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Change We Shouldn't Believe in That Much

1. It was a genuinely good night for the Republicans in Virginia.  The main reason was a solid, non-stupid, unalienating candidate for governor.  It's amazing how badly the GOP just screwed up in 2006 and 2008 in the Commonwealth.  McDonald doesn't quite reach the pay grade of presidential material, but it's reassuring to see a savvy social conservative in office. 

2. The NY 23rd was an unforced error for Republicans.  It was also NPR's favorite election this morning.  The seat wasn't lost because of some conservative-moderate split, but because nobody was watching the locals picked a woman who couldn't win.  And then too much hope was placed in Hoffman, who is a real conservative but also had real liabilities.

3. New Jersey was mainly tossing out a justly unpopular incumbent.

4. The electorate was much more white and old han in 2008.  That'll be less so in 2010 and much less so, of course, in 2012.

5. The independents switched big-time in the Republican direction.  The issue of BIG GOVERNMENT moved them more than it has lately.  But there's also no denying that they seem to be all about CHANGE, which of course helped the president last time and hurt the Democrats this time.  (The power of indiscriminate CHANGE can be seen in Bloomberg's narrow escape, despite spending his guts out and actually being a really good mayor.)

6.  All the studies show that the president remains personally popular, but there's increased suspicion about his policies.  That really mean that what people want changed, most of all, is the huge Democratic majorities in Congress.

7. The Republicans should be gearing up for a campaign for divided government to, among other things, make Obama a better president.  Democrats and other Obama-philiacs should be reassured that it was the Republican victory in 1994 that improved Clinton's performance enough to gain easy reelection in 1996.  Republicans should quote Democrats on the virtues of divided government when Bush and Reagan were president.  They should popularize the studies that show that divided government is best for controlling spending.

8. Huge Republican gains in Congress in 2010 are possible with the right kind of campaign.  But 2012 remains a more formidable challenge in the absence of national disaster. There still aren't any Republican national leaders.  Eric Cantor is just too short, for one thing.

9. It goes without saying that Republicans should use the shift in the voting behavior of independents to do what they can to scare moderate Democrats on health care.
Categories > Elections

Discussions - 14 Comments

Change We Should Believe In

Last night was a clear victory for Republican principles of small government, balanced budgets, and free enterprise. It should be a message to Republicans who believe that they need to become Democratic-lite in order to win.

1. Peter is right that McDonnell ran an excellent race. Part of this included downplaying social issues. He ran as a staunch fiscal conservative, winning handily.

2. Peter is correct again about NY-23. See Jay Cost for a good analysis.

3. New Jersey isn't just about rejecting an unpopular governor,--it was rejecting the ideas that made Corzine unpopular. See Schramm's post below explaining that a person can be personally popular but have unpopular policies, and vice versa. In New Jersey Corzine himself was dull but decent. Voters didn't reject him so much as years of Democratic high tax POLICIES. While the GOP only won because the Democrats messed up, the anger with the Dems was not personal. It was policy based, and that is significant.

4-9. Last night blew the door wide open for small government Republicans in 2010. McDonnell wrote the book on how to do this. McDonnell also showed that the GOP does not need to--and should not--compromise on "divisive" social issues. Those issues are fine, but the voters are listening for economic messages currenlty. It's not that our positions should change, but rather that our FOCUS should change.

While voters wanted change, it was not "indiscriminate" as Peter claims. Voters sent a clear message for smaller government, lower spending and lower taxes. Bloomberg's near defeat follows those principles. He has not been a good mayor, and his tax raising policies have injured New York badly. His close call was a rejection of his feigned "independence" when really he is a much bigger spender than say Rudy G.

Clint, Good reply. Sorry about the error on McDonnell's name. I don't think you're right on Bloomberg, although what you say about NJ is at least partly right.

Great analysis. A lot of the good that comes out of last night's elections is less about how it augurs the midterm elections and more about how it spooks moderate democrats regarding health care legislation, deficit spending, and the expansion of big government. In all the races, though especially in VA, the big issues were jobs and the economy generally, and in NY 23 support for HC reform was a major and telling cleavage. For all the premptive Democratic talk about the symbolic insignificance of last night, there is good reason to believe that some current centrist Dems, already skeptical about the wisdom of throwing their lot in with Reid and Pelosi, don't see it that way.

Also, Peter's right that NJ was less a popular referendum on national politics than an angry response to one God-awful incumbent. However, it matters that Obama campaigned hard there for Corzine for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that he enthusiastically embraced one very unpopular, God-awful incumbent. Also, it's an indication of his limited power to influence a local election--he largely stayed away from NY 23, sending Biden instead (who is not all that popular here), so he would have some modicum of detachment if things went south.

Lots of ppl have been calling him "McDonald," and I understand the mistake. I had to look up whether his name had 1 or 2 n's and l's, since they all sound alike.

I guess, we'll have to disagree on Bloomberg. I believe in balanced budgets, and of course cities and states are required to have them (more or less since they borrow a lot too). However, that doesn't seem like an excuse for raising taxes. Bloomberg has not been all bad, but he has increased taxes and harmed the NY economy because of that. I'll grant that Bloomberg's liberal social views chafe conservatives (outside NYC) most, and these positions are irrelevant to being mayor.

Still, I think you have to defend his increases in taxes to claim that he is a very good mayor. I would charitably call him about the best you can hope for in NYC, but then Rudy still upsets that analysis.

NYC has seen much worse mayors than Bloomberg, but that he is not a great mayor, has made a big deal about silly things and small deals about big things. For the latter I note the hole in the ground - still- that was where the World Trade Centers were right in the heart of NYC's financial district, which is prime real estate. Bloomberg, for whatever reasons, has not made the political case for rebuilding there sooner rather than later. That seems to indicate some sort of a lack, somehow.

Truly the good news about yesterday's election is the pause it gives, like another gentle tapping on the brakes, on what needed to be a rush to accomplish the Democratic agenda. Last year everyone might have been ready for change, but the slow dawning as to what the change is going to be lends itself to a conservative impulse in the nation. I don't mean Conservative in that all of America is becoming Republican. That might not even mean anything good anymore. I mean America is not so ready to change America in its fundamentals as it might have thought it was. Or else the Obama-proposed idea of getting America back on track was appealing and what was actually on the table was not.

Some thoughts,

1. On Cantor: Putting him next to George Allen looked like some kind of cruel joke.

2. NY-23 wasn't that bad. It showed both the potential energy and limits of a base-driven campaign that didn't focus on plausible policy solutions. A McDonnell type conservative candidate probably wins. Maybe its a stage for Tea Party/Club For Growth economic conservative politics. The left went through something similar. Its energies were channeled by an alienating figure like Howard Dean in 2004, but did much better with a more broadly appealing (and no less liberal) Obama in 2008.

3. Right on the demographics being more Republican friendly in this election, but even with that, Obama had 52% job approval in Virginia and 57% job approval in New Jersey according to the exit polls. Thats in a terrible economy. If the unemployment situation does not improve at all, those numbers will cone down. If it improves a little then its a jump ball on the economy.

4. Over at NRO one of the people in the election symposium mentioned that in a high turnout election, the big Democrat margins in the big cities of Ohio would make it tough for conservative candidates to win. Thats a really big problem. Conservatives should not like being in a position of having to pray for rain on election day - or election month when you consider early voting. Conservatives are going to have to find a way to cut down on the Democrat margins in the cities if they are going to win statewide elections in populous states outside the South in all but the most favorable conditions - like in New Jersey this year.

I hope the American taxpayer has finally opened their eyes to what is happening in/to America at this point in time. This President is a very smart man but he is also a Socialist and has many Marxists in his hidden czar underground of the White House. If the crown jewel of socialism gets passed (healthcare with the government option of any sort), the United States will become a Socialist government run country. Next on the list.....government intervention into the banks by the Federal Reserve and they will dictate banking policies and police their income. Not good!

"government intervention into the banks by the Federal Reserve and they will dictate banking policies and police their income."
Federal Reserve is not a government agency. It is a pivate for profit business/banking cartel that usurped the power to coin money from congress at the turn of the 20th century by promising to end the depression cycles.

Pete: Are the things that drive Democrat majorities in big cities like those in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania the same things that drive Democrat majorities in Ohio? I wonder. The social conservatism that seems to turn off urban (and many suburban) Easterners and West Coasters may not be as unpopular in Ohio as your suggestion (or the NRO suggestion) implies. I think that what makes conservatism unattractive in Ohio's big cities has less to do with social conservatism (which is something even many Dems in Ohio share) and more to do with so-called economic conservatism. Ohio is more blue collar/middle class--folks are more likely to work for a struggling small company than for a big sophisticated publishing firm, for example. Of course, the poor in Ohio are like the poor in most places. But the forces that drive day to day existence in Ohio's big cities--the things that move our middle class--are different from what drives them on the coasts where larger firms dominate and the "sophisticates" of the popular culture have taken root and thrived and made it "uncool" to be conservative.

Instead, Ohio seems to resist conservatism, at least as my memory (and now only occasional experience) serves, more out of suspicion that it is in the service of the wealthy. In other words, it is old fashioned New Deal politics handed down from generation to generation.

The good news there is that social conservatism is usually a unifying force and the beginning (if the candidate is savvy) of a conversation about the purposes and limits of government--and that can and often does have strong appeal for social conservatives. I have, generally speaking, found that it easier to persuade a social conservative to accept the general principles of economic conservatism (hint: you talk about what real justice is) than it is to persuade a purely economic conservative to accept the premises of social conservatives. People like to do the right thing by their neighbor and are open to arguments about how best to do that--even when they are really suspicious of the wealthy. But people are also inclined to sin . . . and when they do (as we all do) it is hard for them to abandon arguments that absolve them of their guilt. This is why social conservatives, if they want to succeed on a larger scale, need to focus less on guilt (i.e., pointing out and bemoaning all the horrible or naughty things people do) and more on developing a sense of humor about human foibles. They should make the case that it isn't up to government to excuse those things or pick up the pieces that are too often the natural consequences of bad behavior . . . but rather, it is the job of government to do what it can (which isn't as much as either side thinks) to encourage virtue. Above all, government ought never to encourage vice. Social conservatives should remember that it's not up to them to save our eternal souls . . . they should focus on helping to do what they can to help us choose to save our own.

On the other hand . . . Ohio just passed the casino thing today. So maybe I'm all wet.

I'd say Julie's mostly right about Ohio and other Midwest states. Don't compromise on social values. McDonnell just won Fairfax County!

New poll shows Huckabee leading the GOP field for 2012! http://realclearpolitics.blogs.time.com/2009/11/05/usatgallup-huckabee-has-most-gop-support-for-2012/

But Clint . . . if you accept my premise, then Huckabee may not be the best candidate. The BEST candidate will be one who does not reject social conservatism out of hand (one, indeed, who embraces it) but does not put it into the forefront of his day to day campaign. He will be a candidate who, on the basis of his established social conservative credentials, can make a satisfying case to social conservatives that persuades them about the need for economic conservatism and does not, at the same time, alienate big city and suburban voters who are sick of high taxes but more liberal in social matters. He cannot be an "in your face" sort of religious person--either in reality or even by perception. I think that rules Huck out. Maybe that's too bad. But I also think its true.

Julie, I think you have the wrong guy. I don't think that social conservatism is why the GOP is in trouble. I'm with Ramesh Ponnuru when he writes that social conservatism has been keeping the GOP in the game as economic conservatism's appeal has declined as the across the board income tax agenda has become exhausted and has not yet been replaced with a new positive economic agenda. I eas actually going to add one more thought yesterday before parental responsibilities called.

The thought was that GOP candidates would be smart to focus on the humanity of the late term fetus and on restricting late term abortions, alongside a healthy and relevant economic agenda. I've lost track of how many young, urban folks of solidly Democratic political identity are horrified at the practice and think it is already illegal or that it ought to be. The "social conservatives are ruining the GOP" thing is so prominent because liberal Democrats and liberal Republicans find it easy to spin journalists who have a false sense of themselves as fiscal conservatives (because they want higher taxes to go with higher spending) and a very real sense of themselves as social liberals. This makes those journalists very gullible for a "good fiscal conservatives/social liberal vs. bad social conservative storyline".

I think that a much bigger problem than social conservatism is more subtle and doesn't have much to do with policy issues. Its more of a suburban and rural oriented rhetoric that seems to dismiss people who live in urban areas. The McCain campaign was almost a parody of this approach. They seemed to work alot harder at telling people that Palin was a hockey mom than on Obama's abortion extremism. Conservative should remember that Reagan was pretty careful to balance urban and rural images in his rhetoric.

I happen not to think that moving left is the key to cutting down the Democratic margins in urban areas. I think that a strategy for cutting the Democratic margins in urban areas would include but not be limited to:

1. A huge investment of time and money. And especially advertizing on Spanish language channels and media with large African American audiences. Having conservative candidates learn a couple of hundred words of Spanish wouldn't hurt either.

2. A prudent understanding of how the African American community's dominant narrative of the last fifty years differs from that of the standard conservative narrative you hear on the populist conservative media. The different narratives don't mean that common ground can't be found on the benefits of free market economics, limited government, and human dignity, but one must be careful. You might be able to sell a free market oriented health care plan the reduces the growth of premiums, an energy policy that cuts energy costs, and some restrictions on abortion. But you can't do it in terms of how Reagan saved America in the 1980s. One has to respect one's audiences sensibilities and perspective.

3. A willingness to take hits and hit back hard and quickly. The Democrats will hit below the belt by calling you racist of whatever. Hit back with numbers as much as possible. How much will cap and trade cost the average African American family? How much will tort reform and removing regulations that prevent people from buying insurance across state lines save a middle class Latino family? The think tank wonks should be crunching those numbers and conservative politicians should publicize them constantly. We also have high resoultion sonogram technology. What does a full term African American fetus look like? How does he or she move? Under what circumstances should it be legal to stop that human heart? Conservatives should seek to frame the issue as a liberal racial identity politics that is corrupt vs conservative policies that offer real life improvements and that uphold important shared principles.

The biggest danger is less that the GOP will move left, but that conservatives will take a fatalistic approach to Democratic margins in urban areas.

I couldnt agree more with brutus and am curious why no one cares...

Also, here is change I can believe in!:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/05/iran-tested-nuclear-warhead-design

Pete . . . we basically agree--and your discussion above is masterful. (Why are you not working for the RNC?!) I know you do not want to make the case that the GOP should abandon social conservatism. But I wanted to draw you out on that because I thought your argument might be confused with that silly and more prominent argument. There are many things about what David Frum and others like him are doing with which I sympathize. They do, like you (and I) seem rightly to sense where the major problems for the GOP reside. They don't want the GOP to be blind to them. I think he means well but that he has the wrong prescription in the end--in part because Frum and others view cities through a single lens. I, like you, agree that we ought not to give up on the big urban centers--the GOP cannot thrive only as the party of the Midwest and South. I only wanted to remind people that all cities are not alike.

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