A Wave Or A Tsunami

The inestimable Michael Barone, the dean of American politics, predicts that this election cycle could be a repeat of ’94…1894:

For months, people have been asking me if this year looks like ’94. My response is that the poll numbers suggest it looks like 1994, when Republicans gained 52 seats in a House of 435 seats. Or perhaps somewhat better for Republicans and worse for Democrats. The Gallup high turnout and low turnout numbers suggest it looks like 1894, when Republicans gained more than 100 seats in a House of approximately 350 seats.

Now, a gain of 100 seats is probably out of the question. Not impossible, but close enough. But this election is not like other election cycles where the President’s party loses 20-25 House seats in a midterm election. This is looking at least like 1994, where the Democrats lost 54 House seats. It could even be bigger.

We can see proof of just how panicked the Democratic Party really is. Despite Vice President Biden’s bombastic claims that the Democrats will keep the House, every indication shows that the Democrats are counting on huge losses. Here’s the evidence: The Hotline reports that Democrats are trying to build a firewall in what should be arguably safe Democratic seats.

Take the example of Rep. Phil Hare, of Illinois’ 17th Congressional district. That district was gerrymandered to be Democratic, and Hare was unopposed in 2008. But now Bobby Schilling, his Republican challenger has raised an impressive amount of cash, and not only that Schilling has gotten the endorsement of The Chicago Tribune. Hare isn’t the only Democrat who should, in a normal election cycle, be utterly safe. But this isn’t a normal election cycle, and the number of safe Democratic seats is getting increasingly small.

Even the Democrats have started realizing that they’ve lost independent voters and are trying to consolidate their base:

Assuming that many independents are out of reach, White House strategists are counting on Mr. Obama to energize, cajole, wheedle and even shame the left into matching the Tea Party momentum that has propelled Republicans this year.

As he holds rallies aimed at college students and minority groups, sends e-mail to his old list of campaign supporters and prepares to host a town hall-style meeting on MTV, the president essentially is appealing to his liberal base to put aside its disappointment in him. Without offering regrets for policy choices that have angered liberals, Mr. Obama argues that the Republican alternative is far worse.

At best, that will only stem their losses. It was the independent vote shifting decidedly to the Democrats that led Obama to his substantial win in 2008. Without those independent voters, the Democrats have little chance of holding on to the House. President Obama’s retreat into the comfortable world of deep-blue America isn’t going to help his foundering presidency or his party’s chances.

Every analysis points to this being a major GOP year, on the scale of a 40 House seat gain. But there’s a good chance this will be a year like 1994, with a 50 seat gain, And in politics, sometimes the bottom falls out—a candidate that’s behind on Election Day sees their support drop as voters figure that it’s over and either stay home or vote for the winning candidate. That dynamic could push Democratic losses even higher if the GOP retains its significant lead through this month.

At the very least, this election is looking like a substantial wave election, and the Democrats are acting in accordance with that theory. But this could be something bigger—a tsunami election that leads to Republican gains much bigger than what’s been commonly predicted.

Pundit Fight: Cost Versus Silver

Over at The New York Times, political polling wizard Nate Silver argues that the generic ballot may be overstating Republican gains. At The Weekly Standard, political polling wizard Jay Cost says that there’s no real evidence that the generic ballot is really overstating Republican gains.

Cost vs. Silver can’t be any worse than this movie…

The Generic Ballot 101

But first, a little background on what the generic ballot means. The generic ballot question is when a pollster asks whether a voter would prefer a generic Democrat or a generic Republican. This measure tends to track the share of votes between the parties—and that share of votes between the parties can help predict how many seats a party will win in a given election. Now, its true that real campaigns aren’t between Generic Republican and Generic Democrat—but nevertheless the generic ballot still correlates quite nicely to the overall vote share.

But there’s a quirk to the generic ballot—it tends to understate Republican performance. There’s some debate about just how much, although the consensus is somewhere between 2 and 3%. That means that Republicans will traditionally get 2-3% more of the actual vote share than they get in the national vote share. That’s why the last Gallup poll in 1994 showed the generic ballot a dead heat, but the GOP went on to take 54 House seats and 7 Senate seats, retaking Congress.

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble!

But Nate Silver argues that isn’t true this year. He argues that the generic ballot is overrepresenting Republican gains instead of underrepresenting them. He looks at a series of polls conducted by the American Action Forum, a conservative group that did several polls in key House races across the country. What was interesting about the AAF polls is that they asked both the generic ballot question, and then named the candidates. The result was that the Generic Republican led by a larger margin than the actual Republican candidate.

But, says Jay Cost, there’s a reason for that—the AAF poll has a higher percentage of people who responded “Depends” to the generic ballot question than in other national polls. Which means that it’s not directly comparable with other generic ballot polls. Not only that, but in many cases the Democratic candidate was better known than the Republican challenger—or the Republican challenger hadn’t even been formally picked yet. Naturally, someone who is better known will poll better than someone who is less known. (Unless the better known candidate is really hated by the electorate.)

Of course, I’m guessing that Cost is right. Not only because I’m horribly biased and want to see Nancy Pelosi return to San Francisco where she can become a full-time Lon Chaney impersonator. But also because one set of polls has a lot less weight than 50 years of collected polling data.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Silver is wrong. It could be that the generic ballot is overstating Republican gains. There could be some heretofore unexplained phenomenon that’s skewing the generic ballot and causing bloggers to use the word “heretofore.” After all, the generic ballot figures have been all over the map this election cycle. One week the Republicans are up 10, the next it’s tied. The clear trend is that the Republicans are up, but by how much isn’t entirely clear.

So, we won’t really know who is right until after Election Day. And if it’s not clear by then, we can also settle it with a no-holds-barred cage match.

Why The Republicans Will Take The House In November

I am making a (not so bold) prediction: the Republican Party will take back the House in November. The days of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will end next year.

Back in April, FiveThirtyEight, a Democratic-leaning but still valuable polling site, looked at the generic ballot measure to predict a possible 50-seat loss for the Democrats. Here’s how pollster Nate Silver explained it:

So, for example, if the House popular vote were exactly tied, we’d expect the Democrats to lose “only” 30 seats on average, which would be enough for them to retain majority control. It would take about a 2.5 point loss in the popular vote for them to be as likely as not to lose control of the chamber. So Democrats probably do have a bit of a cushion: this is the good news for them.

Their bad news is that the House popular vote (a tabulation of the actual votes all around the country) and the generic ballot (an abstraction in the form of a poll) are not the same thing — and the difference usually tends to work to Democrats’ detriment. Although analysts debate the precise magnitude of the difference, on average the generic ballot has overestimated the Democrats’ performance in the popular vote by 3.4 points since 1992. If the pattern holds, that means that a 2.3-point deficit in generic ballot polls would translate to a 5.7 point deficit in the popular vote — which works out to a loss of 51 seats, according to our regression model.

Back in April, the GOP had only a narrow lead in the popular vote. As of today, the Republicans have an average lead of 4.5 on the generic ballot measure. In October 1994, just before the historic 1994 GOP sweep that netted the GOP 54 seats, the generic ballot measure was tied according to Gallup.

What does this mean? If the GOP actually has a 4.5% advantage on the generic ballot, we can use Nate Silver’s historical model to predict the GOP’s possible gains. Adding 3.4% to that 4.5% lead yields us a 7.9% GOP lead in the national popular vote. By Silver’s methodology, that would equate to GOP gains of around 60 House seats.

The GOP currently need 39 House seats to retake the majority, assuming no GOP losses. There are a handful of vulnerable GOP House seats, but even with those, a swing of 60 seats would be more than enough for the Republicans to take the House.

Some Objections

As always, there are some objections to this model. Critics of the generic ballot point out that individual races aren’t between “Generic Republican” and “Generic Democrat.” That is, of course, true. But ultimately, the generic ballot measure does give an accurate prediction as to overall results. Now, in order to get something more than a back-of-the-envelope calculation, you have to fit the data to accommodate the makeup of the various Congressional districts. But this year, the Democrats are defending a lot more Republican-leaning districts than in past years. Even when the data is fitted (which FiveThirtyEight is doing now), it’s likely that a GOP takeover of the House will still happen.

There’s also the question of whether these numbers are still good. Has the electorate changed dramatically since previous elections, due to demographic shifts? Possibly, but this election will not be like 2008. The young and minority voters that helped lift Obama into office are not nearly as energized as they were two years ago. They’ve gone back to their traditional voting habits. Midterm elections do not tend to look like big Presidential election years—and if the Democrats are counting on the Obama coalition to materialize now, they’re going to be disappointed.

Finally, there’s the argument that the Tea Party will alienate moderates and help the Democrats. That’s certainly what the left want to believe, but so far it hasn’t happened. The one race where that’s a factor is Nevada’s Senate contest between Sharron Angle and Harry Reid. Angle is, to be honest, a lousy candidate, but one that’s learning as she goes. That race went from a sure-fire GOP pickup to a toss-up, but it’s not in the bag for Reid either. The Tea Party isn’t going to save the Democrats because Tea Party activists are more likely to back Republican candidates than to stay home. And so far, the national mood is more on the side of the Tea Partiers than it is on the Democrats. The Tea Parties are simply not a big enough negative to the Republicans to hurt them.

The Voters Are Mad As Hell, And They’re Not Taking It Anymore

The most important factor that will hand the Republicans control of the House is the national mood. Voters are angry. They feel like they were ignored in the health care debate. They are sick and tired of a Congress that lectures them while letting Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters run free on the taxpayer’s dime. In 2008, they were promised hope and changed. Now millions are unemployed and feeling hopeless about the future. Nothing has changed in Washington, it’s as broken as ever. President Obama’s numerous vacations adds to the sentiment that he simply doesn’t care.

Voters are angry, and the Democrats are the party in power. The Democrats failed to listen to voters, preferring to slur them as “teabaggers” and “racists.” Now they face the wrath of an electorate that’s ready to send a message to Washington.

The good news for the GOP: this anger will give them the House. The bad news? If they don’t do better than the Democrats in the next two years, that anger could be turned on them.

All The Things I Missed…

I’ve been outside the world of politics for the past year, and what a year it has been! When I started my job, Obama’s approval ratings were still sky-high, and the Tea Party movement was just getting started. Now, we face a political dynamic that’s looking a lot more like 1994 than 2008. What a long, strange year it’s been!

The passage of the health care bill was a Pyrrhic victory for the Democrats. They sold their souls for a watered-down version of the single-payer European-style system they wanted and will likely lose the House as a result. The health care bill was the classic version of why laws and sausages are made in much the same way. It was an unholy mish-mash of bad ideas wrapped in false promises, and presented as though it were the greatest bill ever. It was a 2,700 page monstrosity that has already begun wreaking havoc with private employers. What the Democrats failed to realize is that many employers have their open-enrollment periods in November—which means that the immediate effects of the health care bill will be felt right around Election Day. When employees, who are already struggling, learn that their insurance premiums are going through the roof and their HSAs are less useful than before, that’s not exactly going to make them happy.

The economy is the albatross around the Democrats’ necks. Unemployment is stuck at 9.5%, and the real figure (counting unemployment, discouraged workers, and workers taking the only jobs they could get) is more like 20%. We’re facing a crisis of unemployment. And the reaction from the Democrats has been to do exactly the wrong things. More taxes, more regulations, more social experimentation. The results have been predictable: the level of joblessness is at crisis levels. We can’t have a functioning economy when we’ve got a developing underclass that are essentially shut out of employment. If this trend continues, the effects on both our economy and society will be dire.

As I write this, the last combat troops are leaving Baghdad. Remember when Sen. Harry Reid said that the war was “lost?” Thank heavens that we didn’t listen to him. We still have 50,000 troops left in Iraq, and we may have close to that number in the country for a very long time. The truth is that Iraq’s journey is just beginning. But what has happened in Iraq is something extraordinary: in 7 years Iraq has gone from the iron grip of tyranny to a failed state, to a developing nation that has the chance to prosper and flourish. The future of the Iraqi people is now in their hands, as it should be. We can and should help where asked, but now the main threat to the future of Iraq isn’t related to terrorism, but corruption. That may be a more dangerous enemy than al-Qaeda, but the Iraqi people have the ability to fight corruption and establish a better life for themselves. I cannot, nor can anyone else, say whether or not they will succeed in rebuilding their country. I hope and pray they will. But a chapter has been turned, and a battle has been won. Our military did an amazing job under intense pressure. We have never fought a war quite like this, and the conflicts of the future will be far less deadly because of the lesson’s we’re learned in Iraq.

Afghanistan is another story. I don’t know if we can “win” in Afghanistan. I’m not sure what the goal is—other than to keep the Taliban and al-Qaeda at bay. Can we rebuild a nation that’s never really been a nation in modern times? I’m not so sure that we can. Especially not when elements of the Pakistani government are working to destabilize Afghanistan. Yes, we need more troops and a better strategy to have any hope of success—but we also need to realize that Pakistan is part of the problem, and to find ways of ensuring that Pakistan is an ally rather than an enemy.

Finally, some site news. I’m planning on revamping the site in the next few days to have a new HTML 5 template that will look great on all sorts of devices from Droids to iPads. So forgive the dust as that transition gets underway.

What Steele Means

Marc Ambinder has a perceptive take on the election of Michael Steele, the first black Chairman of the Republican Party:

Did Republicans choose Steele as a token? Some RNC members will think so, as will many skeptical Democrats. But Steele won this thing by himself. The RNC is a fractious, uncooperative bunch. And Steele patiently politicked his way through six ballots. Just a few hours ago, my correspondent Will DiNovi saw Steele and Ohio’s Kenneth Blackwell face to face in the hall. “I know we’ve disagreed on a lot of things,” Steele was telling him. Blackwell waited a little — then he endorsed Steele.

Steele’s election won’t help the party attrack black voters immediately, but if Steele sets the right tone, he could help the party compete for them in the (way) future. As GOP strategists have always known, and noted, somewhat dyspeptically, it’s white suburban voters, particularly women, who are responsive to a diversity message. The RNC isn’t diverse yet; only five black delegates were chosen to attend the national convention. Steele was disgusted by that. It prompted him to run.

Steele’s election is a good thing for the GOP. What the party needs is a transfusion of new blood, and it needs it now. The GOP has painted itself into being a regional party of the West and the South. Granted, those are the parts of the country that are growing, but that’s not enough to win. Steele’s ambitious plan to make the Republican Party competitive in the Northeast is what’s needed. The GOP cannot cede any territory to the Democrats. Republicans should be making inroads with socially conservative black voters in the inner cities, but they have never really bothered to make that outreach. Steele seems likely to change that.

What the GOP should not do is abandon social conservatism. Yes, it should abandon the form of social conservatism that they have now, which is reactionary and offputting. Instead of preaching hellfire and damnation, the GOP needs to recast social issues as kitchen table cultural issues. The GOP approach has been to allow themselves to be painted as bigots—and sometimes with just reason—rather than cast social issues as issues that affect the average voter. People don’t care about the effect things have on some amorphous “society” they care about raising their kids. If the GOP wants to stay relevant, they can’t become a shadow of the Democrats and abandon their values, but they must make those values relevant to voters. Again, Steele is more likely to get this than most.

Perhaps Steele will fail. However, what is important is that the Republican Party not remain stagnant. That is a sure path to failure. The Republican “brand” is tarnished and is in bad need of reformation. The same people who got the party into this mess will not get us out. Thankfully, Steele is a reformer with a great deal of vision—and vision and reform are precisely what the GOP needs.

Bush’s Legacy

Tomorrow, George W. Bush rides off into history. The left is breathing a sigh of relief, their Emmanuel Goldstein is gone (although soon they will find another). Bush leaves an unpopular President—but so did Harry S. Truman. In many ways, Bush and Truman have had similar trajectories. Both began their terms in a time of war, and both made unpopular decisions. Like Truman, Bush will likely be vindicated by history. The narrow-mindedness and ravenous partisanship of Bush’s critics will become less and less relevant as time goes on, and a more fair-minded exploration of Bush’s legacy can begin.

George W. Bush has been systematically turned into a monster by the media. Bush the man has been obscured.

As a point of disclosure, I am only partially a fan of the President. His performance after September 11 was a masterstroke. The decision to invade Iraq was the correct one based on what was known at that point in history. At the same time, Bush’s second term was a disaster. When the President nominated the comically unsuitable Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, it was clear that Bush’s instincts for loyalty had become a flaw rather than a benefit. It was Gen. Petraeus and Sen. McCain that pushed for the surge against a recalcitrant Rumsfeld and Bush. The surge is what won the war in Iraq, and Bush only belatedly endorsed it. The Katrina disaster should not have been laid at Bush’s feet, but putting Michael Brown as the head of FEMA was unquestionably bad judgment. Bush’s tax cuts helped restore the U.S. economy and created millions of jobs. His wasteful spending and statist policies hurt the economy.

Where Bush has failed the most is where he abandoned conservative principles. The left wants to paint him as a radical conservative activist. The truth could not be more radically different. Bush dramatically expanded the size and scope of the federal government. He pushed for a massive increase in entitlement spending under Medicare Part D. He dramatically increased federal spending at nearly all levels. Hardly a fan of deregulation, it was under Bush’s watch that the ill-considered Sarbanes-Oxley bill was passed into law, a bill which dramatically increased the regulation of business. The picture of George W. Bush as laissez-faire radical could not be further from reality.

At the same time, Bush’s tax cuts helped keep the 2001-2003 recession from deepening. They helped America create millions of new jobs. Without them, it’s likely that Bush would never have been reelected. Those tax cuts put money back into the hands of working Americans. While Bush’s economic policies were flawed at best, it was not because of the tax cuts, but because of too much emphasis on state action.

The war in Iraq remains controversial, and will for some time. It seems quite possible that the Hussein regime systematically misled the entire world into believing that they had WMDS. It seems quite possible that the Hussein regime was lying to itself about what it really had. That is unsurprising for an dysfunctional autocracy like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. What did not happen is some sinister conspiracy to “lie” about WMDs to settle some personal score or gain access to oil. The Bush Administration weighed what evidence it had and made a decision based on that evidence. The evidence turned out to be deeply flawed. But the image of a Bush Administration hell-bent on war that was discarding mountains of contradictory evidence has no basis in reality. If Leon Panetta tells President Obama that a country has WMDs and terrorist ties and there is a “slam dunk” case for it, the same principle should apply. A President should never give the benefit of the doubt to this nation’s enemies. A President’s job, first and foremost, is to act on the evidence available and act decisively. President Bush did that, and President Obama should do the same.

This war against Islamist terror will continue. The supposed excesses of this war have led to an America that has not suffered another attack, no less a greater one than that visited upon us on September 11, 2001. We are not living in a fascist dictatorship, the Constitution has hardly been shredded, and our civil liberties remain. The hysteria and fear over this war came less from the President and more from his critics. Yet one unassailable fact remains: we have not been attacked since that fateful day. The plans of terrorists have been foiled, their leaders captured or killed, their hideouts destroyed, their money supply imperiled. Modern terrorism is sui generis, and the Bush Administration responded not be repeating the failed methods of the past, but by treating it as the serious threat it was. Did they always get it right? Of course not, but no Presidency could have been expected to. In facing an evolving and dangerous threat, this Presidency did what it could to keep this country safe. After the attacks, it seemed almost assured that we would be attacked again, and harder. Today, those attacks almost seem like a distant memory. We have the vigilance of the Bush Administration to thank for that. For all the flaws of their approach, it worked.

George W. Bush has been systematically turned into a monster by the media. Bush the man has been obscured. Yet George W. Bush is hardly an unfeeling monster. He is not the caricature that he has been made to be. That he has not defended himself is curious, but perhaps he does not think it his role to do so. Instead, the real George W. Bush is a complex character, motivated by an abiding sense of loyalty and faith, but also harmed by those same instincts. Hardly the unfeeling party-boy of the media’s funhouse-mirror image, the real President Bush is the man who would go to Walter Reed and comfort injured vets, rarely making a media event out of it. If we are to learn anything from the past eight years, we must first move beyond the crude image of President Bush painted by an ideologically homogenous media and see the real George W. Bush.

Sadly, it will likely be years before that happens. But history will judge the 43rd President of the United States with far less ideological rancor than there is now, and when his legacy is remembered it won’t be through the distorted lens of a partisan media, but with the hindsight of history. With that hindsight, the legacy of George W. Bush may be far different than what we would think. Like Truman, Bush may be remembered as a President who did what was right, but not what was popular.

Recipe For Disaster

John Fund takes a look at why the GOP lost Dennis Hastert’s former House seat. The Republican Party is going to face an uphill battle this fall to begin with—and the ham-handed way in which this election was handled does not bode well for the party as a whole. In order to win, the GOP is going to have to run smart, appeal to voters, and not pretend that a handful of negative ads will be enough to make a difference, even in Republican-leaning districts. So far, there’s not a lot of encouraging signs that the GOP is interested in running a winning campaign:

As for the $1 million the National Republican Congressional Committee poured into the district in a vain attempt to save it, the local reviews weren’t good. Even before Mr. Oberweis’ loss I heard comments such as “nasty,” “stupid,” “largely incomprehensible” and “factless” to describe the national ads that saturated the district. “The ads bore no relation to any issues competent polling would have surfaced; they were just schoolyard name calling,” was the opinion of a conservative media specialist in the district.

By way of contrast, Democrats made a heavy buy for an ad featuring local Senator Barack Obama touting Mr. Foster’s credentials as a scientist and problem solver. “He represents the change we need,” the Obama ad concluded. Obamamania may not be as strong among the general electorate as it is among Democratic partisans, but in Saturday’s special election it certainly helped the Democratic candidate score a victory. Mr. Foster’s win is a wake-up call to Republicans that this year they will have to step up their game, big time.

The GOP had a chance to take the lead on earmarks. A few courageous Representatives stood up, but the party remains behind. The GOP has a chance to take the lead on corruption, but Speaker Hastert defended corrupt politicos like William Jefferson. In such a tight election season, the GOP has to take the lead. Playing defense on the issues does not work. Attacking the other candidate does not work.

The only way that the Republicans can win is by standing on their principles, and consistent and clearly applying those principles to our nation’s problems. If the Republican Party wants to win, it has to win on the issues, and to do that the GOP has to start talking about real solutions for real world problems.

I know that Republicans by and large don’t believe the spin on global warming, and for good reason. If the GOP runs on the platform that there is no global warming, and we don’t need to take action then the GOP will lose on that issue. That’s politics. Instead, we should be advancing a 21st Century energy agenda that includes a crash program to create safe pebble bed nuclear reactors, embracing Bob Zubrin’s flex-fuel energy independence plan, and generally reduce our dependence on foreign oil while reducing CO2 emissions—without sacrificing our economy and our way of life. Think that’s hard. It is a difficult task to get these policies enacted, but to borrow a phrase from a candidate who knows the value of political rhetoric “yes we can.”

The middle class is feeling the squeeze. The GOP should have a very simple message: you have to tighten your belt during hard times. Government should do the same as well. The GOP should follow the example of brave legislators like Rep. John Kline and Sen. Tom Coburn. No earmarks. If the GOP doesn’t stand strongly against government waste, then the GOP will lose. That includes waste from military contractors. It’s a national security issue. The military procurement system is broken. The GOP needs to fix it. If we don’t lead, we lose.

That’s just two issues. I could go on forever about health care, education and other issues. The basic point stands for all of them: this is not a time for complacency. Republicans need to run like we’re 20 points down, because in some cases we are. Sen. McCain is the right man to lead on some key issues, but he has to have a forward-looking (and dare I say it, truly progressive) agenda to bring to the American people. If Obama gets the nomination, we won’t be able to win on style. Every Republican should be thinking about advancing our agenda, even if all we can do is start moving the ball in the right direction.

A party that stands for nothing but power will lose, sooner or later. The GOP needs to stand for a real agenda and make that agenda the center of every campaign, or the loss of Hastert’s old seat will be but a prologue to yet another annus horibilis for the GOP.

What He Said

Erick Erikson gives us a look into his thought process in endorsing Fred Thompson. I’ve been wary of making it official who I’m supporting here, but rather than pretend to be neutral I’d rather come out in favor of full disclosure.

Fred08 I’m officially supporting Fred Thompson in the Republican primary. There are two basic reasons for this endorsement: the first is that Sen. Thompson is a consistent conservative. The second is that he has a record of fighting governmental corruption and he is someone who has spent time in the Beltway but is not a creature of the Beltway. There are two issues I care about personally: winning the war and reducing the size of government. Sen. Thompson is strong on both.

The Importance of Judges

There’s a reason why Sen. Thompson has such strong support from the legal community. When President Bush needed someone to guide Chief Justice Roberts through his Senate hearings, he turned to Fred Thompson. In the next few years there is likely to be at least one Supreme Court vacancy, and this country needs a Supreme Court that recognizes the limited role of the judiciary and respects the Constitution as a document that expressly limits the power of the federal government. Stare decisis is undoubtedly important, but it doesn’t mean letting one bad case pile on top of another. Roe v. Wade, as a matter of law, was wrongly decided. The Supreme Court’s decision in Casey was one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in the history of the Court not only in terms of its effect, but in terms of its poor reasoning and bad jurisprudence. As a law student and future member of the bar, it is crucially important to me to know that this nation has qualified judges who respect the rule of law and the constitutional order. I know that Fred Thompson will appoint such judges. I can’t say that with certainty with any of the other candidates.

Economic Policy

I’ve already given praise to Sen. Thompson’s plans for Social Security reform, and for good reason. Entitlement reform is absolutely critical to the future of this country. We cannot sit idly by while entitlement spending threatens to consume more and more of the national fisc. We need to reform entitlement spending now before it matures into a full-fledged crisis. Sen. Thompson has a plan on the table to do that, and the other candidates are behind the curve.

On taxes, Sen. Thompson also has a realistic pro-growth tax plan. We need to keep the Bush tax cuts in place, or risk destabilizing an already shaky economy. While I’m for a flat tax in theory, the question is how it would be implemented. The genius of Sen. Thompson’s plan is that the flat tax would be voluntary. It’s difficult to push through major tax reforms like doing away with the IRS—there’s too much bureaucratic inertia in effect. However, creating a secondary system is easier than full-scale reform, and provides a reasonable stepping-stone towards switching over to a flatter, fairer tax system. Sen. Thompson’s tax plans aren’t based upon pie-in-the-sky promises, but actually stand a chance of being enacted. It’s that kind of incremental approach that helps shift policy in the right direction rather than making promises that are virtually impossible to keep.

Sen. Thompson has also been strong on earmarks and limiting the rapacious growth of government. His commitment to reducing government waste and increasing transparency is absolutely crucial towards the end of reforming the culture of corruption in Washington. His record on these issues makes it clear that his talk of reform is sincere and that as President he would enforce a policy of fiscal discipline that has been lacking in recent years.

National Defense

Sen. Thompson has called for a much larger military, and that’s the right call. We cut back as part of the post-Cold War “peace dividend” and now that events have shown that we live in a much less stable world than we thought, it’s time to rethink that policy. The situation in Iraq has demonstrated that we still have a 20th Century military. We need to continue the process of changing our military for one geared towards fighting Soviet tanks rolling down the Fulda Gap to fighting a modern counterinsurgency. That means changing strategic doctrines, training more soldiers, and learning the lessons of Iraq. Sen. Thompson’s plan for a million-man Armed Forces is the right plan to ensure that we can fight the conflicts of tomorrow.

These are just a few of the issues that justify this endorsement. On the issues that matter—substantive issues of policy—Sen. Thompson has the right positions. While Thompson’s poll numbers have declines, my support is not about hitching my wagon to whatever horse happens to be in the lead, but on which candidate has the strongest policy and the right temperament to lead. Sen. Thompson is that candidate, and while there are many strong Republican candidates in this race, in the end Sen. Thompson has demonstrated that he has the strongest mastery of the issues.

Lott Out

Sen. Trent Lott is stepping down at the end of the year.

This is probably good news for the GOP at large. What the Republican Party so desperately needs is a break from the status quo. Sen. Lott, for all his service, represented the kind of Beltway politics that are causing the GOP to lose both its principles and its electoral prospects. His vigorous defense of Strom Thurmond caused him to lose credibility, but his vigorous defense of pork-barrel spending and earmarks were nearly as bad.

The Republican Party must be a party of governmental reform. It’s much harder to do that when someone like Trent Lott is part of the GOP leadership. Sen. Lott deserves credit for his years of service, but it’s time for a new face in that position.

Is McCain The Dark Horse?

The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll has some good news for Sen. John McCain, as it places him second in the GOP field, albeit far behind Rudy Giuliani. McCain also appears to be the Republican most likely to defeat Hillary Clinton in that poll.

Throughout this race, people have been looking for a candidate who could be a credible “dark horse” to challenge Rudy in the key primary states. First it was Fred Thompson, then Mike Huckabee, and now it’s McCain. What this tells us about the race is that it’s still wide open. While Romney seems to be winning in many of the key states and Rudy has the national advantage, anything could change between now and then. If McCain performs well in Iowa and New Hampshire (which is possible), it could give him enough momentum to knock out some of the challengers like Huckabee and get him from the second tier up to truly competitive status.

McCain’s advantages are clear: he’s a straight-talked who has appeal with independents. He’s the “maverick” who nevertheless has been one of the strongest supporters of the war in Iraq—based not on political expediency, but principle. At the same time, he can claim that he was against the way the war was being run, and it was only when the Administration started listening to him that things changed for the better.

His disadvantages: McCain-Feingold is (rightly, in my mind) reviled by conservatives, and he’s a squish on immigration. The campaign finance issue might be a minor roadblock, but immigration is what’s killing Sen. McCain in this race. Immigration will be a key issue, at least with GOP voters, and an advocate of the President’s non-amnesty amnesty plan is not going to be popular. The fact that McCain is willing to take an enforcement-first approach helps him, but it will take him time to persuade voters that he’s not lax on border security.

Right now, the GOP race is so fluid it’s impossible to say what would happen. There’s action on the top tier of Romney and Giuliani, and the next tier is crowded with Thompson, McCain, and Huckabee. The only thing that is for certain is that Tom Tancredo won’t be getting the nomination any time soon. It’s a free-for-all, and it may be a while before we have a firm grasp on who has the inside track for the nomination. Or, the situation may radically change and one candidate will step so far ahead that the rest cannot keep up. It’s all in the air right now, which makes any one poll only a data point and not necessarily a trend.