Regardless of the outcome of the November 3rd election in New York-23, there are some serious lessons for the GOP to extract. This learning curve will be steep because they are so certain of their own superiority and statecraft. But, the arrogance of the bean counters and number crunchers must be tempered with common sense and a good dose of reality. Several myths are inherent in their calculations. Some of these are so ingrained it takes a disaster to expose them. While political science metrics have their place, the way to win an election is to persuade more voters you are right and the other side is wrong.
Myth # 1 – Voters in the base will swallow their bile and vote for the least offensive candidate.
When the ‘wizards of smart’ in the Republican Party decided to back Scozzafava, they banked on conservatives being so desperate they’d vote for anyone who wasn’t a Democrat. However, they picked a candidate who was so tainted by the stain of Soros. The voters rebelled. They don’t want, as Glenn Beck puts it, socialism lite, they want a candidate who will work in their best interests. Scozzafava, still reeking from an endorsement from the Working Families Party, isolated her base, reached for the far left, and as such gave the Republican Party an ulcer. That ulcer can only be alleviated by just listening to their constituents. The conservatives are tired of ‘business as usual’.
Political independents are largely malleable and persuadable.
There is a significant difference between independent and moderate. Independents are simply not partisan in nature. They may be conservative or liberal and distrust the party system. Moderates, a subset of independents, are not beholden to either party and weigh the candidates and parties without eliminating the other out of hand.
Just because you have a candidate with schizoid stands on the issues, doesn’t mean the independents and/or moderates will bite. They are just as principled and informed, sometimes more, than partisans. These two groups are just as likely to smell a rat as any other voter. In fact, they may be more likely to realize that ideological inconsistancy is a sign of duplicity and not honesty. While candidates can have positions that are not strict ideological stances, the positions they do take flow from a basic philosophical belief system. When a position, such as Card-Check or support for the stimulus plan, flies in the face of the philosophical base, it appears contrived and therefore suspect.
Myth # 3 Partisans will support their candidates even with ideological differences.
The belief that a voter, even one who is a card carrying member of a party, will vote in lockstep with their brethern is absurd. Almost all voters split the ticket, at least in some cases. The district GOP in New York looked at the metrics and made a plan. They saw the district was mostly Republican but voted for Obama in 2008. That translated, in their minds, to a liberal Republican base that needed some liberal sprinklings to make their candidate more amenable. However, just because Scozzafava has some liberal credentials doesn’t make her the candidate that will serve the district the best. Republican voters began to see that she was not the person for them. Therefore they looked elsewhere. Hoffman offered a better choice that was ideologically more attuned than their own party choice. As a result, the trickle became a flood.
Myth # 4
Moderates will not vote for an ideological candidate. They want a candidate who can work with both sides.
Moderates do not want a candidate who will work with both sides, not as an attribute. They want a candidate who will fight for their best interests and will not become embroiled in partisan wrangling. Those are two very different things. Moderates have an ideological basis to their belief system just as partisans do. It is simply not a basis that relies on Republican or Democratic brands to fulfill. They want results that are good for their district, as they see it. They still want the best result and view interfraternal bickering as impeding that goal.
Myth # 5 – Bipartisan voting results show a candidate has real carrying power.
If this final myth were true, the swing districts would have the safest seats in Congress. However, it is absolutely false. Swing districts are notorious for flipping from party to party depending on the mood in the country. Highly ideological bailwicks are the safest seats and these seats are completely controlled by one party or the other. For the most part, Democrats have a lock on big cities. They didn’t get that lock by being ideologically mushy. They did it by overtaking the political system, installing machines, and regulating the system. Republicans, for some odd reason, believe that they must cater to Democrats at the exclusion of their base. Democrats don’t cater to anyone, and it works. They make their case, cement their power, and move on.
Republicans made a bad bet at the race track with Scozzafava. While I understand their political calculations, they started with some very questionable premises. These premises all rely on political myths that support altering the message to fit the populace instead of persuading the voters you are right. Candidates who ‘fit’ with local races are important as long as they are believable and apt. But, metrics never trumps a good argument. Work on the metrics while making a sound political case.
Don’t believe that moderates are looking for any excuse to vote for a Democrat. They aren’t. They are looking out for their best interests regardless of party affiliation. Understand that fact, and don’t be scared.