As ever, Bill Kristol’s ability to deny the obvious continues to amaze:
Since then, we’ve seen an epic Republican collapse in 2006. That happened despite pretty good economic growth in the preceding two years. Its cause was some combination of the Bush attempt to institute private Social Security accounts, Hurricane Katrina, Harriet Miers, Tom DeLay, Donald Rumsfeld, immigration, and God knows what else—but not particularly the economy.
Immigration became a major problem for the Bush administration in 2007, but before the midterms it was not that significant of a factor in Bush’s unpopularity. Katrina was a factor in driving down Bush’s numbers and reinforcing the administration’s reputation for massive incompetence, but Social Security privatization was such a flop that it had minimal effect and Harriet Miers’ quickly-withdrawn appointment had relatively little effect. Tom DeLay and related corruption issues hurt the reputation of Congressional Republicans. However, all of these pale in comparison to the real issue that cost the GOP both houses. As Conor Friedersdorf explains, it was the Iraq war that was the most significant factor in the 2006 midterms:
After the election, CNN reported that “after a sweeping Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s midterm election, and with control of the Senate hanging in the balance, exit polls indicated views of President Bush and the war in Iraq were key to the outcome. According to exit polls, 57 percent of all voters disapprove of the war in Iraq and 58 percent disapprove of Bush’s job performance.”
The Bush administration partly acknowledged this after the election, which is why Rumsfeld lost his job, but the GOP wasn’t rejected because of Rumsfeld by himself. What’s striking about Kristol’s statement is that he could easily support his larger argument that the state of the economy is not always the most decisive factor by acknowledging the effect the Iraq war had on GOP political fortunes. Refusing to acknowledge the importance of the deep unpopularity of the Iraq war (which persisted from 2006 on) doesn’t make his main argument stronger.
Kristol then overreaches when he tries to deny that the economy was not the major factor in the 2010 midterms:
The repudiation of the Democrats in 2010, for that matter, was fundamentally about Obamacare, the size and scope of government, and particular Obama policies like the stimulus and cap and trade. It wasn’t primarily a referendum on “the economy, stupid.”
I know this is what many on the right want to believe, but according to 2010 exit polling this isn’t true:
That dissatisfaction pushed voters into the Republican column in a big way. Nearly two of three voters picked the economy as the single most important issue in their vote – and they voted 53-44 percent for Republicans for House [bold mine-DL]. It is the first time, in exit poll since 1992, that economy voters have favored Republicans.
One would think that this would not be something that Republicans would want to obscure or deny. Granted, it isn’t as satisfying to ideologues and activists to say that Republicans won control of the House mostly because of an anemic economic recovery, but it does Kristol’s argument no good to ignore that the 2010 midterms represent the most recent and important counter-example to the argument he’s making. If 2010 was not a referendum on the economy, there has hardly ever been such an election in American history.