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Mark Mellman: Where I went right and wrong

Greg Nash

I believe in accountability; and I believe there is far too little of it in our world. People say anything they please, with little or no consequence for crazy talk. 

Attempting to adhere to a higher standard, each year I try to review what I’ve written here and assess the extent to which I was on target, or off. 

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I spilled a lot of ink on polarization and dysfunction. Much of it was analysis and description, but there were some projections. Almost a year ago, in January, I noted that “our government operates under more constraints ... than perhaps any other advanced democracy in the world. ... Many of these difficulties arise from a common foundation — a bias against action hardwired into the Constitution.” The result: “our unique system, which distributes power so widely, requires high levels of comity and compromise to be successful. ... We don’t see much of this anymore — and that should be a worry. If the spirit of compromise fades, the greatness of our system could well fade with it.”

Things got worse from there, as the government shut down on Oct. 1, and we became the object of derision the world over. Compromise is a prerequisite to national success. We are seeing some now, at the end of the year, but through most of it, enmity ruled.

In September, I made an easy prediction about the impact of a shutdown on a public that overwhelmingly opposed it: “Ignoring public opinion ... will be a blight on the Republican brand.” That too proved true, as the GOP became the most unpopular major party in the history of U.S. polling. 

Some Republicans understood they “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform,” in the words of the GOP’s own post-election assessment. I argued that while Republican senators and presidential candidates have political incentives to support comprehensive immigration reform, GOP House members don’t. Thus I warned, “don’t hold your breath for immigration reform to come barreling out of the House.” 

I wrote that in July, and reform certainly hasn’t come barreling out of the House. There are some stirrings that piecemeal reform might emerge next year from the GOP, but that remains to be seen. So score that as correct for the time being; the statute of limitations on “barreling” is over.

In February, I acknowledged that, while “thousands of words will be written about President Obama’s forthcoming State of the Union address ... it is unlikely to affect the president’s approval rating.” The history was pretty clear, and it repeated itself. Gallup found Obama’s approval rating at 51 percent the week before his speech and 51 percent the week after. It fell to 49 percent the next week. The Huffington Post Pollster’s weighted average had similar results, with the president at 50.4 percent the week before the speech, 50.2 percent the week after and 49.9 percent a week later. The much-covered speech didn’t move the dial on the president’s approval rating an iota. 

Less clear were the impacts of what I called, in May, the “non-scandals,” a troika of troubles that included the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups, Benghazi and The Associated Press subpoena. I noted that the public was not engaged in these stories at the time and divided on the substance and that they had not yet affected the president’s approval rating, which appeared unchanged from the month before. I left myself an out, saying “past performance is no guarantee of future results,” but it’s now clear that beginning around the end of January, the president’s approval rating began a long slow slide to where it rests today. The slide predated the non-scandals and continued after it, rendering their impact uncertain. And the constant repetition, at least on the attack in Benghazi, Libya, might have overcome voters’ lack of engagement. We just don’t know. 

So all in all, the picture presented here proved pretty accurate, even if not 100 percent prescient. 

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the Majority Leader of the Senate and the Democratic Whip in the House.