Friday, November 20, 2009

Tantrum-Based Politics

Several recent items on the continuing purge in the GOP. Lindsay Graham (not up for reelection yet) is, perhaps, in trouble with conservatives in South Carolina for a number of slights. Charlie Crist's lead in the GOP primary in Florida is narrowing. John McCain is apparently vulnerable in the Republican primary in Arizona this year.

OK, a few things. First, Graham, Crist, and McCain are all solid conservatives. We're certainly not talking about a Lincoln Chafee here, or even an Arlen Specter; we're talking about people who would (and do) fall far to the right of Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson.

Second, we're seeing evidence that purge talk is being transmitted pretty successfully from GOP elites and activists to rank-and-file voters.

Third, there was some speculation before the results of NY-23 were in about the consequences of a Hoffman win or loss; some believed that a Hoffman loss would stem purge talk. They were wrong.

Fourth...well, a little caveat. Each of these cases may not be all it seems. The item on Graham I linked to (and others have linked to as well) refers to unnamed polling, and Graham isn't up for election for a while. Crist is a sitting governor, and it's a bad time to be a governor. As for McCain, it's certainly conventional wisdom (I don't know whether it's true, but it may well be) that presidential candidates are often punished by their home constituencies for neglecting first duties. I seem to recall that Mo Udall had a close fight for reelection after 1976...again, it's conventional wisdom.

Still, if I were advising Republicans, I'd be very, very worried. In addition to Florida and Arizona --two states that should be pretty safe for the GOP next year -- Republicans may wind up with Senate nominees in New Hampshire, Kentucky, Connecticut, and Illinois who are unelectable, or at least press up against the edge of being unelectable. Republicans do seem to be doing a very good job of recruiting this cycle, and they are certainly doing a good job of establishing expectations of a strong GOP year in 2010. However, this sort of politics, if it's adopted by more and more GOP primary voters, has every chance of undermining them.

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