A GOP wave that could win the House for Democrats

I remember a lot of Republicans predicting in 2009 that Obamacare would be the end of the Democratic Party, which I dismissed as posturing. Democrats kept the White House in 2012 and the Senate in 2010 and 2012 and even expanded their majority last year. The House was lost in 2010 but that had more to do with Republicans controlling most state legislatures right after the 2010 census required them to redraw their districts.

Now I’m wondering if the opposite is true, if Republicans will end up Moby Dicking themselves with Obamacare.

Greg Sargent wrote about that about this afternoon and I think this could be the first useful indicator heading into 2014 for what will happen to the House of Representatives.

I said yesterday that because of aggressive political redistricting, Democrats can’t win a majority of House seats without a wave election from here on out. That’s still true, but that doesn’t mean that the GOP can’t lose seats that they should be able to hold in a normal year, and that doesn’t mean that the overall House ideology can’t change.

A lot of the seats that Democrats lost in 2010 were held by conservative Democrats (Blue Dogs, or as they were called by Democrats, Bush Dogs) in conservative districts previously held by Republicans that were wiped out in the 2006 and 2008 Dem waves. The result was really conservative Republicans who hate their leadership only a little bit less than they hate Democrats, replacing conservative Democrats who often would vote with the GOP.

The GOP gained a majority and flipped “blue” seats, but it doesn’t have the ability to strong-arm its new big caucus. I think anyone in the current GOP House leadership would tell you that they’d rather have conservative Democrats to bribe than Tea Party insurgents who would honestly be happier to see the federal government shutdown and the GOP burn to the ground than vote to fund something like Obamacare. Leadership understands that an open government with Obamacare means still being able to push other pieces of their agenda forward, while the new far right in the House sees no government as better than activist government.

We could see another ideological shift in 2014 if too many really conservative candidates start taking out conservative and moderately conservative Republican incumbents, opening the door for moderate and conservative Democrats to win in the general election. That’s playing with fire. Conservative Democrats might play better with the House GOP leadership than the Tea Party right will, but the more conservative Democrats you get in the House, the closer Democrats get to regaining power. And Blue Dogs won’t run the House if that happens, Nancy Pelosi will.

Pelosi’s agenda for 2007 included raising the minimum wage, implementing ignored recommendations from the 9/11 commission, funding stem cell research, cutting student loan interest rates, and cutting Big Oil subsidies. More than half that agenda became law. There was majority public support for most of that agenda.

It’s critical to remember that right now, projections about the House for 2014 are based on the vulnerability of the incumbent to challengers from the opposition party. If too many credible far right (I’m not using that term as an insult) challengers emerge against moderate Republicans in states with a rebellious streak (think Alaska), Republicans might find themselves looking at the possibility of losing the House next year. Tea Party luminary Joe Miller ran to the right of Lisa Murkowski in 2008 and beat her in the GOP primary, only to lose to her as a write-in candidate in the general. Democrat Mark Begich took out Ted Stevens that same year and Miller is running against Begich for the Senate in 2014. Begich is a narrow favorite in my opinion not because of who he is and what he’s done, but because Miller is too conservative even for Alaska.

It wouldn’t be a Dem wave in the general that could do it next year, it’d be an ultraconservative wave in the primaries that makes the GOP far more vulnerable than it currently is. What we need to watch between now and the middle of next year isn’t Dem challengers to Republicans in the House, it’s Tea Party+ challengers. Too many and the House could be in play.

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