Fact-checking Fred Barnes of the WSJ

I'll just correct a few of the outright lies in The Incredible Shrinking Dems, by Fred Barnes in yesterday's WSJ (see extended entry for the full column). First, let's start with the title. Shrinking? Kerry delivered over 59 million votes in 2004, the second highest total ever for a Presidential candidate, and lost to the incumbent Bush (the 50.73% President) by a mere 2.4% overall. But that's just Barnes being flippant with language, he goes further:There's another measure of Republican (and Bush) success in 2004. For the first time in more than a century, a Republican president won re-election as his party improved its hold on the House and Senate while increasing its majority of governorships (28 now) and maintaining control of a plurality of state legislatures (20). At the same time, Republicans held a majority of state legislators -- a feat they initially achieved in 2002 after a half-century in the minority.While Bush did win alongside GOP gains in the House and Senate, the GOP held 28 governorships heading into 2004 (each party took away 2 in 2004), and Republicans have actually lost governships from their total in 2000. Republicans held "control of a plurality of state legislatures (20)" after the 2004, but held 21 before the election, while Democrats went from control of 17 to 20. And in terms of having "a majority of state legislators", Republicans did achieve that in 2002, but in 2004, Democrats gained state legislative seats nationwide, and retook the majority. Republicans have lost governorships, state legislatures, and legislators to Democratic gains-- a post-election fact that a measure of Democratic success in 2004.

Let's just look at which party is shrinking at the House level. In 2002-2004, Adam Tondowsky's research found that Democrats made substantial gains as an overall percentage of the vote:

Nation's total votes in congressional races for parties:

		   2002 		   2004

Republicans	   37,390,372 (51.0%)	   56,093,582 (50.1%)
Democrats	   33,623,365 (45.9%)	   53,093,009 (47.5%)
From 2002 to 2004, the Democratic candidates in the House went from a 5.1% deficit to a 2.6% deficit, nearly cutting in half the shrinking Republican margin. And if you take away the gerrymandering that went on in Texas for the GOP gain of seats in 2004, Democrats would have nationally gained seats. Outside of Texas, Democrats knocked off three GOP incumbents, while only one Democrat incumbent lost.

What we really had in 2004 was a "southern peak" for the Republicans, where they gained 4 open Senate seats in the South, took over state leg seats in TN and GA (IN too), and saw an even stronger performance by Bush in the South than in 2000. But outside of that, Barnes is left stretching those gains into a projection of what's happening nationally. Maybe it's a stretch calling Barnes a liar, but these are basic factual numbers he's talking about, and they are not open to interpretation. Maybe Barnes is just unaware that Democrats are actually gaining outside the South, and the WSJ apparently doesn't fact check.

The Incredible Shrinking Dems
By FRED BARNES
December 31, 2004; Page A10

George Bush got more votes in winning re-election than the entire population of France. He improved his share of the vote among Latinos, women, African Americans, Jews and Catholics. Winning a plurality of states along the Mississippi River has guaranteed presidential victory since 1912. Mr. Bush won a majority. This year, says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, "A sense of Republicanism crept up the river. The president won Missouri, which was always a toss-up state, by more than 7%. Iowa flipped his direction, and in Minnesota and Wisconsin, we waited all night to find out that Kerry had just barely carried those states." So the Upper Midwest, following the South, Southwest, Plains, and Rocky Mountains, is now trending Republican.

And don't forget what Democrats insisted for decades was their path to sure victory. If Democrats could match Republican campaign spending, energize their base, dramatically increase voter turnout, and provoke a robust debate on big issues, they'd win the White House and probably a whole lot more. Well, they managed all of that in 2004. The result: A Republican won with the first presidential majority since 1988. Mr. Bush touted an agenda of bold conservative reform. The last time a Democrat won as an unalloyed liberal was 1964.

* * *

Democrats and the media have been reluctant to spotlight the breadth and depth of Republican strength in 2004. Strangely, so have Republicans. It's almost as if they don't believe their own good fortune. "We're no longer a 49% nation," says Ken Mehlman, Mr. Bush's campaign manager in 2004 and now the Republican national chairman, in a breathtaking understatement. And Mr. Mehlman warns that the Republican majority is "not overwhelming" and won't produce "automatic victories." True, but Republicans have the presidency, the most senators (55) since 1931, and are near their modern peak in the House (232). They have all but completed the sweeping political realignment they could only dream about a generation ago. In the dark days after the 1964 rout, those dreams seemed quixotic, farfetched, even crazed. Now, they've been realized.

Today, Republicans are in position to pursue a conservative agenda more sweeping than even Reagan's. Mr. Bush is preparing to propose the partial privatization of Social Security. That's ground on which Reagan feared to tread. Then Mr. Bush plans to seek simplification of the tax code far beyond what Reagan achieved in 1986. And from there, the agenda turns to curbing trial lawyers, expanding faith-based programs, filling Supreme Court vacancies with conservatives, and more.

Where are Democrats? They're desperately seeking to preserve every government program and benefit enacted since the days of the New Deal. The problem for them is that the New Deal paradigm -- the belief that Washington could endlessly improve people's lives -- has lost its appeal. Mr. Bush discovered this the hard way. He pushed a Medicare prescription drug benefit through Congress in 2003, expecting it to boost his popularity. It didn't. The program drew disapproving poll numbers. His newer idea of an "ownership society" hasn't quite replaced the New Deal paradigm, but it has a chance.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats are experiencing an extraordinary reversal of roles. Democrats were once the inclusive party of the "big tent." Republicans now have a bigger tent. Social liberals like Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger were prominent speakers at the GOP convention. Social conservatives were virtually nonexistent at the Democratic convention. Democrats have embraced a series of ideological litmus tests on abortion, gay rights, and embryonic stem-cell research. Republicans haven't.

What's more damaging politically, Democrats have become the party of higher taxes. The debate among Democratic presidential contenders this year was over whether to repeal all or just some of Mr. Bush's tax cuts. More recently, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has sought to win Democratic support for Social Security reform by promising to pay for it with a huge increase in payroll taxes.

On foreign policy, Democrats traditionally were idealistic internationalists in favor of an assertive U.S. presence in the world ready to oppose various tyrannies. They've abdicated that role to Republicans. The chief foreign-policy idealist today is Mr. Bush, who champions a crusade for democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East and elsewhere. Democrats flirt with isolationism.

One of the most talked about political concepts of the early 21st century was "the emerging Democratic majority." It was supposed to begin emerging in 2002 and 2004, but clearly it didn't. Adherents of the Democratic idea blame the 9/11 terrorist attack for upsetting the Democratic trend temporarily. The truth, of course, is there wasn't a Democratic trend in the first place. The concept assumed that Democratic vote levels in the late 1990s among women, Latinos, African Americans and young, college-educated urbanites was a floor. And since these groups were growing at a fast pace, the Democratic vote would soar and Democrats would emerge as the dominant party again, as they were from the '30s to the '90s. The floor turned out to be a ceiling. It's Republicans who have gained among these groups (with the possible exception of young metropolitan sophisticates). Take women. Since 1996, the gender gap -- the difference between the male vote for Republicans and the female vote for Democrats -- has shrunk. President Clinton won women by 16 percentage points in 1996. Al Gore won by 11 points in 2000. But John Kerry's edge in 2004 was a mere three points. And among white women without a college education, a poll by Democracy Corps found Mr. Kerry trailing Mr. Bush by 23 points.

Anna Greenberg, one of the smartest of the younger Democratic consultants, explains the Democratic trouble with women this way: "Despite the economic interests, socially conservative women, white, blue-collar women, have moved increasingly into the Republican camp, primarily around social and cultural issues that include perceived moral decline, abortion and reproductive health, challenges to women's traditional roles in society and family, and gay rights . . . . These voters swung to Bush as he tapped into their social conservatism, their support for his approach to the war on terrorism, and their admiration of his faith."

* * *

With Latinos, the story is similar. Traditional values, respect for religious faith, and support for entrepreneurship are tugging them into the Republican Party. The Republican share of the Latino vote grew from 21% in 1996 to 35% in 2000 and to 44% in 2004. The 44% figure in the exit poll is disputed by some Democrats, but if the jump was only to 40%, that's still a significant gain and represents an even more significant trend. Republican gains among Jews (19% in 2000 to 25% in 2004) and blacks (9% to 13%) were smaller. And Democrats point to the youth vote as predicative of a bright Democratic future. Mr. Kerry prevailed among voters aged 18-29 by nine percentage points. But there's no evidence that younger voters are the wave of the future in presidential contests. Mr. Clinton won them by 19 points in his 1996 re-election. Democrats went on to lose the next two presidential elections.

Some Democratic strategists disparage the notion that increased Republican turnout in the rapidly growing exurban and rural areas matters in national races. Not enough voters live there, they say. This amounts to self-justification. Democrats largely ignored these areas in their massive voter registration drive in 2004 and regarded Republican registration claims as imaginary. But without a spike in turnout outside major urban areas, Mr. Bush would have lost Ohio and New Mexico and perhaps Iowa, thus Mr. Kerry would be president-elect. After the election, Ronald Brownstein and Richard Rainey of the Los Angeles Times found that Mr. Bush captured 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties in the country, most of them on the fringe of major metropolitan areas.

The Republican surge in recent years should not have been a shock. The 200-plus years of American political history have seen a series of realignments that shift power from one party to another (1800, 1828, 1860, 1896, 1932, now). The chief theorist of realignment, political scientist Walter Dean Burnham, says they occur when the dominant party is unable to cope with new demands from frustrated voters. That prompts a breakthrough election, the latest in 1994. If the new political arrangement "turns out to be permanent," it's a realignment that's likely to endure for decades. The 2004 election "consolidated" the realignment, Burnham says. There's reason to believe Republican dominance, absent a catastrophe such as a depression, will last. Yes, there are sure to be setbacks. Even as Republicans have ascended, three states -- Illinois, New Jersey, and (this year) Colorado -- have trended Democratic. But with luck, good leadership and intelligent nurturing of the center-right conservative coalition, Republicans should have the upper hand for years to come.

Mr. Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard and co-host of "The Beltway Boys" on the Fox News Channel.

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What an annyoing article:Even as Republicans have ascended, three states -- Illinois, New Jersey, and (this year) Colorado -- have trended Democratic.

Where's Montana in that shortlist!

by Jerome Armstrong 2005-01-01 10:55AM | 0 recs
Re: more
Montana, Virginia, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon conveniently missed that list.
by raginillinoian 2005-01-01 01:58PM | 0 recs
Re: more
Oh, and Maine, Vermont, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania.
by raginillinoian 2005-01-01 01:59PM | 0 recs
Barnes is an idiot
I have pretty much shunned Faux News in the last few months. I occasionally catch a couple of minutes of O'Reilly or Scarborough during commercial breaks of The News Hour on PBS or Lou Dobbs, but that's it. Barnes has been on a peculiar Republican "realignment" kick for months. This was a common topic Barnes brought up for very little reason on "The Beltway Boys". The most consistent feature of his theory is how little evidence he requires to support it.

For example, when he quotes Anna Greenberg:

Anna Greenberg, one of the smartest of the younger Democratic consultants, explains the Democratic trouble with women this way: "Despite the economic interests, socially conservative women, white, blue-collar women, have moved increasingly into the Republican camp, primarily around social and cultural issues that include perceived moral decline, abortion and reproductive health, challenges to women's traditional roles in society and family, and gay rights . . . . These voters swung to Bush as he tapped into their social conservatism, their support for his approach to the war on terrorism, and their admiration of his faith."

In the link above, which I found after an arduous 15 second google search, Anna is clearly talking about southern women. Barnes selective quote leaves the impression this is a problem with women nationwide.

Another factor that Barnes ignores is addressed by Theodore Lowi in "The End of the Republican Era". What Lowi and others didn't foresee was the way Bush/Rove would mend the split between the socially liberal "patrician" and Wall Street Republicans and religious conservatives. Bush has managed to give both parts of his base what they want without offending either ...  so far. This is still a combustible mixture. There's a whole lot of mistrust of Wall Street in religious right circles.

Another real big factor that Barnes ignores is Bush's status as an encumbant President at a time of war. I'm not sure anyone can calculate how that one factor affected the different groups Barnes "analyzes".

Let's examine Barnes' own realignment condition:

The chief theorist of realignment, political scientist Walter Dean Burnham, says they occur when the dominant party is unable to cope with new demands from frustrated voters. That prompts a breakthrough election, the latest in 1994.

Let's see. Do the worst poll numbers of any second term President following an election victory indicate voter frustration? Are voters showing signs of frustration with Medicare Prescription Drugs, the war on Iraq, economic uncertainty and huge budget deficits? Is Bush going to resolve voters Social Security angst with his privatization plan? Bush is going to attempt the following initiatives:

Today, Republicans are in position to pursue a conservative agenda more sweeping than even Reagan's. Mr. Bush is preparing to propose the partial privatization of Social Security. That's ground on which Reagan feared to tread. Then Mr. Bush plans to seek simplification of the tax code far beyond what Reagan achieved in 1986. And from there, the agenda turns to curbing trial lawyers, expanding faith-based programs, filling Supreme Court vacancies with conservatives, and more.

I see a whole lot more land mines in Bush's future than gold mines. But I don't have Barnes' rose colored glasses:

But with luck, good leadership and intelligent nurturing of the center-right conservative coalition, Republicans should have the upper hand for years to come.

That's a conclusion you can't possibly argue with. If I win the lottery I'll be rich. Should I contact a Beverly Hills realtor and put a $5,000 downpayment in escrow?

We can only hope that Fred Barnes is holding his breath waiting for his Republican realignment.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-01-01 12:04PM | 0 recs
The GOP did not take the Tenn legislature
The Democrats still are the majority in the Tenn house and while the Senate is Repulican 17 Democrats 16 the Democratic leadership still runs the Senate becasue two GOP senators voted with the Democrats so the Democrats still control the Senate in spite of the make up.  Democrats hope to gain seats in both houses when the Governor is up for re-election just like they did in North Carolina.
by THE MODERATE 2005-01-01 01:06PM | 0 recs
What an idiot!
What an idiot! He obviously hasn't studied the numbers carefully. We actually gained in the House (if Texas is discounted), didn't lose any governorships, took the majority of state legislators for the first time in years (including in red states like North Carolina and Montana), and came within 2.46% of this sitting president (the worst reelection margin since 1916). So much for that f-ing mandate!
by raginillinoian 2005-01-01 01:44PM | 0 recs
Republicans as Victims of Their Own Success
Without a doubt, changes in political culture tend to start in the state legislature and local governments first. It is usually the rule in any regime.

Barnes is all but giving the Democrats the store. Sure, the South tends to vote more uniformly Republican and, surprise, it was the fastest growing part of the country in the last decade or so.

But then there's the Midwest and Far West more or less split depending on good the state's university system is (no joke). The Northeast meanwhile looks more and more hostile to conservatives. Some Republican officials, such as MA Governor Mitt Romney are bucking this trend, but you know it's a bad sign when "exurban" New Hampshire went for Kerry.

So there you have it. When the economy of the Northeast begins to rev up (which it purportedly will this year), it will pull more Southerners north while the Democrats target "moderate Republicans" such as Lincoln Chafee and Olympia Snowe. Add in close races in PA and VA, and hopefully NV...and the GOP will lose the Senate.

And this assumes that Iraq gets better, and that the public goes along with Bush's more radical domestic reforms. If not, the Holy Republican Trinity could crash and burn like nothing we've ever seen.

by risenmessiah 2005-01-01 02:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Republicans as Victims of Their Own Success
"and, surprise, it was the fastest growing part of the country in the last decade or so."

Wrong. The West was. The South came in at number 2. And in fact, Montana, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico are notably trending quite blue.

"The Northeast meanwhile looks more and more hostile to conservatives."

True. Vermont went from going to Gore by 10 points to going to Kerry by 19 in a year when Bush gained ground in most states. New Hampshire flipped from Bush to Kerry. Maine went from lean-blue to solid blue.

"So there you have it. When the economy of the Northeast begins to rev up (which it purportedly will this year), it will pull more Southerners north while the Democrats target "moderate Republicans" such as Lincoln Chafee and Olympia Snowe. Add in close races in PA and VA, and hopefully NV...and the GOP will lose the Senate."

Love that optimism! I'm with ya!

"And this assumes that Iraq gets better, and that the public goes along with Bush's more radical domestic reforms. If not, the Holy Republican Trinity could crash and burn like nothing we've ever seen."

I agree. We only need 15 House seats (which isn't that many, relatively), 6 Senate seats, and 4 governor's mansions for the Republicans to start their soul-searching!

by raginillinoian 2005-01-01 02:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Republicans as Victims of Their Own Success
But first, we must keep the governor's mansion in Virginia.
by raginillinoian 2005-01-01 02:46PM | 0 recs
The Kaine Mutiny
Ragin:

I was including Texas as part of the South, because I believe that is how most analyses do it. Also, I meant more job growth than total economic growth...but that's just to give you a better idea what I meant.

I don't deny that the Virginia governor's race is bound to be hyped this year because of Warner and the other ramifications. But remember how awful 2002  was despite McGreevey and Warner both winning the statehouse in '01.

You have to love the Willie Horton tactics Kilgore is trying to use, and I am not sure it will work. But in any case, I think the Dems can really cause  trouble in '06 simply by trying to purge Republicans from areas of the country where Bush and guys like DeLay are an anethma.

by risenmessiah 2005-01-01 05:08PM | 0 recs
If Bush could do it!!
Barnes' subtext, IMO, that Bush eas such a weak candidate that the fact that the GOP won the WH and was not thrown out of every major position in the country was a tribute to the Republicans and a sign of Democratic weakness.
Of course his fract are wrong. Top Banres and his right wing friends acts are only for people who can't lie convincingly, and that is a charavcter flaw.  Too bad the over 50 Million people in the country agree with them.
by larrycpa 2005-01-01 04:28PM | 0 recs
Re: If Bush could do it!!
The Republicans control the mainstream media, they control the Congress and its legislative agenda, they control the electronic voting devices and the vote tabulating infrastructure, they enjoy the backing of the big corporate money, they control corrupt Secretaries of State in Ohio and Florida, they had an incumbent wartime President, and still they BARELY won. Flip 130,000 votes in Ohio around, and John Kerry is President.  

Mandate, my ass.

by global yokel 2005-01-01 08:06PM | 0 recs
Fred Barnes is an Idiot
Republican partisans such as Barnes are breaking their arms patting themselves on the back these days for being such a superior party.  They appear to envision the same kind of run for the GOP that the Democrats enjoyed from the 1930s to the 1990s (the "New Deal" era).  Geez, some folks have even predicted a permanent takeover of the federal government by the GOP.

What they need to realize is the factors that contributed to GOP success in the presidential and congressional elections last year are always in flux.  There is no guarantee these same factors will work in their favor four years from now.  I believe they won't.  In the one section of the electorate in which Bush won by the widest margin over Kerry was in the age 60 and over population.  I suspect that was a temporary phenomenon and will not be repeated - especially when Bush tries to reduce the federal budget deficit on the backs on this segment of the electorate.

I believe the GOP will continue to do well in the Deep South because it knows how to strum the conservative heart strings of that region.  But in other regions of the country, the GOP will be very lucky to just hold on to what they have and will likely lose strength in the Northeast (happening already) and in the West.  At the state and local level, Democrats are already having electoral success.  The 2008 election should be very interesting!

by Mushinronsha 2005-01-01 08:12PM | 0 recs
the GOP secret
They play with the numbers. when they don't add up, they lie.
by bigdogjunior1963 2005-01-02 08:46AM | 0 recs
I'm confused
I couple of points here confused me.

"the GOP held 28 governorships heading into 2004 (each party took away 2 in 2004),"

Doesn't that mean the totals remained the same?

" and Republicans have actually lost governships from their total in 2000."

and if they stayed the same in 2004, then democrats picked up governorships in 2002?

" Republicans held "control of a plurality of state legislatures (20)" after the 2004,"

Does this mean there's a third party controlling some state legislatures?

" but held 21 before the election,"

So the GOP lost one?  I thought we picked up more than that.

" while Democrats went from control of 17 to 20."

So the GOP lost one, but we gained 3?  So we picked up two from this third party?  What party is that?  Are you referring to each chamber, or both chambers combined?

" And in terms of having "a majority of state legislators", Republicans did achieve that in 2002, but in 2004, "

So the GOP picked up state legislators in 2002.  Right?

Thanks for clarifying.

Ryan.

by Ryan 2005-01-02 09:38AM | 0 recs
Re: I'm confused
Yes, yes (but then CA got recalled), some state legs are split controlled by D/R in Senate/House, yea, GOP lost 1, Dems gained 3, yea, GOP held about ~65 lead after 2002, now Dems hold about a ~12 lead.
by Jerome Armstrong 2005-01-02 03:35PM | 0 recs
You Guys Are Looking At This The Wrong Way
There is no greater gift that being underestimated by you opponent (Paraphrazing Sun Tzu 'Art of War'...or was it 'The Ferengi Rules of Aquisition'?)
by DreamOfPeace 2005-01-02 12:52PM | 0 recs

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