November 4, 2009

2 Out of 3 Ain't Bad. So What Now?

Let's not get trapped in the civil war dialogue being propogated by the mainstream media about discord on the right.  With two out of three wins last night - the GOP re-taking the Governorships in Virginia (handily) and New Jersey (not surprisingly, but certainly in a statement to Democrats) - the Republican party is not dead.  Nor, despite the confusion - and resulting loss - in the NY23 district Congressional special election, is the GOP in internal turmoil (more on that later).  After all, despite wanting and almost expecting a sweep, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.  So now what?

There are takeaways for both parties from the results last night.  For Democrats, there are two options - they can ignore and spin away the loss as isolated instances (as many will), or they can take notice and adjust their actions accordingly (as some will too).  Certainly any Blue Dog Democrat, or Democrat in a traditionally conservative district will have to reconsider their positions on health care and capand trade if they are serious about political self-preservation.  I would expect to see, as Harry Reid says, a delay in the health care bill until 2010 at least.  If Pelosi though she had the votes, she probably won't be saying the same thing today.  The same holds true for cap and trade.  Don't expect it to get picked up and moved along any time soon.

On another level, while the President was supposedly watching the Bulls game last night, if that's the truth, certainly his campaign strategists weren't watching with him.  Obama pushed hard in both Virginia and particularly New Jersey for the Democrats.  Certainly he would be hoping the voters would be kinder to Democrats.  and most certainly he has to be concerned about the lack of a coat-tail effect in 2009 and into 2010 because of the fact that it may bleed away support from at risk Democrats for his liberal agenda.

So what's the takeaway?  Has the country shifted right? No.  The country never shifted left.  America is still a center-right country. What happened can be viewed from two positions; (1) the coat-tails don't exist (in which case Obama's personal popularity, while possibly helping him in 2012, won't help much or at all in 2010 or (2) they've gone over the edge in terms of their agenda and need to reel it back before next November or they could be completely gamed by the GOP.  Both of those viewpoints are not necessarily mutually exclusive either.  Whether the Democrats pay attention to the takeaways is a little less clear.

What are the takeaways for the GOP? Both victorious Republicans ran positive message campaigns.  That's a starting point and a lesson worth noting.  The temptation to Obama-bash will be huge in 2010.  The problem is that it doesn't work.  Both losing Democrats in yesterday's elections included Bush-bashing in their campaigns.  Negativity doesn't fly, not right now.  While the stop-Barack message plays well with those of us in the base, the independent are looking for alternative visions.  A positive message gets through much better. Reagan ran a positive message, vision campaign.  If you want to be a Reagan Republican, you need to have something more to offer than "I'm not him." (meaning the Democrat incumbent).

There's another important takeaway from from the NY23 congressional district race in which the Conservative Party candidate lost a seat held by Republicans for 110 years, to a Democrat.  Firstly, the GOP leadership needs to have primaries and not install candidates like Scozzafava as if their potentate whims will guide the party back to greatness.  NO.  That's no different than Obama, or Democrats excluding the GOP from involvement in crafting the health care bills.  It's autocratic not democratic.  Worse still, it leads to stupid candidate decisions. The party of small government, the party of Reagan, who said government IS the problem, is embodying the proof of that statement within the confines of their own party decision-making.  The GOP is supposed to be the party of the free market.  That should apply to the free market of ideas, and therefore, there should be a free market for candidate selection.  Of course, there's a point to be made about the primary being closed to only GOP registered voters.

Many people are pushing the fable that the GOP is involved in a civil war between conservatives and moderates. Roger Simon argues that the country, while being center-right is only so fiscally, not socially. Social conservatives argue that they are still the core of the Republican party.  That sort of argument plays into the GOP civil war meme.  But that's a real over-simplification of what real only amounts to vigorous debate.  Open primaries at local levels would solve the issue. If Rhode Island Republicans want to nominate less conservative candidates than do Texans in their respective primaries, they should be able to do so.  That would allow the negotiation on ideas, assuming both are electable, to be between conservative Republicans and less conservative Republicans.  It's not an ideal situation, but at least it wouldn't involve the likes of a Dede Scozzafava, who torpedoed her own party after having benefitted from campaign support from the party.

Yet another takeaway for the GOP is that the disaffection of the center from Obama and the absolute distate for his ideas from the right is an opportunity.  The GOP has seemed not only unfocused in its candidate selection methodologies, but also stubbornly resolute about them.  Worse still, it seems unable to garner real traction on the public sentiments towards Obama's policies.  Were I at the RNC, I would be feverishly working towards crafting messages that aren't anti-Obama but anti-liberal-policy and offered clear distinct alternative solutions, explanations as to why they are better solutions, and then hammering those messages to anyone who will listen and even those who won't.  You've got to plant those seeds now if you want to harvest their bounty next fall.

Instead of focusing on whether we conservatives/Republicans really are in a civil war, the GOP has to start rising above that fray and do so immediately.  They've got to walk the walk of transparency, which means no candidate appointments, it means primaries for candidates.  It's more than just messing up on Scozzafava, it's about living the values they supposedly espouse.  An autocracy of a cabal of Republicans is no better than the autocracy of a cabal of Democrats. Same shoe, other foot.

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