By Maria Saporta
Two pundits on opposite sides of the political spectrum found themselves agreeing more than disagreeing at Monday’s luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of Atlanta.
The “Post Election Panel” was composed of Cynthia Tucker, the liberal Washington, D.C.-based political columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and the conservative Ralph Reed, who is president of the Century Strategies, a political consulting firm, and served as the first executive director of the Christian Coalition.
Tucker started by saying that the “overwhelming issue was the economy” in explaining the dramatic losses that Democrats suffered throughout the country. She also said that President Barack Obama and his administration did a poor job of framing the issues to the American public.
But Reed said the election “was a referendum on this presidency.” Obama went from having phenomenal job approval ratings of 72 percent to being the leader of a “catastrophic” Democratic loss on Nov. 2. Reed said the electorate did not so much embrace Republicans as much as it endorsed conservative principles.
Tucker said part of the Democratic losses could be explained by who turned out, primarily older voters. African-Americans and younger voters did not turn out in force as they had in 2008.
One of the funnier moments in the Tucker-Reed exchange was when Reed mentioned how former President Bill Clinton had managed to rebound after significant Democratic losses in 1994.
Tucker said it was interesting how conservatives now were embracing Clinton.
“I remember what happened. Yes, he retreated to the center. He embraced welfare reform. What did he get for it? He got impeached,” Tucker said.
“He had something to do with that,” Reed quickly chimed in, referring to Clinton’s handling of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern.
Then more seriously, Tucker said that she doesn’t expect much progress to be made on the economy and the deficit in the next two years.
“The deficit will be even bigger than it is now,” she said, explaining that 60 percent of the budget is viewed as being off limits — the Pentagon, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. “If you don’t make significant cuts in any of those three areas, you really can’t cut the deficit. Republicans are committed to extending the Bush tax cuts.”
Tucker said that the deficit commission appointed by Obama will come forward with its recommendations on Dec. 1, and it’s not sure what kind of reception the report will receive.
Reed, however, said he is hopeful the different factions in Washington, D.C. will figure out a way to compromise.
“There’s going to have to be some sort of meeting of the minds. Otherwise there will be a government shutdown (as in December, 1995), and the Republicans don’t want that,” Reed said. “The challenge for Obama is the tax cuts…. The Republicans won’t compromise.”
Tucker said she believed that Obama was going to try to separate the tax cuts into two different categories — continuing the tax cuts for those earning $250,000 or less but allowing the tax cuts to expire for those making more than $250,000. She said it was a matter of Obama being able to communicate his plan.
“It’s not that people don’t know what the policy is,” Reed said. “People know what the policy, and they’re not buying.”
Both said the Republican Party would face challenges absorbing the Tea Party in their midst. The traditional Republicans would prefer promoting an electable presidential candidate like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney while the Tea Party would prefer a candidate like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
“It’s not the pain of a party shrinking,” Reed said. “It’s the pain of a party growing.”
Tucker, who said she was looking forward to the 2012 Republican primary fight, said that in the near term, the Tea Party “will push the Republican Party to the right.”
Reed also mentioned that he believes former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich “is definitely going” to run for president in 2012.
Both agreed that the new Congress will be even more polarized come January.
“A lot of moderate Republicans were voted out in 2006,” Tucker said. “A lot of Blue Dog Democrats, such as Jim Marshall, were voted out this year. There are two caucuses — one more right leaning and one more left leaning.”
Reed’s version was: “White conservative Democrats now are an endangered species.”
He added that the South was missing Democrats like former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn. “It’s not good for the Democrats for the South become a one-party region,” he said. Reapportionment will only make it harder for Democrats to regain a stronger presence in the South.
“Democrats in the deep South are going to be locked out for a long time,” Tucker agreed. “If Roy Barnes can’t win in Georgia, I think Democrats are going to have trouble in the deep South for a long time.”
The two, however, disagreed about whether the federal government should cut the budget or raise taxes.
“If Chris Christie (governor of New Jersey) can do it — cut $9 billion our of a $21 billion budget, then the federal government can do it,” Reed said.
Tucker said Republicans have said they will not support any tax increases, preferring tax cuts a la Ronald Reagan. “Since the Reagan administration, proposed tax cuts was the answer to everything,” Tucker said. “Bush came in with a surplus. No matter what the problem is, the Republicans’ answer is tax cuts.” She went on to say that between 2000 and 2008 — the Bush years — there were tax cuts but “no net new jobs were created.”
One big looming issue will be the need to increase the nation’s debt ceiling above $14.3 trillion. If Republicans don’t approve that increase, it could lead to government shut down. If that were to happen, both Reed and Tucker agreed that the country would be in even tougher shape.
And looking forward to 2012, Reed asked the question: “Do the rules that we used to run on apply any more? It may well be that the old rules no longer apply.”