The Senate journey of Charlie Crist seems to be coming to a laughable end. Good. If there was one Senate candidate in a seriously contested race that I could pick to lose above all others it would be him. Other people might pick Harry Reid, and though Reid is a belligerent jerk, he does seem to have a set of economic liberal core beliefs that give him a certain integrity even with all of his personality flaws.
Crist just seems to have a hunger for office and status (I'm not even sure he wants power exactly.) Ever since he went the independent route, it was clear that he was unlikely to win regardless of what the polls said over the summer. Rubio was an articulate and attractive conservative who came across as well prepared on policy. Unless Rubio self-destructed, Rubio was always going to get the 45% or more that makes up the right-of-center vote in Florida. That meant Crist would have to win almost all moderates and liberals in a three way race. That might have been possible under different circumstances. If the economy was in great shape, he might have been able to ride an image as a pragmatic miracle worker, but the Florida economic miracle is a bust and governor Crist is holding the bag. In this weakened position, Crist had to make appeals based on principle and policy as well as his record. The problem was that since conservative voters weren't going to be for him, he would have to move left to capture usually Democratic-leaning voters. This left him vulnerable among moderates because his every move to the left made him look ever more cynical and unserious about governing. And it isn't like ambiguity or support of Obamacare is all that popular among Florida swing voters anyway.
And yet... I loathed Crist but when I heard him talk in a favorable environment he made his evasions and switches seem reasonable. No, that's not it. It was that he projected such reasonableness and sincerity that while he was talking that other stuff didn't matter so much. It took a conscious exertion of will to remember why I was against him. It reminded me of this:
Those who listened unwarily to the voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves...For some the spell lasted only while the voice spoke to them, and when it spoke to another they smiled, as men do when they see through a juggler's trick as other men gape at it...But none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and commands without an effort of mind and will, so long as its master had control of it.
The Left has a major rally in Washington, DC, just before a major election, and does so in the name of "sanity," and it's hosted and organized by two comedians?
There's a lesson in there, and I don't know that it's a sign of civic health.
I once again spoke with Andy Busch on the upcoming election in a podcast. Our conversation began by focusing on the more interesting gubernatorial races around the country, but by the end, Andy was sharing his wisdom on the Congressional races as well. It will not surprise you that he still believes there is great reason for Republican optimism on Tuesday.
This conversation was a bit longer than our past two (a little over 40 minutes), but I think it's worth your time. Thanks again to Andy for allowing me to pick his brain.
I second Roger and Peter's praise for the Ponnuru and Lowry article. I don't think the article gives quite enough emphasis to the persistently lousy labor market as contributing to Obama's political troubles. That doesn't mean that Obama's current unpopularity is merely a product of the economy. His health care plan, with its tax increases and Medicare cuts would have been unpopular even if unemployment was coming down much faster. There is something about the combination of trillion dollar deficits and the knowledge that the entitlement crisis isn't even well and truly upon us yet that is scary. But that doesn't mean the economy hasn't exacerbated the reaction to Obama's policies. All that spending and borrowing doesn't seem to be buying prosperity. A fragile economy seems like an especially lousy time to raise taxes and add an expensive middle-class entitlement. Ponnuru has written elsewhere that high unemployment doesn't necessarily translate into huge midterm election losses for the party in power. He uses 1982 as an example. The unemployment rate of October 1982 was even higher than today's, but the Republicans had only modest losses. The Democrats' losses will be greater this year and so not all the blame can go to the unemployment rate. Politics and policy is making the losses worse than they otherwise might have been. But there is a little more to that story. The (hopefully temporary) high unemployment of 1982 was at least coinciding with (and maybe contributing to) a decline in the rate of inflation. The unemployment rate of 2010 seems to be compensated by nothing. Pushing the stimulus and Obamacare might have hurt Harry Reid enough so that he would have been vulnerable to an excellent opponent even in a good economy, but it is the high unemployment rate is keeping Sharron Angle in the game
I think that it would be wise to combine Ponnuru and Lowry's observations that Republicans should not over interpret their (hopefully!) forthcoming gains by assuming that the public is with them and overreach, with Peter Schramm's observation that Republican gains will be barren if they are not used to offer a real to choice to the public. Those two pieces of advice are not contradictory in theory, but I'm not sure that Republicans possess the political skills to offer meaningful reform while avoiding (partly rhetoric-based, partly policy-based) overreach.
The House Republican Pledge does not inspire confidence that the Republican congressional leadership is inclined to put hard choices to the American people, and even if they do, the public will not have been prepared for the inevitable trade-offs. Some Tea Party-backed soon-to-be freshmen seem to be serious about the combination of spending cuts and policy reforms we will need, but they seem to struggle to explain how the consequences of those changes will be handled. I saw Neil Cavuto tie Ken Buck in knots with questions on spending cuts. And that was during a very friendly interview.
The danger is that Republicans will find a way to both offer very little affirmative policy and alienate the public with seeming extremism. The congressional leadership could fight for an economic platform that amounts to the pre-Obama status quo (extending the Bush tax cuts and repealing Obamacare) plus tort reform and defunding NPR, while backbenchers scare the pants off the public with poorly explained talk about cutting Medicare, "privatizing" Social Security, and ending the current system of employer-provided health coverage.
The number of Republicans who both seem serious about policy reform (especially about entitlements and health care policy) and have the expertise and rhetorical skill to sell those reforms to swing voters seems small. There is Paul Ryan, but his Roadmap, while noble, is flawed and he is just one guy. Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey aren't even in the Senate yet, and Toomey probably loses to Sestak most years. There seems to be more talent and reason for hope at the gubernatorial level.
Republicans need to keep an eye on the most important issues and the best available policies, but they also need to watch their words very carefully and remember that swing voters sometimes hear very differently from committed conservatives. The (hopefully!) forthcoming gains will come from a combination of energized Republican voting, the flight of persuadables from the Democrats that is significantly caused by present economic conditions, and the particular demographics of midterm elections. The economy might not be the same in two years, the demographic profile of the electorate will be somewhat different, and Obama's job approval rating isn't that bad considering the circumstances.
And to Dr. Schramm's call for a politics based on constitutionalist government might be in productive tension with Reihan Salam's more policy-based politics. Salam writes:
I sense that there's an opportunity for the right-of-center coalition to expand, provided conservative politicians and activists emphasize the core question of how to create a sustainable government. Whether that'll actually happen remains an open question.
I don't entirely agree with that. I think that social democracy might be sustainable for decades - though at the price of a great deal of unnecessary suffering. Any vision of sustainable government ought to include some normative vision of the proper relationship between man and government. But at the same time, supporters of constitutionalist government have a great deal to gain from a close alliance with fellows like Salam.
Refine & Enlarge
In Maryland, a trick to boost the Dems' campaigns is making election day a school holiday and scheduling other non-school days close to the election, to give the teachers' union more recruits in the field. When I worked in government, the political appointees would schedule election-year awards ceremonies for the fall, to take the typically leftist types getting awards for their taxpayer-funded organizations out of their campaigns. (No way to defund the groups.)
Any other tricks to share, anyone?