Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cut the Taxes. Cut the Spending. Cut the Jesus.

So, what can we learn from the three two and a half electoral contests of note last night?

The gubernatorial victories for the GOP in Virginia and New Jersey showcased explicitly free market conservatism with a muted tinge of social conservatism. That, I think, is a good thing.

As for the NY-23 election, the Tea Partiers and talk radio yahoos put all their chips in against a Republican in favor of a guy whose first issue on his website is "Gay Marriage." He lost, and thus another Democrat holds a seat in the House. The nation's two newest governors-elect did have social conservative messages on their sites, but they certainly weren't highlighted and considerably down the list of priorities.

Lesson: Cut the taxes. Cut the spending. Cut the Jesus.

Jesus is all well and good for emulating his life and taking his lessons to heart. But until he starts feeding the unemployed with fishes and loaves, best leave him at home and at church on Sunday. Whether you think Jesus was just a wise man, a prophet, or the Savior of mankind, a politician he was not. Keep him in your heart, if that's your thing, but leave him out of politics.

The pundits will say what the Dems need to learn from yesterday and what it means to the president and health care and all that, but I think the Republicans should take heed as well. Last night's victors were decidedly not Huckabee and Palin Christian populists, yet all signs point to those two in leading the GOP in 2012.

Let's hope the Republicans get the message from yesterday too.


Anonymous said...

I think you're probably equally wrong to draw such broad conclusions. Yesterday's results were situational. When the economy is down, the economy matters most. That doesn't say anything about which issues will resonate in 2012, so you can't just rule out Palin and Huckabee out of hand. Gay Marriage also lost last night and in Maine no less. Americans care about this issue, just, it would seem, and justifiably so, less than economic issues given the very troubling state of our economy. My guess--Jesus will resonate just fine with voters in 2012, as it (like it or not) has for most of American history.

JPB said...

You'll also note that Obama won California and other states handily while they simultaneously banned gay marriage.

Seems your concept of Jesus doesn't necessarily vote Republican.

Seneca said...

My Kingdom is not of this world. - John 18:36
Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's. - Matthew 22:21
Translation: The Kingdom of Heaven may be at hand, but that doesn't mean it's here, or that we should try to bring it here.

Anonymous said...

My point was that it's wrong to suggest social issues (and gay marriage specifically) are losing issues. They're winning issues. Maine and, as you point out, California, demonstrate this (and this is Maine and California we're talking about). You're right that California simultaneously elected Obama and banned gay marriage--and I'm not disputing that there are demographics that would tend to vote for Obama yet vote against gay marriage simultaneously. You're right that gay marriage and Republican don't correlate perfectly, but I think they correlate pretty well.

This is a minor point, though. I'm willing to abandon it to get back to my original point, which is that Republicans would be stupid to draw the conclusions you're drawing and invest money and stake elections on those conclusions given the evidence you provide.

There's a strong case you can't really draw any conclusions about the NY-23 race. Hoffman was a third-party candidate from outside the district who lost by 4,000 votes (give or take, 88% reporting) when the Republican candidate dropped out days before the race and endorsed the Democrat. Hoffman was actually polling at 57%, something like 17 point above the Democrat in the days leading up to the election. Turnout appears to be completely average for off-year elections--it seems to me the strongest case for who won is the ground game and who was actually able to turn out voters, not the ideas. Turnout indicates voters weren't particularly energized and 4,000 is clearly within the reach of an election day turnout effort (which would disadvantage a third party candidate).

But you want to draw broad, national lessons from NY-23. Even if we assume we can draw a message from the election, the evidence is extremely weak that we should draw your lesson. Your evidence is that Hoffman had Gay Marriage at the top of his issues list on his website, that the issues list on his website is indicative of his broader campaign, and VA and NJ (while they didn't cut these messages altogether) did not emphasize these issues. And from these websites you conclude the lesson is that we ought to "Cut Jesus."

Here's another narrative: Hoffman was the Club for Growth candidate, and it was the Club for Growth that lost at the ballot yesterday. Hoffman wasn't some crazy social conservative--he was an accountant, not a pastor, supported heavily by the Club for Growth advocating radically smaller government. And he lost. Voters rejected that, not the placement of Gay Marriage on his website. The Club, which doesn't do social issues, invested over $1 million in Hoffman, near what the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spend on Owen. If the voters rejected anything, they rejected the Club.

JPB said...

I didn't say they were "losing issues." Clearly, when put to a popular vote, gay marriage has been uniformly rejected. I believe it's 31 times now. My opinion on that aside, I will not deny it's potency as a ballot initiative.

But that's the thing: these are ballot initiatives, not the Christian populists I derided.

(and if by "certain demographics" you mean that large and exceptionally loyal constituency of black Democrats that are always front and center in anti-gay marriage protests, yes.)

It was less about NY-23 than it was a shift in strategy on the VA and NJ gubernatorial races. (Notice I jokingly changed the number of significant elections to "2.5" in the main body of the post.) No one doubts McDonnell is a social conservative, but he didn't RUN on it. You have two states that have been going blue for the past few years and BANG. Two GOP governors.

It was much more about the style of their victories than the reasons Hoffman lost. I think the NY-23 was blown entirely out of proportion, but if that's what the media/tea partiers want to do, then let them infight. It's not going to help in the long run.

The one thing the talking heads have right is that the swing in independents was a massive shift from a year ago. You're not going to keep those voters with Bible-thumping big-government types like "I'm gonna make your kids thin" Huckabee and "I'll stop the Bridge to Nowhere but keep the federal money" Palin.

Christian populism is off-putting to moderates and independents and unadulterated electoral poison to fiscally conservative,leave-me-alone libertarians like me. Though I've never voted for a Democrat in my life, it's people like me that the GOP has to worry about in 2010 and 2012, not social conservatives whose other option is a pro-gay marriage/pro-choice party.

As I noted above, both McDonnell and Christie have social conservative rhetoric on their sites, but it's not front and center. (Nor was it with Reagan) I didn't argue for eliminating all social conservatism in campaigns. "Cut" in the sense that I used it with taxes and spending does not mean "eliminate." While it may be my personal preference, I'm not expecting a miracle. (Ha.) I'm just saying that social conservatism shouldn't be the primary focus when trying to garner wider appeal.