September 17, 2010
Do the (Thirty-Year) Math: The Consultants Are WrongBy C. Edmund Wright
So the inside-the-Beltway political pros are all in a tizzy that their omnipotence is being questioned by the great unwashed in the Tea Party movement.
In reaction to the Christine O'Donnell win and the part that Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint played in it, veteran consultant Mark Murphy snarked that he too was a conservative -- but that he "could do the math." The point from Murphy was that conservatives like Palin and DeMint are not smart enough to do the math that a Mike Castle win in Delaware is really what conservatives needed.
Tea party-type conservatives, according to Murphy, are not smart enough to figure out the professional math. The Murphys' polls and focus groups and formulaic opinions about the "undecideds" say so.
History says otherwise.
There have been three great elections for Republicans in modern history -- '80, '84 and '94 -- and all three were the result of a wave of conservatism. There have been five awful elections - '92, '96, '98, '06 and '08 -- and all the result of purposeful moderation.
The rest have fallen somewhere in between, with Republican success mainly the result of the Democrats doing us a favor by swerving way left. The three-decade trend is clear.
Republicans do best when they go the most conservative. They can succeed somewhat if the Democrats let their liberalism show in the campaign. But when the waters are muddied, it is always a disaster for Republicans.
So, Mr. Murphy, get out your calculator and follow along.
The years 1980 and '84 were two of the great election results for Republicans, with the solid and unabashed conservatism of Ronald Reagan leading the way. In 1980, Reagan administered a whipping to an incumbent, and in '84, he won 49 states. The only effort to reach the independents was to invite them to join the GOP on the solid right.
The year 1988 delivered a somewhat successful election, as the nation thought that Bush 41 would be a continuation of Reaganism -- helped by the fact that Mike Dukakis bragged about his ACLU membership. We didn't fully understand a "kinder and gentler" Republican party yet.
1992: By now, we fully understood "kinder and gentler." This was magnified by the fact that Ross Perot siphoned off some conservatives. Clinton won the only way Democrats can -- the opposite of how Republican win -- by appearing moderate. Incumbent Bush got only 38% of the vote. Disaster.
1994: The third fabulous election for Republicans -- the result of the very conservative Contract with America in contrast to Clinton's most liberal policy, failed HillaryCare. Again, the appeal to independents was to join the Contract with America on the right.
1996: Dole-Kemp, a moderate disaster, gets soundly defeated by a Lewinsky-weakened Clinton. Who can forget Jack Kemp's "thank you Al" moment? Thank you, Jack.
1998: There was only one really conservative campaign in the nation: that of Jesse Ventura who ran way right of both other candidates in Minnesota. (He governed as a moderate and left in disgrace four years later).
2000: Bush-Cheney eked out a win over Gore-Lieberman. Bush ran as somewhat conservative and got cover from Gore's obvious liberalism. The "new tone" is born as a result of the close election.
2002: The far-left Wellstone Memorial allows for Republicans to have success while running an only somewhat conservative campaign.
2004: Far left Kerry-Edwards again got cover from the only moderately conservative campaign of Bush 43.
2006: Moderate disaster led by Dennis Hastert and Bush's faltering conservatism.
2008: McCain. Oh, let's "reach across the aisle." Enough said.
Now, Mr. Murphy, how is your math holding up? But wait, it gets worse for your case.
When Republicans have had moderates win elections, it has often set the stage for future disasters. To name a few: Charlie Crist, Arlen Specter, and Jumpin' Jim Jeffords. So, Mr. Murphy, since it's safe to bet that all three of these guys had the backing of the establishment Republican strategists -- how is that math holding up?
And it gets even worse.
In fact, the existence of the power base of Obama, Reid, and Pelosi is the direct result of directionless moderate Republicans giving the appearance of being "the party in power." The truth is that Bush got in trouble when he signed legislation put forth by Democrats with the help of the moderate and liberal Republicans. To the American voter, all such damage accrues to the "party in power."
Because Bush was in the White House and the GOP had the House and the Senate, all of the blame went to the GOP. Ironic, isn't it? Most of the bad stuff was actually Democrat legislation. These were things supported by the likes of McCain, Snowe, Graham, Collins, Hagel, Hayes, Castle -- and on and on.
And yet because of how our system works, the party that is the only home of conservatism got thrown out for being too liberal. And they got thrown out by the most radically liberal group in our history.
This is the math that these Beltway left-brain number-crunchers never crunch. Mr. Murphy, can I get you a drink?
The problem is this: the consultants are too busy being thermometers instead of thermostats. They take the temperature and then figure out a way that their candidate clients can match that temperature.
It never occurs to them that their candidate might actually take a stand and invite the independents to join them. Reagan did this. Gingrich did in 1994. (OK, so he doesn't now. He did then.) They were more like thermostats. They set the terms of the debate and invited everyone to share in the wonders of this country as defined by Constitution-based conservatism.
They never changed to match what they perceived the beliefs of the moderates to be.
And that's the reality that the consultant nation just cannot wrap their heads around. Inside the Beltway, it is just so pervasive a thought pattern that none of the pros can think outside that tiny little box.
But history is clear -- and so is the math. Conservatism works, every time it's tried. Mr. Murphy, it's so easy that even a political hack can do it.