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I find questions about whether Democrats can really win the White House in 2008 almost incomprehensible. The far, far better question is whether the Republicans can win the White House almost two years from now.
As we begin the 2008 election cycle, we all ought to be on the same page when it comes to expectations. Whether you are hoping that Republicans maintain their hold on the White House or believe that itís important for a Democrat to sit in the Oval Office in 2009, itís pretty clear that the 2008 presidential election is the Democratsí to lose.
Put another way, while we donít yet know the nominees or the specific circumstances that will shape the next election ó all of which, of course, are important considerations in handicapping the 2008 race ó the burden is on the GOP to overcome history if it is to retain the White House.
Only once in the past 50 years, in 1988, has a political party won a third consecutive four-year presidential term. Thatís not an accident. Itís the result of inevitable voter fatigue and impatience, as well as the publicís (and mediaís) desire for periodic change.
Obviously, Republican George H.W. Bushís 1988 victory after eight years of Ronald Reagan shows that itís not impossible for one party to win a third straight term in the White House. But it is inherently difficult to do so, and one would expect it to be even more difficult when the man exiting the White House is widely unpopular. (Before the Reagan-to-Bush handoff, the last time a sitting president was succeeded by a member of his own party was in 1929, when Calvin Coolidge passed the keys to the White House to Herbert Hoover.)
Next year, voters are likely to be receptive to another message of change, but this time it will be directed toward the White House, not Capitol Hill.
President George W. Bush wonít be running again, and nobody from his administration will be carrying the partyís banner in 2008, so the eventual Republican nominee wonít be saddled with the Bush administrationís legacy quite the way Al Gore was hampered during his 2000 presidential bid by some of President Bill Clintonís behavior in office.
But voters may still want to send a message of change, and with a Republican having served eight years as the nationís chief executive, the next GOP nominee inevitably will be burdened by the Bush record.
A dramatic improvement in Bushís standing in national polls surely would help the eventual GOP ticket in 2008, but even that wouldnít erase all the baggage that the president and his party have picked up since 2001. Given that few people believe that U.S. forces will be entirely out of Iraq by 2008, some of the issues that dogged Republicans for the past couple of years are likely to be around by then.