You Broke It, You Won It
“To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked.” That’s from Matt Yglesias in a post he published yesterday evening before the scope of the GOP victory became fully clear. This is succinct and it is correct.
Indeed, in key respects it worked in 2010. By many measures Republicans should have won the Senate in 2010 and 2012. But each year they were hobbled by a raft of crazy and indisciplined senate candidates who squandered what should have been easy or at least odds-on wins. This year, the terrain was heavily weighted in their favor. And they kept their candidates on the straight and narrow.
But if this was the plan (and it was) and if it worked (which it did) we should ask, why?
We’re hearing that President Obama was poor at messaging and keeping his voters involved and invested, that Dems aren’t tough or combated enough or didn’t stick together enough. All of these are true to some degree. But it doesn’t explain why they are true or why the Democrats don’t seem to be able to do the same sort of thing.
I think there are two answers, the first of which is more relevant at the moment. That is that it is much easier to break the government and reap the benefits of doing so if you are not the party of government. This is obvious when you put it this way. But it’s worth considering what a central reality this is.
We should also remember that this is exactly what Republicans did in 1993 and 1994. The script was identical. The difference is actually a good one for Democrats in that they got a lot more accomplished in 2009-10 than the more entrenched Democratic majority of 1993-94. Still, the strategy was identical and it had a similar result – the difference being needing three cycles to finally grab the Senate.
The second point is that the Democratic party has a different structure from the Republican party. Both are coalitions. Big national parties have to be. But the Democratic party is a more disparate coalition. The base of the GOP has long been more coherent. And that makes the primary-ing mania that helps keep the GOP so unified on Capitol Hill possible.
None of this is meant as a counsel of despair. I think the Democratic party’s future is bright. More importantly I think its central goals remain in the ascendent. But addressing the shortcomings I noted above must happen by treating these realities as the starting point of the discussion, accepting them. They cannot be ignored.