The Old Senate Versus the New Senate
Suffice to say, for the second consecutive cycle, the Republicans blew gaining control of the Senate and deposing Harry Reid as Majority Leader and, thus, setting the legislative agenda in the upper chamber of Congress. Although the GOP gained a seat out of Nebraska, that was a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, the Republican Party lost key races in Wisconsin and North Dakota and failed to defend seats in Massachusetts, Indiana, and Maine. We lost key races in North Dakota and Montana and, most egregiously, failed to win a key state running a generally unpopular Democratic incumbent in Missouri. For the second cycle in a row, Linda McMahon spent a fortune of her own money losing a Senate race. In fact, her performance in 2012 was actually worse- dollar for dollar spent- than in 2010.
There is much talk about alleged gridlock in Congress being caused by obstructionism by the minority party in the Senate, and by polarization of the parties. Most of the blame, to read the mainstream media, is placed on the Republican Party and, more specifically, the Tea Party faction of that party. I have written in the past that the Tea Party’s role within the GOP is vastly overstated by most pundits and analysts. They certainly have a greater role in formulating the discussion and focusing issues. But, when it comes crunch time- namely, Election Day- except in obvious cases (e.g., Mike Lee in Utah), their electoral success is not exactly something to be proud of. Yes, some races like that of Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Florida stand out in 2010, but also consider that the GOP, with Tea Party backed candidates, failed to win races in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware and Nevada.
Unlike some, I do not place 100% of the blame for Republican electoral losses at the feet of an “extreme” Tea Party. As I have mentioned on many occasions, the Tea Party plays an important role within the GOP. Their candidates may not be all that, but their hearts are in the right place. And what can be “extreme” about reigning in a government run amok and spending itself into bankruptcy?
Also, unlike others, I do not view the alleged obstructionism in the Senate as some grand plan to destroy the legitimacy of the Obama Administration. Taken to its logical extreme, as many writers in the mainstream media have done, this is not a GOP reaction to the first black President of the United States. Incidentally, I have recently read with amusement some speculation over Republican opposition to UN Ambassador Susan Rice. First, the liberal media claims that this opposition is racially motivated. Failing that argument, now it is a knee-jerk Republican opposition based on sexism. Actually, it is purely logical: either Susan Rice deliberately lied and/or was duped into lying OR she was simply left out of the original intelligence loop and left to rely on the edited talking points. Either way, that is certainly grounds to oppose Susan Rice as the new Secretary of State, if it comes to that. But I digress…
Using a series of criteria and then running those results through a somewhat complex algorithm, I compared the current Senate against the incoming Senate in 2013 based on overall liberal versus conservative ideology. The scores were based on not only voting records in the Senate for incumbents, but also statements made on the campaign trail, previous votes at either the state level or in the House (for those House members elevated to the Senate), etc. The results were rather interesting.
First, in both instances, the Republican delegation is certainly more ideological than their Democratic counterparts. The Republican average score in the current Senate is +3.28 conservative versus +2.09 liberal for the Democrats. However, after this past election, the Democratic score is +2.28 liberal- a 9% increase in the score. Thus, the new Senate has lurched left. Conversely, the Republican score for the new Senate is 3.13 conservative- or 4.6% more moderate. That is, the new Senate Democratic delegation has lurched left while the new Senate Republican delegation has lurched towards the center. This is interesting since so-called Republican “moderates” like Scott Brown were defeated in the general election, Richard Lugar defeated in a primary election, ad Olympia Snowe simply retired.
Likewise, looking at the Democrats, Martin Heinrich came up with a more moderate score than the person he is replacing (Jeff Bingaman). This is also true for the case of Mazie Hirono in Hawaii, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, and Tim Kaine in Virginia. But the big difference makers were in Massachusetts where a moderate Republican (Scott Brown) was defeated by a decidedly more liberal (Elizabeth Warren) and in Wisconsin where a very liberal Tammy Baldwin replaces a less liberal Herb Kohl and defeated a moderate Republican in Tommy Thompson. And Chris Murphy in Connecticut is clearly more liberal than the man he replaces in the Senate- Joe Lieberman. Angus King for Olympia Snowe is basically a wash. And even though many here and elsewhere had their criticisms of Richard Lugar in Indiana, quite frankly he was still certainly more conservative than his replacement- Joe Donnelly, a Democrat.
We can cry about spilled milk, but all that crying does no good if lessons are not learned from what can best be described as a bad year for Republicans in the Senate. Hopes were high heading into this election, this writer included. Obviously, candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock shot themselves in the foot. In Akin’s case, what made me angry, was the fact that this was a slam dunk victory for the Republican Party against a Democratic incumbent on the ropes. Everyone knew Akin’s conservative credentials. There was no good reason for him to double-down on those credentials on a radio talk show. Every year, we conservatives decry the liberal media, yet every year we conservatives fall for that liberal media’s bait. All Akin had to say was, “You know my positions on this issue. But more importantly, can we talk about this economy and what my opponent has not done to improve it.” End of story; Akin wins!
That is the first lesson to be learned- stick to the issues. While abortion and gay marriage and other social issues may certainly be near and dear to the hearts of many conservatives, these were not major issues in this year’s election. Poll after poll after poll indicated this. Yet, Republicans like Mourdock and Akin fell for the bait and suffered the consequences. Now, we don’t now what the future holds. A conservative Supreme Court Justice can retire or fall ill or even die over the next four years giving Obama a chance to move the Court to the left. Then, social issues may very well take center stage in 2014 or 2016. At that time, the GOP may have an electoral advantage. But in 2012, the issue was the economy and it was social issue positions and comments that lost us elections in Missouri and Indiana. And speaking of Indiana, remember that “controversy” very early in the electoral cycle when Mitch Daniels proposed a truce on the social issues? I definitely remember some reactions here on Redstate of shock and accusations of Daniels compromising conservative principles. One can only speculate on what the Senate in 2013 would look like if they had heeded that advice.
The second lesson to be learned is that what may look good on paper may not be good in reality. When looking at this issue, two people come to mind. In Connecticut, Linda McMahon certainly had the money to run a strong campaign against Chris Murphy, as she did in 2010. This time out, she spent less and concentrated more on grassroots efforts than mass media. Despite this better strategy and better use of financial resources, she lost by a bigger margin in 2012 than in 2010. Certainly on paper, from the financial standpoint, she looked like the better candidate. The other person is Josh Mandel in Ohio. Sherrod Brown, his Democratic opponent, is not exactly the most well-liked person in the Buckeye State. Yet, he won. On paper, to many conservatives, Mandel was the Republican “Golden Boy” in Ohio- young, good looking, great fundraiser, said the right things, etc. Except he was an unmitigated disaster as a candidate. His feuds with the media and during debates with Brown revealed him not to be a viable candidate. Signing a “No Tax Pledge” may gain you the support of a Grover Norquist, but he is but one vote. I personally, like many others, have an aversion to taxes. But, there is nothing to be gained by pigeon-holing oneself on a specific issue. Stating that tax increases should be the solution of absolute last resort should suffice for a signed pledge.
The third lesson is that certain factions within the Republican Party may just have to bite the bullet in certain cases. Without a doubt, as 2014 nears, I can reliably predict that many commenters here and elsewhere will be gearing up with their rhetoric against the likes of Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins. They will be labeled “RINOs” and people will look to some specific vote or position they took somewhere in their past and voice their opposition to them. But here is a fact many must keep in mind: would you rather have a Lindsey Graham representing South Carolina or a Democrat? Would you rather have a Lamar Alexander representing Tennessee or a Democrat? Would you rather have a Susan Collins representing Maine, or a Democrat? Churning incumbent Republicans almost assured of reelection in 2014 through some litmus test of questions or positions and then eliminating them because of one or two issues does not serve the greater good- gaining control of the Senate. The fact is that the more conservative elements in the Republican Party will have to “bite the bullet” when it comes to “moderate” candidates, no matter how we define that term. Likewise, moderate Republicans (sometimes confused with Establishment Republicans) will have to bite the bullet and lend support to more conservative candidates, especially in “no-brainer” states like Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, etc. That means that if in 2014, hopefully a John Enzi (up for reelection in Wyoming) should he take the liberal bait and say something boneheaded a la Todd Akin, the GOP will nevertheless lend support instead of run from him. However, hopefully John Enzi will heed lesson one.
Let me conclude that this is not a call for a “kinder, gentler” Republican Party. Overall, we stand on the correct side of most issues- limited government, low taxes, freedom from government-mandated nannyism and regulation, for life and traditional definitions of marriage, a strong military and coherent foreign policy, and a government that is responsive to the needs of all Americans- not some subsection of it, one ethnic group to the exclusion of others vis-a-vis pandering or playing “identity politics, evangelicals versus secularists, or the 47%, 40%, or any other percent. That needs to be the message going forward among Republicans at all levels of government.
In 2014, the list of targets for incumbent defeats is greater (again) amongst Democrats. Initially, one can say that seats may be up for grabs in Alaska (Mark Begich), Montana (Max Bauchus), Colorado (one of the Udalls), North Carolina (Kay Hagan), New Hampshire (Jeanne Shaheen), and Minnesota (Al Franken). That is not even accounting for potential resignations amongst their ranks (Lautenberg in New Jersey comes to mind or even Kerry in Massachusetts). Let us not repeat the mistakes of 2010 and 2012 and blow this opportunity. Admittedly, the results from 2012 made the task more difficult (we need six instead of four seats to flip the Senate), but it can be done if we heed the lessons learned, remain committed, and follow through on those commitments all the way to the ballot box.