LOS ANGELES – The more you hear Republicans talk about Nancy Pelosi, the easier it is to become persuaded that Democrats really do have the midterm election locked up this fall.
If running against the Minority Leader whose name most people outside the Beltway would probably confuse with a brand of spaghetti sauce is the best Republicans can do, maybe things really are going well, and there is no reason for worry.
But you’ll never convince me of that. As a lifelong Democrat, I’ve come by my streak of pessimism the honest way. I always worry. It’s genetic. I know the Democrats are ahead. I know the polling shows them ahead on every key issue except terrorism, where they’re tied. It’s a much better place to be than where the Republicans are, even if the Republicans have certain strategic advantages, and really do have five times as much money, as it is being claimed.
But the fat lady can keep eating for awhile.
Could the Democrats still blow it, or have it taken away, grabbing — or being handed — defeat from the jaws of victory?
But of course. Easily. This is politics. In three easy steps.
First, step up the “I hate Bush” rhetoric. Lots of talk of impeachment if the Democrats win. Make clear that the president wasn’t just mistaken, he was a liar; that he isn’t just wrong, he’s evil; that he’s not only taken us down the wrong track, he’s a fool taking us down the road to you know where. Better yet, call him a traitor or compare him to Hitler. Have Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore at the event.
This will make the base extremely happy. You can argue at me that it will up turnout. I certainly hope so. I await proof. In the meantime, I’ll show you every past election which turns on swing voters who come from the ideological center where people hate that sort of angry partisan rhetoric.
Second, take a hard line on the liberal agenda. This is no time to compromise, no time for waffling. No Joe Liebermans. Our way or the highway. How about a fight about gay marriage in advance of the election, now that would be a great issue of principle. Insist on absolute commitment to party principles. Be exclusive. What is this, a Party of something? (I’m kidding, get it?…. )
But do watch out for the national security trap. They’re lying in wait with that one. The slightest misstep by anyone anywhere near a leadership position, the slightest slight to the troops or to Israel, and whomp.
Third, spend a lot of money advertising in states where you can’t win anything as a statement of principle about the future. This has been the big fight between Howard Dean and Rahm Emmanuel. Howard Dean can be the party chairman forever so long as he spreads party money around to states that never see any, for the very good reason that they never send any Democrats to Congress.
So why send them money? Why indeed? To prove that we are a 50 state party, Gosh Darn It? The Democrats without question will be outspent by the Republicans, and the Republican technology will be better. Will they also be outtargeted?
It should be obvious. You’d think we’d know. Focus on the middle. Watch the rhetoric. Stop fighting long enough to join forces and target. Party Chairman Dean and House Campaign Chairman Emmanuel have reportedly made peace, which is to say, cut some kind of a deal. But will it hold? What makes midterm elections particularly tricky is that it is not one election but dozens that combine to produce a result that is then understood as if it were one.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.