Washington Matters


The GOP's 100 Day Report Card


With the media in a frenzy to draw conclusions about President Obama's first 100 days, it's easy to forget that Wednesday also marks the 100th day for the Republicans as the opposition party. Many of their diehard supporters find the solid opposition to Obama in Congress heartening, but the real pols know it's time to take stock and rethink where they're headed.

Conservatives point with pleasure at the record so far -- particularly the near unanimous stand of Republicans against the stimulus bill, the budget and the union card check bill, the last of which they've managed to block at least for now. They point to what they see as a series of Obama stumbles on foreign policy, a still-stalled economy and growing public concern over high deficits. House Republican Whip Eric Cantor and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have even raised the possibility of Republicans taking back the House next year.

Well, every party needs its cheerleaders and it's nice to be optimistic, but as Stu Rothenberg pointed out this weekend, there is no way in the world that Republicans can take back the House next year. If anything, they are on the road to defying historical norms and falling further behind. That's especially true in the Senate, where Democrats have a good shot of hitting 60, the number needed to overcome filibusters. In the House, Democrats have a 75-seat edge.

The truth is that while Republicans have stuck together to oppose many Obama policies, that doesn't seem to be what the public wants. Recent polls show Obama with an approval rating in the mid-60s, while congressional Republicans have a dismal 30% approval rate. Even congressional Democrats manage a 45% in the latest Washington Post/ABC poll.

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Political analyst Larry Sabato gives the Republicans a grade of between D and F for the first 100 days, largely on the grounds that they've failed to come up with appealing alternative policies, have let themselves be defined by failed leaders of yesteryear (i.e. Gingrich) and have failed to recognize that the electorate has changed.

All of those factors were at play in New York's 20th congressional district, which held a special election to replace now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. This is a swing district in which Republicans have a voter registration advantage of 70,000 -- in short, exactly the kind of district they need if they are to have any hope of making a comeback. But instead of learning from the November elections, Republicans put up a long-time pol, the GOP state assembly leader Jim Tedisco, and equipped him with an anti-stimulus platform to run against newcomer Scott Murphy. Though Tedisco lost narrowly Republicans tried foolishly to claim it as a victory because they forced the Democrats to spend heavily. Even The Wall Street Journal editorial page laughed at that, though the Journal blamed the defeat on Tedisco's blunders when in fact it had more to do with the tired policies the GOP was espousing.

None of this is to say Republicans can't make a comeback. They obviously can, and they'll be helped greatly if the economic recovery is as slow and halting as many expect it to be. But that alone isn't enough. Neither is waiting and hoping for Obama to fall flat on his face. He'll make mistakes, for sure, but he's showing that he's smart and agile enough to recover quickly when he does. The Republicans needs some new leaders and some new plays or they're going to stay in the cellar for a long time to come.




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