Post Mortem #1: That Which Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
As a recent post by Eric Erickson notes, there will undoubtedly be speculation about the great Republican civil war between the GOP establishment and the TEA Party activists for control of the party. In reality, this is nothing more than a distraction device perpetrated by the spin-meisters in the Democratic Party and their affiliates in the mainstream media and on those obnoxious liberal web sites. Look at the reality of this past election. Republicans regained control of the House with a minimum 60-seat pick up with some races still undecided. By any standards, that is historic especially considering the fact the GOP was licking its wounds two years ago. In the Senate, the Republicans picked up six seats with races in Washington and Alaska yet to be decided. Yet still, the media and other outlets are fixated on this alleged civil war within the Republican Party. And when that “civil war” is postulated, two entities are usually listed- Sarah Palin and the TEA Party.
Let’s look at Sarah Palin’s electoral success. In the 2010 election cycle, Palin endorsed 60 candidates. She had 10 losses in the primaries. Among the candidates who survived or who she later endorsed, her record is 27 wins against 15 losses with 8 races yet to be decided. Let’s split those 8 races as 4 wins for Palin and 4 losses. That would make her record 31-19, or a 62% win rate. Rather impressive until you add in those 10 primary losses thus making her record 31-29, for a 51.7% win rate (less impressive).
As for the TEA Party supported candidates, they had an overall success rate of 64%. However, in six of these races, the TEA Party targeted incumbents for defeat rather than endorsing a particular candidate and in those six races, they failed in only one instance (Barney Frank in Massachusetts). Hence, if we eliminate these “target” races, their success rate is still an impressive 59%. But once again, five of these races were really not competitive in the first place- DeMint in South Carolina, Lee in Utah, Boozman in Arkansas, Rubio in Florida and Pence in Indiana. Once these obvious wins are eliminated (they would have won with or without the support of the TEA Party), their record is a less impressive 47% win rate.
As a point of comparison, looking at the candidates Barack Obama campaigned heavily for since Labor Day, his success rate is a paltry 45% and even lower (40%) when the less competitive races (like Delaware and Connecticut) are removed. The fact is that he was rebuked in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and a House race in Virginia. Throw in the fact that the Manchin win was a running away from Obama to gain victory and the mishandling of the “Get Out of the Race, Kendrick Meek” fiasco in Florida (actually two losses for Obama), Obama’s success rate sinks south of 40%. By any stretch of the imagination, it is the President that is weakened while Republicans have picked up six seats in the Senate and at least 60 in the House.
That being said, when I first started writing on this site, I once noted that any gain in the Senate in 2010 could be considered a win for the Republican Party. With a 59-41 advantage, Democrats only needed to pick off one Republican to move legislation forward. That usually meant going to Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins of Maine, or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. That places a lot of Republican bargaining power in the hands of three Senators representing 0.64% of the American population. With a six-seat pick up in the Senate and a count of 53-47, the task becomes that much harder. It also weakens the power of Collins, Snowe, and presumably Murkowski in the 112th Congress. So, if the Dems manage to pick off the support of these three Senators, they still fall four short making their task that much harder. That is the reality of this year’s elections despite how the Democrats try to portray the results and a rift in the Republican Party.
Speaking of that rift, most likely the conversation turns around to what-ifs. Already, some are arguing that with more “electable” candidates in Delaware, Colorado, and Nevada, a 50-50 tie in the Senate would have been a reality and then Republicans could have concentrated on another state for an actual majority- a state like Washington or West Virginia. Of course, we will never know the outcome of the “what-if” scenarios. Each race had its own dynamics irrespective of the backing of the candidate by some faction within the Republican Party.
Granted, the Delaware race was an example where the Republicans snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In polling before the primary, Mike Castle held an almost 20-point lead on Chris “Who the Hell Is He” Coons. Yet overnight with the O’Donnell victory in Delaware over Castle, a 20-point disadvantage for Coons became a 17 point disadvantage (a 37 point swing)- something O’Donnell could not overcome even if she had more time. Admittedly, the attacks on O’Donnell at the hands of the liberal media were brutal and often misleading. The great diversionary tactics were used to great effect against her. But, the fault for this lies less with those who supported her than with a failure of the GOP establishment at the national level and in Delaware. Why? Because neither entity vetted Christine O’Donnell…probably because they were so fixated on the Castle victory in the primary. Hopefully, they have learned to cover all bases prior to primary outcomes in the future. But yes, in the end, this was a Republican victory that should have been.
The second race is that in Colorado where there is speculation that if Jane Norton had been the candidate, she could have finished the deal against Michael Bennett who was quite vulnerable in Colorado. Some in the Republican Party are complaining that if the GOP had invested more time and money in Colorado than they had in a losing cause in California, perhaps that could have pushed Buck over the top. Who cares?
Finally, the last of the three opportunity Republican pick-ups, is the case of Nevada. Prior to the Republican primary that saw Sharron Angle win, all three viable Republican candidates (including Angle) led Harry Reid in hypothetical polls. Both Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian led by larger margins than Angle. Part of the Reid victory is attributable to Reid and part to Angle. For Reid, he managed to motivate his base and establish a ground game that got out the union vote. Although I have not seen details of the Nevada race yet, one can surmise that Hispanics broke for Reid in a big way (although I would have to see Hispanic turn out to determine if it was a factor in this race). And part of this was because instead of noting how an unpopular incumbent Democratic Senator was using Hispanics to win an unjustified term and re-election, Angle dissed the Hispanics of Nevada with off-the-wall comments (they look like Asians?). This was Reid’s race to lose all the way, but Angle towards the end of the campaign took this to an extreme and went into virtual lock-down. So, some of it is Angle’s fault and some of it is due to Reid strategy. Regardless of the outcome here, overall Harry Reid leads a much-weakened Democratic majority in the Senate.
The final race that needs to be addressed is the unresolved one in Alaska. When Lisa Murkowski lost the Republican primary to TEA Party and Palin-supported Joe Miller, many here at Redstate and other conservative web sites were dancing on her political grave. When she announced her intentions regarding a write-in campaign, many were calling for sanctions against her by Mitch McConnell like taking her committee memberships away from her. I argued against that strategy using a Machiavellian “keep your ‘enemies’ close” philosophy. Forget Scott McAdams in Alaska because the Senator will be either Murkowski or Miller. Since Murkowski announced her intentions to caucus with the Republicans, one has to give McConnell (and I really don’t like him) some credit for covering his anticipatory bases in this case.
Argue though they may about an alleged civil war in the Republican Party, the bottom line is that the Democrats faced some serious losses in the Senate besides losing the House. Considering the fact that in 2012, of the 33 Senate seats up for election, 23 of them are held by Democrats. Of those 23 seats, an initial analysis based on results this year would indicate that eight are vulnerable to losses- Bill Nelson in Florida, Daniel Akaka in Hawaii, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, Bob Menendez in New Jersey, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Jim Webb in Virginia, Joe Manchin in West Virginia (again), and Herb Kohl in Wisconsin. Webb and Kohl are sending signals they may not even run thus creating two potential open seats. Of the 10 Republicans up for re-election, perhaps only John Ensign in Nevada could be considered vulnerable. In eight other states, Republicans made great gains at other levels (either Senate, Governor, or House) with the only exception being Scott Brown in Massachusetts. However, his popularity in the state offsets any chances the Democrats may perceive they have in the Bay State.
The civil war they talk about, if such exists, comes down to a moral maxim. Do you suffer losses to defend principles or do you abandon principles to secure victory? If the principles are limited government and fiscal responsibility, I would suffer losses in Delaware, Colorado and Nevada any day. These three states combined represent 3.05% of the American population. It would have been a great psychological victory to see a Republican occupying the seat formerly held by the Vice President. It would have been great to see a Republican occupying the seat of the Majority Leader in the Senate. But by losing in Delaware, Colorado and Nevada, the principles of the Republican Party have been bolstered. Others have taken notice now- thanks to the likes of Ken Buck, Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell- that the Republican Party needs to return to its core theme of limited government and fiscal responsibility. To ironically paraphrase O’Donnell’s concession speech, they may have lost the race, but people have heard the message…and that is a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.