate come November. It will be close, projects Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, but “we think the Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber.” That Republicans are even given a chance shows that the announcements of the party’s death after the 2012 election were premature.

“GOP problem: ‘Their voters are white, aging and dying off,’” was the headline on a CNN Politics article.

“Why the Republican Party Died” is how Business Insider headlined its analysis of how the GOP wasn’t appealing to demographic groups that were growing — young voters, women, and racial and sexual minorities.

(Not all the pundit types fell for the trend story. Charlie Cook of National Journal wrote in December 2012 that the Republicans’ problems might not come into play in a nonpresidential election and that 2014 would be a “six-year-itch” election in which the party of an incumbent president in the middle of his second term doesn’t do well.)

Shortly after the 2012 election, I was asked to speak to a service club, the members of which seemed pretty conservative — economically more than socially. They were having a hard time with the election results that went against them nearly top to bottom.

I reminded them that incumbent presidents usually win re-election, that the makeup of the nation’s political structure was essentially unchanged by the 2012 results, that apocalyptic political predictions rarely come true, that political parties tend to swap places every few years. Just two years before, I reminded them, President Obama — reeling from his party’s loss of the House of Representatives — said Democrats had suffered a “shellacking.”

Won’t matter in Washington

Fifteen months after the 2012 election, Republicans appear quite undead. Given Obama’s relative unpopularity, the GOP has been resuscitated. Democrats who were in love with demographics following the Obama re-election are lamenting predictions that those young and minority voters don’t turn out as well for elections that don’t elect presidents.

“We know how to win national elections. But all too often it’s during these midterms where we end up getting ourselves into trouble, because I guess we don’t think it’s sexy enough,” Obama said during a fundraiser last month.

I don’t really consider any election sexy. Partisans, however, are easily excited and see losing elections as political celibacy. Democrats are so desperate to avoid losing that some are suggesting that if the party can get a gay marriage, legal pot or higher minimum wage measure on a state’s ballot, their candidates might do better.

It won’t matter here. We already have gay marriage and legal pot and don’t have a U.S. Senate seat on the ballot. And only one U.S. House seat is in play, a gift to incumbents from the 2011 Washington State Redistricting Commission.

Only wealthy Washingtonians will get to play, as they’ll likely get hit up for campaign cash to pay for elections in Senate battleground states. The rest of us, however, can take solace in the fact that while Washington is an afterthought, we at least can watch TV without the form of water-torture known as continuous campaign hit pieces.