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50 Percent Plus 1

Mark Schmitt and Ezra Klein discuss the possibility that Bush has deliberately pursued a political strategy of seeking a minimum-winning coalition of around 51 percent rather than taking up the two opportunities (this is much discussed by EJ Dionne in his latest book) to govern as a "uniter, not a divider" and achieve a landslide win. There is a public choice rationale for seeking to limit coalition size, namely that politics is zero-sum so a 50%+1 coalition has access to the same amount of public resources as a 60% coalition, so that the individual members of a 50%+1 coalition each get more spoils than do the members of a 60% coalition.

But I think Ezra is probably right to believe that this is not, in fact, a deliberate strategy. I would chalk it up to Bush's famous demand of loyalty in his advisors and weak decision-making skills. All of the major "uniter" strategies that could have been pursued would have involved seriously incorporating some Democrats into the decision-making process. Nothing so grand as making Tom Daschle into some kind of copresident (which is how I've often seen the right characterize proposals for Bush to be more of a uniter). Instead, we're talking about steps like taking some prominent hawkish Democrats (of which there are -- or at least used to be -- many) on as an important member of the national security team. Or placing a call to a prominent Democratic deficit hawk and saying, "look, we both know the public is demanding a pharmaceutical benefit for Medicare, and we both know the fiscal situation is dire -- how can we work this out." Things like that. But any possible step in this direction would require Bush to believe that he could form a coalition with some members of the opposite party that was based on a shared belief in certain national goals -- victory in Iraq, Medicare reform, etc. -- rather than a coalition based on a shared belief in advancing the career of George W. Bush.

That's simply not how Bush operates. You're either with him or you're against him. Not in the sense that he's rigidly unwilling to ever compromise, but in the sense that he only wants people working for/with him who are working for him. One of the key points in my qualified defense of Ashcroft and my attacks on his replacement, is that in switching Gonzales for Ashcroft, we're eliminating one of the few important members of the administration (along with Powell and, really, no one) who isn't simply a Bush family retainer. At the time, Bush needed to add a non-retainer to reassure the religious right. Now Bush is the religious right, so he can govern as he prefers to -- surrounded by toadies.

November 13, 2004 | Permalink

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Matt Yglesias makes the intriguing point that it's not a matter of ideology or design - it's a product of Bush's obsession with loyalty and weak decision-making skills.... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 14, 2004 11:33:19 AM

Comments

"One of the key points in my qualified defense of Ashcroft and my attacks on his replacement, is that in switching Gonzales for Ashcroft, we're eliminating one of the few important members of the administration...who isn't simply a Bush family retainer. At the time, Bush needed to add a non-retainer to reassure the religious right. Now Bush is the religious right, so he can govern as he prefers to -- surrounded by toadies."

This is really a perceptive point, Matt; I hadn't thought about that way. And it indicates just how narrow an electoral box religious conservatives in the U.S. have committed themselves to (or been led into); when you end up believing (rightly or wrongly or somewhere in between) that the "culture war" is a stark partisan struggle, you end up giving all you've got to a single candidate, thus ignoring all the diversity and complications in your own position (and, just as bad, encouraging one's opponents to do the same). It makes almost no sense for sincere religious conservatives to put so much trust and fervor into a man like Bush, just as it makes almost no sense for liberals to assume that evangelicalism perfectly translates into support for Bush. But Rove read the tea leaves correctly, and knew how to position his candidate to reactions out of both camps. In the end, it's not going to serve red-state interests any more than it will blue, I fear.

Posted by: Russell Arben Fox | Nov 13, 2004 1:47:10 PM

He did go in with Kennedy on No Child Left Behind. Sadly, this is the exception that proves the rule.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Nov 13, 2004 2:23:57 PM

You and Ezra are wrong and Schmitt is correct. I have commented on both their posts. It is a strategy common to the current Republican party, although I would not credit to Bush, but to Rove & DeLay etc.

You speak of the disadvantages of building broad coalitions, you can approach this in the opposite direction as what are the advantages of a "divided nation." Loyalty, ideological purity, party discipline, easy & obvious images and definitions....a clearly defined and visible enemy. Close elections to increase enthusiasm and turnout, prevent complacency. Just enough power to achieve desired goals, but not so much that the excuse of obstruction is unavailable.

Keeping your opponents in a mode where they think:"If we just adjust a little, and grab one more state..."

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 13, 2004 2:47:18 PM


Until Bush fails in his own terms we cannot talk about defects of strategy. I've thought for a long time that Rove/Bush (like Jesse Helms) deliberately goes for narrow margins of victory in order to have minimum obligations. For example, he dared the deficit hawks, fiscal conservatives, moderate Republicans, and global realists to vote against him. The ones who supported him in the face of that are whipped, and the ones who didn't support him are outcasts.

The frightening thing for me is that Bush won without any support except from the hard right and the uninformed. He really has no one restraining him.

I've refined my post-Godwin epithet BTW. Bush is't Hitler; he's an upper middle class
Juan Peron.

Posted by: John Emerson | Nov 13, 2004 2:54:26 PM

Who is this "John Emerson" and what has he done with Zizka? :)

Posted by: Haggai | Nov 13, 2004 3:15:26 PM

"At the time, Bush needed to add a non-retainer to reassure the religious right. Now Bush is the religious right, so he can govern as he prefers to -- surrounded by toadies."

No, it's simpler than that: He simply doesn't have to make ANYBODY comfortable with him anymore. So everybody who's in the administration as a sop to this group or that is now going to be tossed.

Got the toady part right, though.

Now Cheney is in the hospital, and I think we can anticipate that he'll soon be replaced. And who he picks to be his new VP, and presumptive Republican nominee in 2008, will tell you a lot about where Bush is REALLY coming from. And I'm betting there will be as many screams of outrage from the right as from the left.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 13, 2004 3:20:16 PM

Don't blame this Christian Conservative. I voted for Peroutka.

Posted by: Glaivester | Nov 13, 2004 3:27:21 PM

Matt, I swear I saw a post on TAPPED several weeks before the election that quoted Bush as explicitly saying something like "I only need 50 + 1 in order to win."

Does anyone remember this, or did I make it up?

Posted by: praktike | Nov 13, 2004 4:22:53 PM

"And I'm betting there will be as many screams of outrage from the right as from the left."

Well I think the only final heart problem that would rid of us of Cheney involves a wooden stake, but assuming Cheney is on his way out, Bellmore's line shows he has as little clue as to his replacement as I do.

Condi would be fun.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 13, 2004 4:25:04 PM

Yes, Condi would be a nice replacement. I can't think of anybody in the Republican party right now, who's more qualified to be President. Certainly, she beats any of the candidates in the last election all hollow.

It would suprise the heck out of me, but if Bush really DOES want to drive a stake through the heart of the Democratic party, positioning Condi Rice to get the nomination in 2008 would be the best way to do it.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 13, 2004 4:35:53 PM

Condi honestly doesn't have a prayer of winning in 2008. She only has a chance of being close if the Dems nominate Hillary.

Posted by: Barbar | Nov 13, 2004 4:44:38 PM

Brett, how is Condi qualified? Don't you, um, have to be good at your job? And doesn't she have to know something about, say, domestic policy? She says she doesn't like all the diplomatic BS of the State Department. Is she going to want to go to pancake breakfasts and chicken dinners with the bluehairs?

Posted by: praktike | Nov 13, 2004 5:05:28 PM

I don't know; I've yet to meet any Republicans who weren't enthusiastic about the idea. She has fabulous credentials, now has executive branch experience, appears to be a real conservative, not one of those squishy "compassionate" ones, and by all reports is an eloquent speaker.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 13, 2004 5:10:15 PM

Zizka has been retired. I have a new computer with new cookies and am making a fresh start in life.

Posted by: John Emerson | Nov 13, 2004 5:11:07 PM

How is she qualified? Um, compared to who? Bush? Kerry?

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 13, 2004 5:13:16 PM

She's a bad national security advisor, as noted by such Bush-haters as Michael Ledeen and Richard Armitage. Why would she be any better at running the country than she is at running the NSC?

Posted by: praktike | Nov 13, 2004 5:31:05 PM

I think I have to agree with brett, condi in 2008 would signal the ultimate demise of the democratic party, this is truly the one thing I fear. if she were running, i and i know a lot of democratic voters would either desert to join the republican party or just give up, only the radical left would remain.

i think that it would be, in some way, actually good for us if everyone just admitted this simple fact. we can, i hope, reach across the aisle to the republican's and admit, darn it, that was a pretty good idea that one. i am sure that they if positions were reversed would come with many helpful suggestions as well.

Posted by: bryan | Nov 13, 2004 5:54:09 PM

This whole argument falls apart when you factor in that the election was not a narrow one compared with many others including Truman, Kennedy, Carter and both of Clinton's.

'I swear I saw a post on TAPPED several weeks before the election that quoted Bush as explicitly saying something like "I only need 50 + 1 in order to win."'

Something similar was on West Wing.

Posted by: Ral | Nov 13, 2004 6:44:02 PM

Why would she be any better at running the country than she is at running the NSC?

Since Bush is essentially a spokesmodel, who only gets into trouble to the extent he actually believes his press notices, and acts like he's president, Rice would be an improvement, since she's unlikely to actually believe her press notices.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Nov 13, 2004 8:18:13 PM

Not meaing to be snarky, but why should GW be a uniter, not a divider? He has the house, the senate, and the presidency. He has the power to get done what he wants to get done. So what's the benefit of being a uniter? I have the sneaking suspicion that "Uniter not a divider" is just a way of arguing "give democrats power that they don't have." I mean, so Michael Moore and his ilk (like Jimmy Carter, and the other elder statesmen of the Democratic Party) doesn't like it. big deal.

steve

Posted by: Steve | Nov 13, 2004 10:50:13 PM

Not meaing to be snarky, but why should GW be a uniter, not a divider?

You seem to be forgetting that it was one of Bush's own promises. There's no real reason why he has to, other than the principle that you should actually do what you say you're going to do. To be snarky, not that the lack of that has bothered any of his supporters before.

Posted by: taak | Nov 14, 2004 1:11:58 AM

Condi would be a disaster for the Republican Party and it has nothing to do with race. It has to do with Iraq. Unless Iraq miraculously turns around she will be associated with every part of the failed planning and execution of the occupation of Iraq. Americans aren't THAT stupid.

Posted by: Elrod | Nov 14, 2004 1:41:43 AM

Yes they are.

Posted by: praktike | Nov 14, 2004 3:26:09 AM

But any possible step in this direction would require Bush to believe that he could form a coalition with some members of the opposite party that was based on a shared belief in certain national goals -- victory in Iraq, Medicare reform, etc. -- rather than a coalition based on a shared belief in advancing the career of George W. Bush.

Huh? No Child Left Behind... War in Afghanistan... even, yes, the War in Iraq -- ALL were voted on and supported (at least initially) by a significant amount of Democrats in Congress. Bush isn't a good president by any stretch, but this whole line of argument is pretty silly.

Posted by: right | Nov 14, 2004 3:48:20 AM

why should GW be a uniter, not a divider? He has the house, the senate, and the presidency. He has the power to get done what he wants to get done. So what's the benefit of being a uniter?

Astute observation. Somebody the other day was saying that the greatest presidents leave office unpopular, because they've actually tried to get something done, and have inevitably pissed-off this or that faction (I can't say that a quick mental inventory of the nation's chief executives bears this out, but, it sounded good at the time). Maybe Dubya's concerned with the history books (has he ever read history?). Maybe this president is, after all is said and done, vain. Anyway, to leave his stamp on Washington he definitely doesn't need to be a uniter; all he needs to do is hold his troops together in the Senate and hope he can peel a few Dems away when the need arises from time to time.

Posted by: October Surprise | Nov 14, 2004 4:25:23 AM

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