SENATE 2010: OVERVIEW AND UNCOMPETITIVES

Posted in Election 2010 on March 29th, 2010 by Ed

I know how many of you have been checking this site 10, 20, perhaps even 100 times daily just waiting for the beginning of the 2010 Senate series. Wait no more.

Monday! Monday! Monday!
One day only! (only…only…)
GIN and TACOS (tacos…tacos…) will begin:

(unnaturally deep voice) balls to the wall coverage (end deep voice)

Of the 2010 races in the United States Senate! Senate! Senate!
At the Madison County Fairgrounds
We'll sell you the whole seat…BUT YOU'LL ONLY USE THE EDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDGE

That's right. My analysis: let me show you it.

The past 12 months have been a useful lesson in the breakneck speed with which the winds change in American politics. Throughout 2009 we saw Barack Obama go from the penthouse to the shithouse. Congressional Democrats went from cakewalking through the 2006 and 2008 elections to losing a Senate seat in Massachusetts of all places. Suddenly the media and the Beltway were grandly predicting entirely improbable midterm gains for the GOP – ten Senate seats, eighty-plus in the House. The streets would run red with the blood of all who dared oppose them.

Well, that was January. Two months later the predictions have come back down to Earth. The midterm loss is a very real phenomenon in American politics, holding true in all but two elections in our 220 years of history (1998 and 2002). On top of the historical inevitability of Democratic losses this year, the Senate and House majorities have gotten about as large as one could reasonably expect in modern politics. Once you get to 59 or 60 in the Senate, the odds of further gains approach the size of Jim Inhofe's IQ. So no one, extremists or the uninformed aside, would call Vegas and bet money on anything but Republican gains this year. That's a given.

That said, Michael Steele might want to hold off on the ticker tape parade.

Conservative commentators have gleefully monitored the President's falling approval rating and that of the current Congressional leadership while conveniently overlooking the following:

They should be careful pointing out how little the public likes Harry Reid. I mean, they're not exactly erecting statues of and sacrificing the fatted calf for Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. The second cautionary tale, and one that the non-Fox media are starting to pick up on, is that the Teabaggers simply aren't that large of a group. No matter how hard talk radio hosts try to convince themselves and the rest of us that it is some giant revolutionary movement sweeping the country, it's becoming painfully clear that it is a small group funded by the usual suspects and composed mostly of certified nutbars – the ranting coworker or psychotic uncle we all go out of our way to avoid. The Great White Hope is more likely to fizzle out (How'd their primary candidates do so far?) than to become more influential as the election progresses.

So the big picture is pretty unexciting: a gain of 3 or 4 seats in the Senate for the GOP, with considerable margin for error given how much the political tides can turn in the next seven months. There are a great many races that appear to be toss-ups at the moment, as one would expect in March, and the summer months largely will determine which way they break. It'll be a nice year for the GOP, but if they're anticipating a repeat of 1994 they're going to be disappointed.

Let's take a brief look at the uncompetitive races. Right now I have 18 in this category; the won't be worth our attention unless something exceptional happens. It happens, but it doesn't happen often. Jim Webb didn't have a chance against George "Macaca" Allen a few years ago, but that race became competitive out of nowhere about a month before the election.

Two races in this group have some potential to move. In Wisconsin, Feingold will have a tough race on his hands if former Governor and Bush Cabinet secretary Tommy Thompson decides to run. He has been on the fence for months and frankly I don't think he'll do it. He's about to turn 69 and despite his popularity in Wisconsin, he wouldn't even be a favorite against Feingold. Could he win? Sure. But the money would still be on Russ. The second race is the Gillibrand special election in New York. She's not much of a candidate – sort of a mushy Clintonite centrist – but I've grown sick of listening to the GOP talk about their grand, brilliant plans to win one of the NY Senate seats. They've been hatching one scheme and one unbeatable miracle candidate after another for the last decade. The outcome is always the same. They're throwing George Pataki's name around (as they always do) and it remains to be seen if he'd be as good as his party thinks he would be. Right now I'm guessing he declines (again) and Gillibrand walks over whichever Republican Congressman throws his name on the ballot.

To be continued and updated as necessary. Welcome back.

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CONSCIENCE VOTES

Posted in Election 2010 on March 21st, 2010 by Ed

It tickled me pink to see Nate Silver make a Marjorie Margolies-Mesvinsky reference last week, since the anecdote of her one-term Congressional career is one I love telling. In class, in private, to my rats, anywhere and everywhere.

In 1992 "3M" (as fellow legislators called her to avoid excessive entanglement with her awkward name) won a total fluke victory over GOP incumbent Jon Fox in PA-13. Republicans had held the seat since Woodrow Wilson was President – 1916. Marjorie won narrowly and was not expected to last long, especially given that Clinton would not be on the ballot to help in 1994. In 1993 Clinton needed one more "yes" vote for his first budget proposal, one that was met with unanimous and strenuous opposition from Republicans. Marjorie signed her own political death certificate by agreeing to vote for it after days of full court press by the White House. As she recorded her vote in the House, Republicans stood and sang "Bye Bye, Marjorie!" She was defeated in 1994 and left public life.

Obama, of course, spent most of the weekend lobbying nervous House Democrats to vote for health care reform. He might have had an easier time with it had he read up on 3M and made a simple, forceful argument: a lot of you are going to lose in 2010. Irrespective of the HCR vote. 2008 was an anomalously strong year for the Democrats in Congress and let's be frank – a lot of these wins in conservative, historically Republican districts were complete flukes. It was a combination of luck, circumstances, and frustration with the ineptness of the GOP. But the Democrats, from the grassroots up to the White House, are acting as though these seats can be defended. Most of them can't.

Walt Minnick (Idaho 1) is a freshman and a firm No on HCR. He serves the most Republican district in the nation to be represented by a Democrat. He won by 0.6% of the vote in 2008 with Obama on the ballot bringing out more Democrats. I'd say Mr. Minnick has about a snowball's chance in hell of winning in 2010. Everything about him screams "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." A strong president would call him into the Oval Office, make small talk for a few minutes, and say, "Look, Walt. You're probably not going to be around for much longer. Why not do one really good thing before you go? One thing you'll be proud of, a historic piece of legislation you'll be able to say you made possible?"

The idea of voting one's conscience is very heavily discounted in political science. The evidence simply does not support it, instead pointing to constituent preferences and the party leadership as the effective constraints on Congressional voting behavior. However, this bill is big enough, and there are enough Democrats who are lucky just to be there, to justify appeals to conscience by the President. It only needs to work with a few people on a close vote. And deep in their hearts I believe a lot of these vulnerable House Democrats know their time is short. They know it as surely as they know that HCR, once passed, will join Social Security and Medicare as the third rail of American politics. After all, the unpopularity of the legislation obscures the fact that everything in the bill is in fact quite popular.

Two other things related to the vote:

1. NOW et al are flipping out about the executive order "Stupak compromise" on Federally-funded abortions. I think it's symbolic and essentially irrelevant. It reinforces the status quo of the Hyde Amendment and there was not one word in the bill suggesting that Federal money was going to be used to provide abortions anyway. Basically, if it made Bart Stupak and a couple other pro-life Democrats happy to have the President pass an EO saying "This bill which provides no Federal funds for abortions will not provide Federal funds for abortions" then so be it.

2. It was good to see the opposition from the left collapse – Kucinich and the like. I agree with them in that I think the bill is a massive handout to insurance companies and it pales in comparison to a single-payer system or a public insurance option. I am also old enough to realize that right now, with this President and this political landscape, this is about as good as it's going to get. When you need a new car and you realize you can't afford the Ferrari you really want, do you buy a car you can afford or say "Screw it, I'll just walk"? No, you take what you can get right now, let the policy establish a foothold, and add to it in increments over time. More on that tomorrow.

(postscript: Margolies-Mezvinsky's son Marc is now engaged to Chelsea Clinton. So whoever flips to vote with Obama on this one might end up with one of the Obama girls as a daughter-in-law)

THE GOOD NEWS

Posted in Election 2010 on January 20th, 2010 by Ed

If you're a veteran reader you've heard this before, but special elections always get blown far out of proportion. Elections are ratings events for the political media and it takes very little prodding to get them to cover whatever is at hand like it's some combination of the Super Bowl and presidential election. That said, what happened in Massachusetts yesterday was bad, bad news for the Democratic Party. If they had enough sense to learn anything from what happened, it probably wouldn't have happened in the first place.

The Democrats lost Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. The good news? There is no good news, unless you're a Republican.

The Democrats in Massachusetts nominated a horrendous candidate who proceeded to run a somnolent campaign (or non-campaign) that presumed victory and excited exactly no one. The Republicans were highly motivated even though Scott Brown is far from great shakes himself. So we're back to the pre-2008 electoral dynamics: Republicans vote, Democrats don't. And why would they? What kind of rallying cry could Coakley have used? "Get out to vote! Protect that watered-down embarrassment of a health care 'reform' bill! You know, the one we let the insurance companies write!" Something tells me that would not have worked. It is plainly obvious that Democratic candidates can't expect success without the voters who showed up in 2008, and they're not going to show up unless they're highly motivated by distaste for the GOP (which they aren't at the moment, given the results from 2006-08) or enthusiasm for the Congressional agenda. What we're seeing is not a schizophrenic electorate giving the GOP eight years to screw things up and expecting the Democrats to fix it all in nine months. We're seeing that nine months is more than enough time for the modern Democratic Party to disgust most of its base.

Is it accurate to say that this is a referendum on Obama? No, although you will hear plenty of that anyway. Is it a referendum on the Congressional leadership? Absolutely. I've never seen a group of elected officials so talented at getting voters to simply not give a fuck who wins or loses. Can you listen to Harry Reid for five minutes without completely losing interest in anything political? It is problematic to make the following claim – that the Democrats inevitably lose their grip on power because they fail to be liberal enough – because we often mock the GOP for making the same excuse in the wake of defeat. In the case of the GOP, however, the argument is patently silly. Their leadership is very conservative and not at all shy about ramming their agenda through Congress. When the Democrats are in power, only Glenn Beck and hysterical teabaggers would describe their agenda as "liberal." America gets a heaping serving of Republican Lite, tons of pointless commitments to pursue "bipartisanship" and therefore get nothing accomplished, and the powerful leadership skills of Steny Hoyer and Harry Reid. Enthralling.

Midterm elections are rarely good for incumbent presidents and 2010 will be no different. That said, the GOP is likely to get carried away with hyperbolic predictions of picking up 15 Senate and 100 House seats in November. The slow trickle of faint but positive economic signs will cushion the downside for the majority party, especially if the employment numbers pick up (which is no sure thing). In the end, however, Obama will get exactly what he deserves. He took office with all the enthusiasm in the world behind him and he proceeded to govern like an Eisenhower Republican. Like Clinton, Obama will probably survive re-election in 2012 because of his personal appeal and the pitiful field of challengers. But his brief window of opportunity to seize the initiative and take control of the Congressional agenda has passed. The partisan balance in the general public favors the Democrats, but the same can't be said among people who can be counted upon to vote regularly. The Democrats have only themselves to blame for the disparity between the two.

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CIRCULAR FIRING SQUAD

Posted in Election 2010 on November 5th, 2009 by Ed

Despite endorsements from America's most important and beloved political icons – Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, Armey, Tancredo, Bachmann, and so on – Doug Hoffman somehow managed to lose. Hoffman, a prototypical wingnut and poster boy for the new Palin/Beck version of the GOP, managed to lose a seat last held by a Democrat during the presidency of Franklin Pierce. This hasn't stopped them from declaring victory (my favorite "analysis" has to be Erick the Stupid over at RedState) and, even better, making grand plans for 2010.

When I started prepping the Senate 2010 material – eagerly awaited, no doubt – over the summer Charlie Crist was still on the fence in Florida. I liked him on that fence. Weak GOP incumbent Mel Martinez was smart enough to retire and it seemed a prime target for a Democratic pickup. Not with Crist in the race, though. Crist is extremely popular in Florida and the weak field of Democratic hopefuls couldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole. The RNC, the NRSC, and Republicans everywhere should be on their hands and knees thanking Crist for throwing his hat into the fray at a time of disarray for the party. But emboldened by the daily exhortations of Glenn Beck and the Hoffman "victory" – the kind that actually involves a humiliating defeat – the teabagger party-within-the-party is breaking out the pitchforks and torches to take him down in the primary. That there is nearly no conceivable way Crist could lose that race is irrelevant to these people.

The same holds true for Rob Simmons (who stands a good chance of taking out Chris Dodd in Connecticut) and Matt Kirk in Illinois. What do Crist, Kirk, and Simmons have in common? Well, they stand a chance in hell of winning the general election in their states. They adhere to the classical conception of fiscal conservatism. They don't base their personal political philosophy around a hatred of gays. They can speak intelligibly and occasionally read books. They are all more fond of Jack Kemp than Glenn Beck. All of these things make them Public Enemy 1a to the newly energized, more dumb-assed right wing base.

“It’s kind of like investors in a company saying they’re not going to tolerate it anymore. And that’s what we’re seeing here,” said Eric Odom, executive director of the American Liberty Alliance, a libertarian-oriented group. “We’re already gearing up. This is just the beginning.”

Hear that, GOP? Your people are tired of winning Congressional races anywhere outside of the deep south and the grain belt. Do they think Beck-approved rubes stand a better chance of winning in Illinois or Connecticut than the dreaded "moderate" Republicans? Either they do and they're delusional or they don't and they're willing to slice off their nose to spite their stupid, stupid face. Modern conservatism has gotten progressively less interested in accomplishing anything or having policies that work and progressively more interested in adhering to the sacred tenets of The Faith no matter the cost. But at the same time they have always been fanatically devoted to getting and staying in power. Now that last tether connecting them to reality is being severed. They no longer care if they win elections as long as Glenn Beck pitches a tent over their candidates.

As much as I'm cool with that, I can't help but feel a little depressed looking at what has happened to that party. In politics as in war we prefer to envision our opponents with some dignity – it makes our victory over them worth a little bit more. With the emboldened Teabagging movement slowly devouring the GOP, Democratic victories are starting to feel less like one army defeating another and more like an army firing tear gas into a disorganized mob.

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N.Y. STATE OF MIND

Posted in Election 2010 on November 2nd, 2009 by Ed

Let's crank up some Nas and talk about NY-23.

First and foremost it is important to recognize just how egregiously special Congressional elections are blown out of proportion. Elections are a spectator sport for some Americans and ratings gold for the media, yet our election cycle leaves them grasping at straws in most odd-numbered years. When the "big races" for the year are gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, a special Congressional election (especially one not in Illinois and/or involving Jim Oberweis) is the last best hope at finding something interesting to talk about. So naturally said race becomes the grand national referendum on the President, the state of the parties, the future of mankind, and the fate of an adorable puppy that Sean Hannity promises to behead on the air if Doug Hoffman loses.

In reality, the race in NY-23 is a referendum on what people in NY-23 prefer from a slate of lousy options. It is not representative of America, it is representative of the preferences of people shoehorned between Vermont and Canada. Said people are not qualified to tell the rest of the country anything except A) who they prefer to represent them in Congress, B) stuff about hockey, and C) where to find the best maple syrup when we visit the Adirondacks.

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To recap, the Republican Party nominated NY State Assembly member Dierdre Scozzafava who, aside from having the single worst name this side of Dick Assman (from Regina!), is a decidedly non-wingnut member of her party. Said wingnuts explosively shat themselves over her positions on issues like gay bashing and abortion despite the fact she is a carbon copy of the kind of Republican who was the staple of New England's Congressional delegations twenty years ago. Thus "Conservative Party" candidate Doug Hoffman entered the fray, earning endorsements from essentially every unemployed right wing idol whose endorsement would prevent you from voting for someone. Democrat Bill Owens was something of an afterthought, as the district has been Republican for ages.

Despairing of her odds of winning, Scozzafava committed political seppuku on Friday. After withdrawing from the race she endorsed Owens on Sunday, presumably consumed by anger and desperate for some measure of revenge against her party. Owens had a slight lead in polling before her decision but was essentially neck-and-neck with Hoffman. What the individuals who supported Scozzafava do will determine the outcome, as will the turnout. Nobody votes in these things, so whoever does a better job of rounding up supporters will have the upper hand.

This is an absolute coin flip and if Owens wins it won't mean a thing for the Democrats other than that a bizarre three-way race split the right in twain and produced an unlikely Democratic winner. But our friends on the right are already touting Hoffman's "victory" over Scozzafava as their Iwo Jima. If he wins the general election this is going to be spun as the single most important election in the history of mankind – not to mention a harbinger of total destruction for the Democratic Party in 2010. Given the way 2006 and 2008 went I can hardly blame them for grasping at straws to declare victory over something – anything – in 2009. I'm almost pulling for Hoffman just to see how ridiculously the right will crow about it. Aside from that petty pleasure, it would provide two benefits to the rest of us.

First, it will ultimately underscore how low the right has sunk to gloat about the fact that a conservative candidate won a district that has been Republican since 1852. Really, kids? That's your big success? Good for you. Second, it will convince the right that the key to winning in 2010 is to go Maximum Wingnut and find a Malkin-approved Hoffman clone in every competitive district in the country. Could anything be more wonderful? I will happily grant them this victory and endorse that strategy for 2010 in much the same way as Lucy puts the football in front of Charlie Brown week after week.

This is a win-win. Either the GOP gets humiliated by dropping a safe seat to a nobody or they win and decide to read it as a ringing endorsement of the Kamikaze Teabagger strategy next year. And who among us would lift a finger to disabuse them of that idea?

THE SURGE

Posted in Election 2010 on October 7th, 2009 by Ed

So the pendulum has swung back to the Republican side, right? The Democrats had their moment of glory in 2008 and now the President and Congress are as popular as anal polyps. The American people have abandoned Obama and the only thing that remains is to sit back and wait for the Republicans to pick up 150 seats in Congress next fall.

This is what the right believes, which is the surest possible indication that it won't happen. The left, accustomed to being to American politics what the Luftwaffe is to the History Channel, is starting to believe it too. My, how rapidly all that optimism from a year ago has faded. Jeebus. Obama has a rough spell eight months into his presidency and we can hardly hear over the hysterical pant shitting.

The false equivalency of giving 50% + 1 of the airtime and column space to ratings-magnet conservative nutbars (not to mention radio, which is essentially 100% wingers) creates the deceptive impression that there is an army of teabaggers ready to conquer the nation from within – and that untold millions more fully support them from the safety of their suburban castles. As usual there is only one problem. The facts bear little resemblance to that "reality" that Beck and Hannity are working so hard to create.

Generic Democrats are still beating generic Republicans in House 2010 races. Obama's favorables exceed the negatives by a good margin. 78% of the public (78%!!!) believes that the health care system needs "fundamental reform" or a "complete rebuild." Glenn Beck's favorables are a whopping 24% Some kind of health care reform package – most likely a toothless one that will upset liberals far more than get-the-guns-the-gubmint-men-is-comin' conservatives – is virtually assured of passing at this point, denying the talking point of the President's dramatic failure. But keep talking about that Olympics thing like it represents the utter collapse and humiliation of the President and his presidency; it's really working!

Is 2010 going to be wine and roses again for the Democrats? I doubt it. It would be absolutely unprecedented to have a third consecutive election with gains similar to 2006 and 2008. It's far too early for any predictions to be useful, but history tells us that the President's party will have some House losses – 20? 25? – but the Senate landscape is such that the GOP will have trouble making headway in the best of circumstances (more to come soon!). Sure, we know that generic polling and public opinion on specific policy proposals are unstable creatures and we shouldn't be calling Vegas to bet the house on another Democratic rout. But while Glenn Beck and your drunken Uncle Jim and your asshole coworkers are kicking back and waiting for a repeat of 1994, the rest of us can kick back and wait to hear the excuses they'll hurl at us when it doesn't happen.

FORFEIT

Posted in Election 2010 on June 25th, 2009 by Ed

Another day, another moral majoritarian cheating on his wife, buying a reacharound in a public toilet, or exploring the beautiful synergy of crystal meth and gay hookers. When I heard about Senator John Ensign admitting to a lengthy affair with a staffer (who is also married) the only thing that surprised me was that after 10 years in the Senate John Ensign managed to get a headline. We've long since passed the point at which simple adultery from our elected officials is shocking. This Mark Sanford thing, though… It was bizarre. Fortean. Oddly reminiscent of the runaway bride (the person, not the horrible film). Of all the potential outcomes that came to mind when I heard that Gov. Sanford had gone AWOL, "He's in Argentina" was #1,057 on the list. But reality trumps plausability yet again.

From my point of view the real fallout of this whole bizarre episode is that Sanford's political career is over. Don't get me wrong, I think about as much of Mark Sanford as a politician as I do of Glenn Reynolds as a blogger, but he was one of the better, or at least less laughably bad, GOP contenders for 2012. Objectively he had a few things going for him. Popular Governor. Not a Washington insider. New, as opposed to recycled garbage like Gingrich and Haley Barbour. Not a bad looking guy. Good enough verbal skills to make himself sound like he's not retarded even though he is. I'll go as far as to say that he was the leading contender in a horrid GOP field, roughly akin to being the best player on the Washington Nationals.

In that light, the ramifications of this incident on the 2012 race are significant. The pool of Republicans who would make good candidates is empty and they're starting to run out of candidates who are even plausible. I know everyone hates it when I talk about elections too far in advance, but what in the hell is that party going to do in 2012? They might have a hard time scraping up enough candidates to make a competitive field let alone any good ones.

My position on the re-election of the current President hasn't changed and will not. If there is any measurable indication of economic recovery between January 20, 2009 and the onset of the 2012 Election (roughly 1/1/2012) then the race is going to be a 1984-style coronation. The Republicans could run Abraham Lincoln and it wouldn't matter. Obama took office and things sucked. If things do not suck (or suck less) when the next election rolls around the election could be a blowout like we haven't seen in 20+ years. If things get worse or stagnate, a good Republican could take him down.

Now. Find me a good Republican.

Palin is going to be the candidate if scenario #1 happens – with a rosy economy and no chance of beating Obama, the GOP will be more than happy to let some idiot waste her time and money running in a race she will lose by 200 Electoral Votes. She will be the nominee because no one else will be lining up to donate his or her body for that kind of beating. In the second scenario the Party will try a little harder to find a credible nominee. Jindal? Uh, first impressions went poorly. Also, his background has plenty of gossip fodder in it, what with the exorcisms and such. Tim Pawlenty is the only name making the rounds who seems reasonable on paper (Governor, "independent" cred, etc.) but he looks and sounds like a used car salesman. Obama would really have to be on the ropes to lose to a piece of white bread like Pawlenty. Charlie Crist? There's some potential there, but there's also that vicious "arranged marriage/in-closet" rumor. Mitch Daniels? Decent, but really dull. No one will get excited about that guy.

Other than that, we have the reruns like Gingrich, Huckabee (whose Fox show isn't helping, as he comes off like an infomercial host while interviewing "American Idol" contestants and the cast of "The Biggest Loser"), and Romney. Mittens might get the nod over Palin in a sacrificial lamb scenario, as he has more money to blow, but before picking any of these guys the GOP would be better off forfeiting the election and retaining some dignity.

It has been a long time – perhaps the 1996 GOP nomination or the 1988 Democratic field which settled on Michael "The Hindenburg" Dukakis by default – since I've seen a field this bad, bearing in mind that the 2008 GOP field was really bad. I guess that is the logical end result of a party that has been shrinking continuously for 25 years, a regional party which can't feasibly hope to win statewide offices outside of the former Confederacy or the southwestern Sun Belt. A shrinking party produces a shrinking pool of good candidates and, as we see in Sanford's case, the pool of candidates is shrinking itself as well.

(OK, should we just start the Jeb Bush betting pool now?)

BADGE ENGINEERING

Posted in Election 2010 on May 18th, 2009 by Ed

It's odd that conservatives are so eager to see the American auto industry go belly-up. These same right-wingers are employing one of the strategies most directly responsible for Detroit's demise in their own (endless) search for a new savior.

To make a long story very short, "badge engineering" is a term used to describe auto manufacturers' strategy of selling the same vehicle under several different brands with only minor cosmetic changes like different hubcaps, upholstery, paint colors, or clip-on plastic bumpers. Rocket scientists like Roger Smith decided that a great way for manufacturers operating multiple brand names (i.e., the Big Three) to save money would be to design just a few vehicles and then sell five versions of each. For example, the recent Chevy TrailBlazer has been or is sold as the Saab 9-7x, Isuzu Ascender, GMC Envoy, Buick Rainier, and Oldsmobile Bravada. Despite many promises from Detroit to quit this ridiculous practice it continues unabated (see the "new" Pontiac G3 and note the odd similarity to the Chevy Aveo, which is itself a badge-engineered copy of the Daewoo Kalos).

Two problems with this strategy stand out. First, it demonstrates naked contempt for customers' intelligence. Americans may not be terribly bright, but only the most knuckleheaded failed to realize that the Buick, Chevy, Olds, and Pontiac dealers (or Ford/Lincoln/Mercury, Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge) were selling the same damn thing. Second, it only works with good products. When the Ford Taurus was the best-selling car in America it certainly didn't hurt Mercury dealers to offer an identical car, the Mercury Sable. But badge engineering can turn a bad product into a disastrous one. When GM released the ghastly Chevy Uplander minivan it didn't have one flop on its hands; it had four, including the identical Buick Terrazza, Saturn Relay, and Pontiac Montana. This concept escapes the Big Three, who think there are consumers who look at a bad Chevy and say "Gee, I'd buy that steaming pile of shit…if only it had a Pontiac badge on the hood!"

This is where the GOP should pay attention.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is term-limited and stepping down in 2010 to devote his full energy to a kamikaze run at the White House in 2012. His likely replacement, State Rep Nikki Haley, has an excellent chance to win both the primary and an uncompetitive general election in 2010. You heard it here first: if she wins in 2010 it is only a matter of time until conservatives beat the drum for Haley to run for President herself in 2012 or 2016. She'll be their next next big thing. Why? Is Haley a brilliant politician? Of course not. The reason is that prior to marriage and politics Nikki Haley was Nimrata Randhawa, the daughter of Sikh immigrants. Yes, this run-of-the-mill winger is young, female, AND a minority – with a nice, anglicized name that won't frighten away old white people! Sweet jumping Jesus, it's like the heavens parted and God sent Republicans Their Own Obama! Sure, they said the same thing about Palin and Jindal, but Haley is really going to be it!

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The 2012 Republican (optional equipment shown; MSRP $21,499)

The GOP has been selling America the same product for 30 years, an all-purpose generic conservative I'll call the UniCon (not to be confused with Unicron or the unicorn). UniCon worships Reagan, regurgitates supply-side economic theories (name-dropping Hayek and Friedman at regular intervals) and relentlessly campaigns for "lower taxes" and "cutting spending." UniCon loves the military, doesn't negotiate with Our Enemies like the fruity liberals do, and generally believes in re-living the Cold War. UniCon has the predictable hard-right positions on "social issues," solemnly talks of "values" and "life," and mentions "God" like he or she has Tourette's. UniCon rails against the stock culture war Enemies List: unions, the media, academia, activist judges, the ACLU, "inner cities," Hollywood, secularism, socialism, tinpot dictators, Big Government, instant replay, the Yeti, and fluoridated water.

Newt Gingrich is an example of the UniCon. People don't like Newt Gingrich. His career on the national stage was brief and now he's wringing an income out of the right-wing media/foundation circuit while deluding himself into thinking that he's getting back into politics. The GOP sees that he lacks broad appeal – and they conclude that the packaging is the problem. See, they know that you like everything he stands for, so rather than questioning the message they simply search for a new way to deliver it. They're quite convinced that you're saying "Gee, I'd definitely vote for that…if only it had tits." Hence every person the party offers up as a savior is, in any meaningful way, indistinguishable from Newt Gingrich.

At a complete loss for new ideas, the GOP badge engineers the same candidate repeatedly. You want one with a cowboy hat? Here's George W. Bush. Want one sans penis? Sarah Palin! Do you prefer black? Take this Steele fellow for a test drive. If black isn't your color, how about a less threatening minority, perhaps Indian? You'll love Bobby Jindal. Are a traditionalist looking for the no-frills model in classic white? Have a gander at Mitch Daniels or Tim Pawlenty. Would you prefer your white guy with a drawl? Mark Sanford or Haley Barbour should do! We've got a different (looking) candidate for every conceivable taste! Mormons. Catholics. Jews. Senators. Governors. Businessmen. Hollywood celebrities. Retired athletes. Young. Old. Fat. Slim. Bald. Hirsute. We can even offer exotic custom jobs like "young Indian-American female Governor." How's that for customer service?

Once you get past the different exteriors, of course, these candidates are carbon copies of one another. They are UniCon. Like their counterparts in the corporate offices of the Big Three, the GOP is convinced that the underlying product is great and the public is simply waiting to find a body style that it likes. Stupidity is stubbon; even bankruptcy hasn't convinced the auto manufacturers of their errant ways. So I'm bullish on the number of electoral drubbings the GOP can endure before the light finally goes on.

OH YEAH? WELL…

Posted in Election 2010 on April 29th, 2009 by Ed

Eight years ago DeLay-Gingrich-Bush style politics bit the Republican Party in the ass. Hard. Today we see that what separates the GOP from higher-order primates is the ability of the latter, and inability of the former, to learn from such a mistake.

The year was 2001. Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT) had committed a grievous ideological error. By opposing President Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal, Jeffords forced the White House to accept compromise legislation with a mere $1.2 trillion in tax cuts. If that doesn't sound like a crime in need of immediate and vicious retribution, well, then you don't understand the brilliance of the people who were in charge back then. Frist, Bush, DeLay, and the rest of the GOP power brokers were unambiguous: Jeffords had to pay.

The GOP leadership in Congress refused to renew a dairy subsidy bill that was important to Vermont farmers or to fully fund Jeffords' pet legislation, the dastardly and controversial "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act." Jim, you partisan hack. The White House added petty insults like refusing to invite Jeffords to an event at which a Vermonter was given the national Teacher of the Year award. "Heh heh heh," the GOP braintrust chuckled amidst considerable back-slapping and cigar-puffing, "we showed that fruity Yankee."

Unable to conceive of what Jeffords could possibly do in response to their coordinated onslaught, they were legitimately shocked when he responded to their "fuck you" with a resounding, "Oh yeah? Well fuck you." Jeffords left the GOP and threw the majority to the Democrats for the first time since 1994.

The GOP learned nothing from the ordeal, of course, and in the intervening eight years it has grown even less tolerant of "RINOs" (moderates) or any deviation from the ideological gospel. It would be facile to say that Arlen Specter's flip represents mere opportunism. In reality, this represents the culmination of fifteen years of hostility and harrassment directed at the dopey Pennsylvanian. Politicians expect that from the opposition, but not from their own party.

Back in 2005 Jeffrey Toobin wrote an excellent piece about how all-or-nothing GOP "nuclear option" politics were slowly crushing all of the party's moderates. Having already claimed the careers of most of his liberal Republican colleagues, Specter bore the full brunt of the talk radio hostility alone.

Specter, of Pennsylvania, was elected in 1980. These days, in his office overlooking the Supreme Court, he surveys, not happily, the current state of his party—especially the disappearance of moderates like him. “We had a lot of senators,” he said. “We could go on and on and on,” and he named, as examples of this group, Bob Packwood, Mark Hatfield, Lowell Weicker, Charles Mathias, and John Heinz. “And we don’t have them now. So it’s not good for the Party, and it’s not good for the country. It’s not good for the Party because you need balance. You need to be a national party.”

By 2005 Specter, a 25 year Senate veteran, was reduced to taking orders from Texans and Alabamans who had been in the Senate for about five minutes. The party humiliated him by forcing him to audition for his Judiciary chairmanship – on national television.

“I have not and would not use a litmus test to deny confirmation to pro-life nominees,” Specter said, in the weary monotone of a Soviet prisoner forced to confess his ideological errors. “I have voted for all of President Bush’s judicial nominees in committee and on the floor, and I have no reason to believe that I’ll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy of nomination.”

“Everyone who pays attention knows that Senator Specter comes from a state and a segment of the Party that are to the left of the President and the Republican caucus,” John Cornyn, a conservative first-term senator from Texas, said. “I have been pretty pleased from what I’ve seen of Senator Specter’s performance so far.”

Specter didn't need the GOP, and the GOP didn't think it needed him. After nearly being defeated by a wingnut primary challenger in 2004, he won the general election by 11% – in a state John Kerry won. He didn't have a hard time getting Pennsylvanians to vote for him; it was the DC radio hosts, the cowboy-hatted hick Congressmen from Texas, and the Colorado Springs televangelists that were giving him grief. As he geared up for another brutal primary challenge from far right "Club for Growth" candidate Pat Toomey, we don't need deep insights into Specter's mind to understand how readily he might conclude "You know what? I don't need this shit."

And he doesn't.

What did all the hostility toward Specter accomplish? What did Rush and Hannity and the Free Republic forums get in return for savagely attacking this nondescript guy for more than a decade? Well, they successfully drove him out of the party just as the GOP desperately clings to their last shred of influence in DC – the 41 seats needed to defeat cloture. As the increasingly readable David Frum said,

For a long time, the loudest and most powerful voices in the conservative world have told us that people like Specter aren’t real Republicans – that they don’t belong in the party. Now he’s gone, and with him the last Republican leverage within any of the elected branches of government.

Specter could have waited, of course, until late 2009 or early 2010. He claims that the timing of his announcement was dictated by the legalities of forming his re-election campaign. Maybe. In reality I think this is an old man, one who has had a brush with death and answers only to his conscience at this point, twisting the knife. This was carefully timed to inflict maximum damage. He is once again responding predictably to the actions of a party that never seems to learn the lesson that every ideological vendetta leads to ruin. Frum asks,

For years, many in the conservative world have wished for an ideologically purer GOP. Their wish has been granted. Happy?

Good question. They have plenty of time to ponder it.

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SENATE 2010 UPDATE: SOMEONE LOAN DODD A SWORD

Posted in Election 2010 on April 9th, 2009 by Ed

It's been a while and the ginandtacos snark-to-useful-information ratio has listed dangerously toward the former, so it's time to refresh the 2010 Senate races…just as the 2008 race is finally, maybe, possibly wrapping up. Norm Coleman, the conservative equivalent of legendary Japanese WWII holdout Hiroo Onoda, is just about out of bullets and even the wingnut illuminati are abandoning ship. Are we honestly still talking about this in April? Of course we are. The man in question, after all, is the reigning Ginandtacos.com Cocksucker of the Year.tm

While the good people of Minnesota do not get to move on yet, we are free to do so. On to 2010! I won't touch every race, but here are some of the highlights/developments since the last post:

  • The Kansas race (Brownback retirement) went from the potential barn-burner of the year to a non-event when Kathleen Sebelius accepted a Cabinet post. I fail to see her running from the Cabinet or resigning that post 8 months after accepting it. Without her, this race…isn't one.
  • The Governator has ruled himself out of the CA race, and rather emphatically if I may say so. He's about as popular as dick cancer right now, so I'm not shocked. The GOP is talking about throwing Carly Fiorina out there. Fiorina-Boxer will be a one-sided beating of historic proportions.
  • Everyone and their brother is either lining up or making noise about challenging Senator Hookers, a.k.a. David Vitter, in Louisiana. With challengers from both parties, he's toast.
  • Florida (Martinez retirement) is turning into a gangbang. Jeb's out, but Charlie Crist may be in. Crist would be the favorite, but it will be an expensive, brutal race with national attention. How badly does he want it? Badly enough to have his…uh, "romantic history" dredged up again? Kenny Meek looks like the strongest Democrat, but Crist would probably take him. The rest of the GOP field sucks.
  • Robin Carnahan is running in Missouri (Bond retirement). If there's one thing Missourians love, it's electing Carnahans to statewide office. Roy Blunt, one of the biggest hacks in Congress, intends to run. Good luck.
  • It does not appear that the GOP can talk Jim Bunning's insane ass out of running again, so he may face primary challengers. Democratic challenger and Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who nearly took down Bunning in 2004, is the consensus challenger again. Bunning barely held on in 2004 and this time he's A) crazier, B) in the minority party, and C) absent George W. Bush's coattails.
  • Man, is Arlen Specter screwed. He has a 27% approval rating among Republicans in PA. He's also dying of cancer. He's also 80. Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz is likely to be the Democrat who will beat Specter or whatever rank amateur tops him in the primaries.
  • Dick Burr (*snicker*) still hasn't slept since Elizabeth Dole went down in November. Widely considered to be an anonymous-to-terrible incumbent in a state that has taken a serious lurch to the left recently, Burr is likely to go down to Atty. Gen. Roy Cooper or one of several Democratic House Reps.
  • Oh, Chris Dodd. Someone loan Chris Dodd a sword, as he badly needs to fall on one at the moment. Chris, a lot of people like you and all that, but you're toast. Already in serious hot water because of the Countrywide Financial scandal, and now his name is attached to the AIG bonus clusterfuck. The facts may or may not exonerate Dodd, but the damage to his name and public image is already done. Better for Dodd to walk away and let some other Democrat club the lame field of challengers (Gov. Jodi Rell, who'd probably win, is out). The alternative is a Peter Fitzgerald-Carol Mosley Braun type election in which a horrible candidate gets elected simply because a corrupt incumbent defiantly refuses to step aside. Chris, you're done. Unfortunately the candidate is often the last person to get that message. Is he a narcissist or does he care about what's best for his party?

    That's all for today. I'm sure most of you are having a hard time getting excited about it 18 months out, but trust me – this cycle will have plenty of entertainment value.

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