Karl Rove has a Wall Street Journal op-ed today worth the attention even of Democrats who can’t stand him. You won’t be surprised to hear that Rove expects Democrats to get clobbered this fall. But he does highlight a point that Democrats should consider as they plot their midterm campaign message.
Right now the Democrats’ national message boils down to, “This economy is Bush’s fault, and today’s Republicans want to take us back to the Bush era.” (Or in Barack Obama’s clever iteration, D means drive and R stands for reverse.) There’s reason to think that voters buy the argument: polls show that Americans overwhelmingly think Bush is more to blame than Obama for the state of the economy. (The spread in a recent TIME poll was 61-27 percent.)
But while people may blame Bush more than Obama, that doesn’t mean they think the pain is all Bush’s fault. As Rove notes, a recent survey by the centrist Democratic outfit Third Way shows that, when given more options, people blamed Wall Street most (34 percent), followed by reckless consumers (24 percent). Just 20 percent blamed Bush. That suggests the limits of a “Bush’s economy” argument. To that point, a new WSJ poll finds that about two-thirds of voters think Obama has fallen short on his management of the economy.
What Rove doesn’t mention, however, is that Republicans are far more closely identified with Wall Street than are Democrats. (Indeed, some Republicans–like House GOP leader John Boehner–seem determined to keep it that way.) Yet it doesn’t seem that Democrats are getting loads of credit for financial regulatory reform (perhaps not least because it’s very description is so boring). George W. Bush is an easy target for Democrats–but it’s people like Dick Fuld who still get people really fired up. Yet for the moment the Democratic message seems more about a partisan contrast–Ds versus Rs; drive versus reverse–than about the kind of economic populism the party has dabbled in previously. Why that is might be the basis for another blog post. But contrary to what people might assume, it doesn’t seem to be about the money.