Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching a multimillion-dollar campaign to support mostly Republican congressional candidates and, more precisely, a few targeted Senate races that could deliver the majority to the Republicans. By any measure, this is good news for the conservative cause. The savvy strategist Scott Reed is in charge, so whatever the Chamber’s role is, it will be about as effective and as well-organized as it can be. However, there is a dark cloud on the horizon that could be hanging over the November elections. So far in 2012, Republican voter turnout just about everywhere is down There is a red light flashing on the dashboard of the GOP bandwagon. There is no steam coming from under the hood, but that could be next.
Regardless of the abilities of Reed and the muscle of the Chamber, the best thing that could happen for GOP Senate candidates is for the Republican presidential nominee to win the highest number of votes possible. It is daring and foolish for us to think that we can just count on President Obama to be our unifier for the general election when there are so many signs of indifference in our own primaries and caucuses.
The simplest explanation is dissatisfaction with our candidates. That problem can’t be fixed in the short-term and it could produce the worst of all possible scenarios — that is, we have a base that is discouraged and unmotivated, yet a candidate who can’t appeal to the center.
Perhaps a little panic is in order. Somebody get former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman’s 2004 turnout playbook that saved President Bush. As I have cautioned in the past, let’s have our tiresome talking points and spin that explains the low turnout, but let’s be careful not to believe it. We need to develop turnout plans that don’t rely on general dissatisfaction with Obama or unexpected enthusiasm for our nominee. The political gods are warning us.
In the fall, what we lack in enthusiasm we have to make up for with money, creativity and relentlessly holding Obama to account with his own words and actions. Maybe the best we can hope for is an opponent who does no harm and a vice president nominee who delivers a key state and an unprecedented bankroll.