This New York Times article was probably not meant to give the game away, but many things are done these days that have had results that were not actually meant. It was probably not the author’s intent to subvert the obligatory optimism of the article with such a stark headline, either. Here’s the mistake, in a nutshell: while the title (“Democrats Plan Political Triage to Retain House”) is an accurate enough summation of the article it’s still using a politically disastrous word (“triage”). Let me explain why.
Here’s the executive summary of the article: the Democrats have tacitly conceded that they could lose up to fifty seats net (they’ve gained something like fifty five in the last two cycles and they have some hopes for about five or so [I would say three, if that]), so they’re going to try to firewall about two dozen of them and let the rest go down in flames. Whether this works or not is a matter of some lively debate; personally, I expect that most of the Democrats’ vaunted fundraising advantage will go towards protecting people like Ike Skelton and John Spratt and other long-term Congressmen who are in unexpected trouble this year. Either way, triage is hardly surprising, given the circumstances…
…or is it?
You see, for the last two years pretty much every article that reported on the increasing likelihood of strong Republican gains in 2010 has featured a variation of the sentence “Democratic strategists point out that, unlike 1994, they’re aware of the possibility of strong Republican gains, and have made plans accordingly.” It’s one of their standard lines; they know that the possibility of a 1994 blowout existed, and since obviously the only thing that cost the Democrats the House that time was their unpreparedness then this time they’ll be fine. Except… triage is an emergency measure, traditionally performed under suboptimal conditions. It’s usually not required if you’ve had time and opportunity to prepare beforehand.
In other words, the Democrats shouldn’t have needed to make hard electoral decisions in September. They knew that this day was coming, and there were a variety of things that they could have done to minimize the damage. But they didn’t do any of them, apparently… or perhaps they did, and none of those things helped. Either way, if this is what a Democrat thinks is ‘preparedness,’ then roll on, November.
Crossposted to Moe Lane.