Opposition Research in Virginia
Republican Establishment pillar Ed Gillespie has announced for the 2014 Virginia Senate race, against incumbent Democrat Mark Warner.
The opposition research is already starting. A click of the mouse and one learns that Gillespie has supported an individual mandate for health, opposed efforts to repeal ObamaCare, favored path-to-citizenship immigration reform, acted as point on the financial bailout, and (with Karl Rove) launched a project to exclude "undisciplined" GOP candidates, which is code for "Tea Party."
Heavens -- the man might as well be a Democrat! Which is particularly interesting, because the source of the research is the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Ordinarily, a party might find it risky to tell its supporters that the opponent is really one of them. It might encourage defection. But the Democrats know their people. Being a Dem is tribal, and in any case Mark Warner has been faceless enough to offend no one. The fact sheet also contains enough raw meat to satisfy the Occupy Wall Street crowd, focusing on Gillespie's career as a lobbyist and influence peddler. No one will move to the Republican side.
Really, though, the DSSC is talking to conservatives, not Democrats, and is instructing its minions what to argue. A decade ago, the Democrat/Republican/Independent party identification split was about even, at around 32% each. Now, the Democrats have about 31%, the Republicans are down to 25%, and the Independents are at 42%. The Republican establishment seems to think these new Independents are centrists who recoil from the conservatives. Actually, as Jonathan Rauch has found, the change is the product of a movement of conservatives away from the Republican Party.
So the Democratic strategy is clear: zero in on that 7% who have moved from the Republican column to the Independent, and get them to stay home. It worked in 2012 in the Montana Senate race, where a faux-Libertarian candidacy was combined with a deluge of Democrat-funded ads in conservative media against Republican Dennie Rehberg, charging him with such offenses as sometimes supporting Obama. The Libertarian got enough votes to swing the election.
What the Republican Establishment is thinking is not clear, assuming it does think. Gillespie's video announcement is big on jobs etc. He attacks Warner for voting for ObamaCare, and he wants to "replace" it, with no further specificity. Immigration is not mentioned. He favors constitutional principle and limited government, good Tea Party buzz words.
But Google search is an unforgiving mistress, and Gillespie's connections with the business establishment, which supports ObamaCare, immigration cave-in, infrastructure pork, and Common Core, will provide rich themes for more memos from the DSSC. Gillespie is clearly the Establishment's man in VA, and he can compete only because the Establishment is willing to put up big money, so it is not obvious how he can distance himself.
But if he looks like a Democrat on the key issues -- then why should a "debranded Republican" (Jonathan Rauch's phrase) support him? Why not stay home and put the poor ole GOP out of its misery?
It will be interesting to see if Gillespie can find some answers.
James V DeLong is the author of Ending 'Big SIS' (The Special Interest State) and Renewing the American Republic