Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Primary Postmortem

I don't have a lot to add to what you already know about the results of last night's elections.  I basically agree with Jonathan Chait that it was a good night for the Democrats.  Of the four possible matchups in Kentucky, I think this is the one that gives the Dems the best chance to pick up the seat; I'm not certain that Joe Sestak is a better general election candidate than Arlen Specter, but I agree that the odds are that he is.  Winning the special in PA-12 is obviously nice for the Democrats.  The one sour note for the Democrats -- the need for a runoff in the Arkansas Senate primary -- would be, in my view, a negative, except that I don't think anyone expects the Democrats to keep that seat anyway. 

Which points to the sort of double context that these things need to be placed in.  On the one hand "good" news for Democrats would be indications that they'll only lose historically normal numbers of seats this year: 20-30 in the House, a handful in the Senate.  So that's not really good, is it?  But on the other hand, Republicans can make that sort of gains and still fall well short of taking control of either House of Congress.  If the GOP picks up 25 House seats and 5 Senate seats, and Democrats control both bodies, then declaring a winner on election night will be about spin and semantics. 

Beyond those issues, I probably agree with what I believe is the conventional wisdom.  Yes, it's a bad environment for incumbents, as the New York Times headline this morning says., although of course incumbents will win the vast majority of the races they contest, as usual.  Still, two Senators defeated for renomination (so far, with Lincoln in Arkansas hanging by a thread, and McCain still in trouble in Arizona) is unusual. 

There's also the general sense that Republicans may eventually be harmed by their inability to nominate electable candidates.  To me, that's the story of Rand Paul.  Of course, Paul may well win the general election, but I continue to think there's a good chance that Republican gains this year will be harmed overall by the nomination of ideologically extreme nominees, and in some cases less capable candidates, and by the pressure in other districts for mainstream conservatives to act as if they were ideologically extreme.  It will be interesting to see how Paul in particular fares in a general election context; Kentucky is a good state for Republicans, and with a mainstream conservative candidate I don't think it would have been a contest, but now I'd expect a fair amount of uncertainty.  The question is how many districts around the nation are having similar results.  Hey, reporters!  More about 2010 House nominees, please!  (And by the way, reporters -- I'm guessing that at the lower levels, state legislative races for example, you'll find some great stories of very fringe candidates getting nominated).

So, while I wouldn't make too much of any one set of primary results: good day for the Democrats.


  1. Any thoughts about Specter's voting habits for the rest of the year? I wonder if even Arlen Specter knows what the "real" Arlen Specter will vote for?

  2. You ask, we deliver! Check next item.

  3. I don’t see why liberals aren’t thrilled about this. For Obama supporters honestly hoping for a post-partisan politics, a focused and de-radicalized tea party, working together with conservatives to solve problems, and political disagreement based in difference of values instead of Orwellian arguments about facts, Rand Paul is exactly what this country needs. For those who value heterodoxy, whether Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, Rand Paul should be a welcome addition to the U.S. Senate.

  4. Christopher,
    Liberals aren't fans of Paul. First, the whole "post-partisan" thing sound basically like taking the idea of being open to different arguments and applying it to parties, but in truth, the underlying force behind that is similar to what I see from Reps and Indies too: why are "you people" (meant to understand those that haven't come to accept "the truth" as the speaker sees it) so closed off to my clearly right ideas? Oh, it must be partisanship. Thus, liberals, I think, are pushing this post-partisanship crap because they think that Republicans would vote for their ideas, if only they weren't Republicans. I see the same thing coming from libertarians. If only people would see the truth of libertarianism and reject partisanship, we'd win.

    It's a CLASSIC fallacy in American politics--the assumption that other people would share your ideas if they were open to them. This just isn't true. Want examples? Conservatives pushing this "culture of life" argument; they truly believe that they can convince the other 75% of Americans (the 25% opposed to them and the 50% on the fence) that abortion is wrong. Liberals pushing the "tax cuts for the rich" meme; liberals think that if people could only see that GOP tax cuts mostly don't and won't benefit them that they'd oppose them, when the truth is that people tend to severely overestimate both their own tax burden and the likelihood that they will make it into a higher tax bracket. And libertarians push strongly on the notion that there are more of them in the US: fiscal conservatives, social (either liberals or non-positioned, depending on the flavor of libertarian) and if only people would abandon their partisan blinders they'd win; the simple truth is that we've got a 2-party system and nothing is really going to change that and the two parties are where they are because that's where the largest concentrations of like-minded folks are.

    Anyway, some liberals ARE thrilled about Paul because they think he's more likely to lose in November. However, liberals aren't thrilled about Paul or any other libertarian simply because they disagree on so many issues. You claim that liberals talk about basing their ideas in facts so should come over to the libertarian side. The fact is that liberals, conservatives, and libertarians see certain arguments as credible and certain arguments as incredible. Facts are, always, secondary. Facts are used to support arguments; rarely is the reverse true.


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