The GOP Needs Another Win for a Mandate

Those who consider themselves constitutional conservatives should take care to consider not only the powers that the Constitution confers on the different branches of government and reserves to the states and the people, but also the schedule that the Constitution sets up for sharp changes and reversals of public policy.

The entire House of Representatives is elected every two years. The voters in 2010, with unusual clarity, elected a House determined to reverse the Obama Democrats’ vast increase in the size and scope of government.

But determination is not enough. Barack Obama, elected in 2008, remains in office, armed with a veto. The friendly mainstream media permit him to use euphemisms to insist on tax increases that were roundly rejected by the voters in 2010.

And the Senate, two-thirds of which was elected in the Democratic years of 2006 and 2008, retains a Democratic majority that, though unable to pass its own budget, can frustrate House Republicans’ attempts to deliver on their more recent mandate.

The lesson is that you have to win at least two elections in a row to make the kind of policy changes that the Obama Democrats made in 2009 and 2010 and that House Republicans want to make now.

The good news for Republicans is that there has been a convergence of voting in congressional and presidential elections.

Starting in the 1950s, accelerating in the ’60s and ’70s, and continuing in the ’80s, many Americans split their tickets, often electing Republican presidents but electing Democratic House majorities for 40 years.

In the middle 1990s, that changed. The Democratic percentage of the vote for president and for the House of Representatives have differed by no more than 1 percent starting in 1996.

In addition, the percentages for the two parties in the popular vote for the House in the last three off-year elections have been almost exactly the same as the percentages for the parties in the vote for president two years later.

In 1998, the popular vote for the House was 49 percent to 48 percent Republican. In 2000, the popular vote for president was 48 percent to 48 percent Democratic.

In 2002, the popular vote for the House was 51 percent to 46 percent Republican.

In 2004, the popular vote for president was 51 percent to 48 percent Republican.

In 2006, the popular vote for the House was 53 percent to 45 percent Democratic. In 2008, the popular vote for president was 53 percent to 46 percent Democratic.

Obviously, this is not good news for Barack Obama, since the popular vote for the House in 2010 was 52 percent to 45 percent Republican. Translate those numbers into electoral votes, and you have something like a 331 to 207 Republican victory.

Now it is possible, even in a period when the congressional and the presidential vote have converged, for a president to improve on his party’s off-year performance. Bill Clinton did so in 1996, running 5 percent ahead of his party’s House performance two years before, by sharply changing course on public policy.

And it seems that in the negotiations on the debt limit, Obama is trying to depict himself as following a similar course.

He has said he would support billions in spending cuts — though without providing any specifics. He has said that he would be willing to “look at” means-testing Medicare — though it’s unclear this commitment amounts to anything.

He has encouraged the pliant press to depict Republicans’ opposition to “revenues” — translated into English that means tax increases — as “intransigence.”

But it’s Obama who has been intransigent about insisting on tax increases that voters endorsed tepidly at most in 2008 and that they clearly repudiated in 2010.

Obama promised to fundamentally transform America, and he and his party have managed to increase the federal government’s share of gross domestic product from 21 percent to 25 percent — a huge policy change. They are striving now to keep it at that level permanently.

Republicans want to reverse that enormous policy change, and many are ready to denounce any debt limit deal that leaves them short of that goal.

Before doing so, they ought to consult the Constitution. To achieve the changes they want and that voters endorsed in 2010, they need to win again in 2012. The deal that gets them closer to that is what they ought to be seeking now.



Michael Barone


Michael Barone is a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and principal coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics.

  • Richard

    This site is labeled “Inside Catholic.” For many years what it meant to be Catholic has somehow morphed into what it means to be a Republican. This, I suppose, tracks the incredible success, monetarily, us Catholics have enjoyed since WW II. Kennedy was elected, social mores changed to largely conform to the Catholic teaching about poverty and social justice. Then one Supreme Court case changed the entire track of Catholics in America. There are those of us that think the subject of the case was indeed a private matter, but there is an entire cottage industry based upon opposition. Republicans since the decision have taken an opposition position to the decision and in the process have enlisted an entire generation of Catholics as adherents. In the public square the Republican party has accomplished nothing to change the decision, but they get elected nonetheless on the basis of their stance. It is shallow and phony. At the same time as they oppose abortion, they invade countries leading to the death of scores of people. “Right to life” indeed. It is amazing to me that folks can’t see this as merely politics and nothing more. And now it tracks into an arch that suggests an oligarchy in this nation, and the sheep, following the bishops are good with that. The Catholic Church has become the Church of the big corps and the bishops haven’t a clue.

    • IrishEddieOHara

      Well put, sir. Up until the socialization of Europe, the method of governance which ruled in the Church was the KINGDOM. There was a kind of Suzerainity structure in the European kingdoms in which the Kingdom of God, ruled by Rome, was THE Suzerain kingdom to which all were subject. Luther and Calvin’s rebellion took a smoldering dislike of this by the sinful passions of kings and emperors who wanted to be higher and more important than the Holy Father and turned it into a bonfire of rebellion. Do I have to remind anyone here of what God thinks about rebellion against legitimate authority?

      We are called not to be Republicans or Democrats, but kingdom builders. Jesus left us a Kingdom here on earth, and that Kingdom has every right, bought and paid for in the Blood of the Cross, to rule over every other kingdom or political entity on earth.

      I am one of a small group of people who longs for the day that this country becomes a Theocracy, ruled by King Jesus under the headship of the office which He left in charge of His Church — the Papacy. Unfortunately, too many Catholics have come to America and swallowed the Capitalist Kool Aide, setting aside the pursuit of holiness through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, for a bowl of pottage made up of owning things. The glitter of the toys that Capitalists have swung in our faces has us chasing vanities instead of being willing to suffer that Christ’s Kingdom may be established here on earth.

    • Paul

      “The Catholic Church has become the church of the big corps and the bishops haven’t a clue”

      Back off Richard! First you rant about Republicans(fine with me) but then you cap it off with an unjust and serious accusation of the Church with the statement above. Seems like you got problems my friend. When you say “The Catholic Church” you are also accusing the millions of faithful who are in the trenches doing the work of God in bringing about the kingdom …especially in the public square. Instead of lecturing us Catholics on how bad we are doing why don’t you pick up a shovel and help. Be part of the solution instead of the problem.

  • IrishEddieOHara

    The Catholics who are “in the trenches” doing the work of building up the Kingdom are those who are standing for the Catholic Faith — not for Capitalism. They are those who oppose the Conservative shills who equate warmongering with “building the Kingdom of God” (primarily nutcase Evangelicals like Ann Coulter).

    They are Catholics who oppose abortion, gay “marriage” and making war on innocent nations. They demand that the truly poor are taken care of and not ignored by either the rich or other Christians. As such, they are a nuisance to those who want life to go on in the same fashion. They insist that we can always do better, in keeping with the teachings of Holy Mother Church.

    To me, Dorothy Day was such a Catholic. I would be proud to follow in her footsteps.

  • Mark

    “They are Catholics who oppose abortion, gay “marriage”

    Which is why sincere Catholics understand and accept that Democrats must be defeated — and until much further notice, third party options are laughably irrelevant.

    Like it or not, the GOP is the only legitimate option for mentally stable Christians at this time.

    Best of luck with your “Dorothy Day for President” campaign however.

  • IrishEddieOHara

    Mark — Unfortunately you are correct.

    I vote Republican as a “pro-life” vote (providing the Republican actually IS pro-life!!).

    But I have had to hold my nose the last couple of elections as I did so!!