Taxes and the Death of the GOP Majority
In New York and nationally, this election seems to have proved that voters either don't buy the idea that Democrats will raise middle-class taxes. Or if they do, it's not as galvanizing today as it was 25 years ago when Reagan convinced a large section of the electorate that Democrats wanted to redistribute wealth downward. After national security, Bush's stump appeals late in the campaign tried to frighten voters with a message of Democratic tax-raising. He failed like Faso.
Which raises the question: What is a Republican issue in 2006? In any area where economic issues blend with morality (minimum wage) or responsibility (deficits), Democrats have successfully suggested they can mix generosity and common sense. Middle-class voters overwhelmingly chose Democrats on Tuesday, and voters who make over $100,000 chose Republicans. What about "values"? The battle over abortion is increasingly muddied, with the candidacies of pro-life Democrat Bob Casey Jr. and, though he lost, Harold Ford and organizations like Democrats for Life of America suggesting a big tent approach. Philadelphia Republican radio host and columnist Michael Smerconish hopes so. "I want a party with room for pro-life and pro-choice views. Plan B should be sold over the counter if you're 18. And I don't want politicians determining my end-of-life plan."
Losing moderate Republican voters to moderate Democratic candidates leaves the GOP with the socially conservative hard-line "base." As the Democrats become less dogmatic on things like abortion, Republicans will become more entrenched. Gay marriage, which five states chose to ban, remains a GOP issue, but the success of same-sex-marriage bans didn't lead to Republican electoral gains. It's also possible that people motivated to support gay-marriage bans voted for Democratic candidates because of other issues. You can register your displeasure with Iraq and still be a bigot, after all. National security, an issue Republicans rode to dominance after 9/11, has been totally squandered thanks to Iraq. Candidates who hewed to the Bush "stay the course" strategy got beat, and Democrats significantly closed the gap on "homeland security" by talking tough while taking on Bush over wiretaps and torture.
Looking back to 2004, this switch seemed inconceivable. But today the Republicans are the party of people who are either very rich or very psyched about the End Times. The Democrats have almost everyone else.