Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Lessons from yesterday:

Sarah Palin excites hard conservatives but does no good with anybody else. She probably alienates the moderate voters whose support the GOP needs.

A public fight within the GOP may be good for Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck's ratings, but it doesn't help get GOP - or conservative - candidates elected. Such fights only reinforce the mushy middle's fear that conservative candidates do not represent their interests.

McDonnell's victory shows a conservative can win... but by emphasizing conservative issues that resonate with the moderates (such as taxes and government spending) and not the issues that excite conservatives but scare the moderates (such as abortion, gay marriage, etc.). A note: the last GOP governor in Virginia, Jim Gilmore, won by running on a very explicit anti-tax platform.

The results should be a nail in the coffin that claimed the 2008 results were an endorsement of liberal policies and candidates and a repudiation of all things Republican and conservative. Obama's win, as well as that of the other Democrats who unseated GOP incumbents, was due more to voter antipathy towards Bush and incumbents in general than it was due to a seismic shift in voter philosophy. The vote wasn't a repudiation of Obama specifically, but it was a rejection that conservatism is dead or that the voters have bought into a big government, big spending model.

The results should also shut up those conservatives who argue that targeting conservatives is the key to victory. Granted, GOP candidates can't win without conservatives showing up to vote, but that isn't enough, neither McDonnell nor Christie would have won if they didn't capture the majority of self-described independent voters... and as I wrote above, the key to these voters is to focus on what they want to hear, not what the conservatives want to tell them.

A nod to the non-barking dog: what wasn't present during this campaign were Republicans caught up in scandal or exhibiting extreme incompetence (I'm excluding Scozzafava on this one). There weren't any GOP representatives caught texting inappropriate messages to teens. There wasn't a Bush mangling the aftermath of a natural disaster. There weren't any GOP candidates caught being unfaithful to their wives (Sanford happened too long ago to have an impact during this cycle). Granted, politics is local, but it sure helps GOP candidates if their fellow Republicans can keep from making a***s of themselves. And neither were there any GOP candidates or other officeholders scaring voters with racially insensitive comments or taking controversial stances on hot-button issues. There weren't any GOP figures off making waves on immigration or proposing to outlaw abortion or demanding that every schoolkid be forced to memorize the Bible or stuff like that. The mushy middle doesn't identify themselves as Republicans because they don't want to 'tarnish' themselves by being too closely affiliated with those they consider wacko... and the less airtime the wackos get, the easier it is to convince these moderates to vote for Republicans.

Those are the lessons I think were taught yesterday. Of course, everybody will read into yesterday what they want to see. Palin supporters will claim her support helped Doug Hoffman more than it hurt... but it's hard to argue with the statistics that had him coming in second. Obama supporters will claim yesterday was a bunch of one-off local events, with no significance to the national stage.

One outcome I am pretty confident of (and depressed about at the same time): yesterday's results are confirmation of the polls that indicate a majority of the public doesn't approve of what Obama and the Democrats are trying to do. Up to yesterday, Obama and the Democrats have tried to ignore the polls showing opposition to their health care reform and their environmental policies and their spending and stimulus plans, claiming that the polls didn't accurately reflect the mood of the people. But it's hard to argue with election results. And while they'll try to claim (see above) that yesterday's results don't mean anything to the Democratic agenda, they're going to find it harder to deny that their policies run counter to what the public wants.

But rather than tailor back their platform, I believe they're going to double down and push even harder. Most of the Democrats are in safe seats, they fear having to face an even more liberal in the primary than they fear their GOP challenger. Obama doesn't have to worry about re-election for another three years. So while they figure some of their colleagues may take a hit next fall (still a long way off), they know they'll never again have the numbers with which to force through their agenda.

Thankfully, there is no way to analyze yesterday's results and conclude the public disapproved of Republican opposition to Obama... so any fear that the GOP might have had of being seen on the wrong end of the issues ought to have dissipated.... giving them the excuse to stand together in opposition to Obama... and while GOP opposition by itself isn't enough, it is enough to deny any vulnerable Democrats the safety of claiming their support of Obama had bi-partisan backing. The key to defeating Obama's agenda was always in the hands of the not-so-liberal Democrats on the Hill... and I doubt that many of them slept soundly last night.