Has the GOP Hit a Wall?

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Most of the professional political prognosticators believe the Democrats are going to get shellacked in the mid-term elections, quite possibly losing the House and maybe even the Senate (see, for example, today's WSJ front page). I've been slower than most to come around to this viewpoint mainly because a) the Democrats have accomplished a lot of what they promised to (health care, Wall Street reform, etc.) and b) I don't detect a compelling Republican alternative. Let me hasten to add: I don't pore over poll numbers in the manner of a Charlie Cook and therefore my viewpoint is entirely impressionistic; if I were putting money on the outcome, I'd bet on Charlie and not on me.

That said, one reason for my reluctance to fully embrace the Armageddon-for-Democrats scenario has to do with the rhythms of how the media cover the two parties, and how I expected them, at some point, to change. When a single party holds power, that party appropriately tends to be the focus of attention. But when the possibility that the other party might take over becomes real--and we're certainly at that point--the attention starts to shift. This always struck me as a potential problem. I don't really imagine that Republicans plan to repeal health care or the new financial regulations (although, who knows?). But they haven't offered up much in the way of a compelling alternative agenda.

This shortcoming was on glaring display yesterday when two top Republicans, Pete Sessions and John Cornyn, appeared on "Meet the Press." As MSNBC's "First Read" team pointed out this morning:

Over the course of several minutes, both Sessions and Cornyn were unable or unwilling to discuss what Republicans would specifically do on the deficit, etc., if they take back control of Congress. Sessions said that the GOP would: 1) ensure that the government live within its means, and 2) read the actual legislation. But when NBC's David Gregory demanded specifics and details of painful choices Republicans were willing to make, Sessions didn't offer a single one.

I'd go even further and characterize the Republicans' inability to answer the question as being similar in nature to Ted Kennedy's devastating inability in 1980 to explain to Roger Mudd why he wanted to be president. Obviously, the scale of the two examples is not quite the same. Anger at Democrats and the White House may well be strong enough that they're in for major losses regardless. But if Republicans can't find a way to answer Gregory's question, and soon--and I can't think what that answer would be--then I'd expect their gains to be on the lower end of the prognosticators' estimates. And that might not be enough to capture the House or the Senate.

Watch the "MTP" exchange here:

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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