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Should Democrats Actually Be Happy About the GOP Punting the Delaware Senate Seat?

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Yglesias says no:

Looks like Christine O’Donnell will be the Republican nominee for Delaware. That means the aggregate impact of the Delaware Senate race is likely to be Democrats holding the Senate seat and picking up the House seat Mike Castle is vacating. In the short-term, that’ll be good news for progressive politics but as I said yesterday I don’t think that kind of narrowly partisan thinking gets you very far in the long run.
Ultimately, the two-party system operates near equilibrium, and so the internal state of both parties counts. It’s better for progressives and better for the country for Republicans to field strong, reasonable candidates.

I don’t really buy it, for a few reasons:

  • Given current partisan norms in the Senate — which, like Matt, I think are likely to be persistent and aren’t objectionable in principle — the actual difference between the votes that would be cast by Castle and O’Donnell is likely to be quite small, and the more important the issue the smaller that difference is likely to be.
  • The only way this won’t be true is if the ideological priorities and strategic orientation of the Republican Senate leadership change.  I see no reason to believe that any such change is imminent, and certainly adding one more nominal moderate to a tiny handful won’t do anything to change it.
  • Given that if he won Castle could be expected to vote as a teabagger when it matters, isn’t it better not only for the Democrats but for electoral accountability if an actual unapologetic teabagger runs for the seat, rather than the bait-and-switch the Republicans preferred?
  • We should also be careful not to make the same mistake that Nate Silver did with his “secret sauce” playoff prediction formula — that is, assuming that past conditions will continue to hold.   (Findings that the vice presidential candidate didn’t matter, for example, were tied to past practices, which didn’t involve selecting candidates like Sarah Palin.)    The near-equilibrium of party control, and the closely related fact that economic fundamentals drive electoral outcomes, are premised on the assumption that large “brokerage” parties will want to maximize, or nearly maximize, their electoral support.   If parties put ideology above vote maximization, all bets are off, and one party may find itself in a minority position with much greater-than-expected frequency.    The fact that Delaware has gone from a near-certain GOP pickup to a near-certain Democratic hold without any change in the underlying fundamentals is an excellent illustration of this.

Given all this, on the proposition that Democrats should be unhappy about a certain near-term advantage because of speculative long-term effects that a Castle win in the primary wouldn’t have done anything to advance anyway, I vote “no.” O’Donnell’s win is, in fact, excellent news for the Democrats.

UPDATE: similar thoughts from Atrios.

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  • Ronnie Pudding

    Near certain pickup? Those are early polls and they could change. It seems we all crowed about how easily Reid would beat Angle and how Rubio handed the seat to Crist. We’ll see.

    • Rob

      Nevada isn’t Delaware. Reid only has any shot due to it being Angle.

      • Scott Lemieux

        A GOP candidate with a 29% favorable rating in a heavily Democratic state? Yeah, good luck with that.

        • Charlie

          How soon we forget the tragic tale of Martha Coakley. Scott, I could show you all the “pshaw-no way!” my Massachusetts friends wrote me when I said I was worried Brown could win. Coon had better work his ass off to make sure she doesn’t overtake him with GOTV. She’s actually a lot like Palin but a superior public speaker. I’m still quite nervous.

          That said, the general point of this post is entirely correct. The only way to guide Republicans back to a sensible place is for the far right to lose general elections, not just primaries.

          • mark f

            1. Martha Coakley barely ran a campaign. She was invisible–almost literally: no ads, no signs, no events or press conferences; I think she even spent a few weeks on an out-of-state vacation–between the primaries and the eruption of Scottmentum.

            2. Not only was Martha Coakley invisible, but when asked about campaigning she was disdainful of the idea: “And stand outside Fenway Park shaking hands in the cold?” is an actual quote.

            3. Scott Brown was the default winner in an uncompetitive primary, which is to say he didn’t have to out crazy anyone. Then he ran what was basically an apolitical campaign. Shucks, he was just a guy in a truck trying to bring some common sense independence down to Washington.

            4. It was a special election; turnout was low and a lot of regular voters stayed home. On regular election day enough regular voters would’ve shown up to the polls and mindlessly colored in the D bubble to swing it the other way (people forget that Brown, despite the last minute blitz of attention and excitement that made it seem like he was going to be carried to victory on a winged unicorn, barely eked out the win).

            Are any of those things going to be true in Delaware? The third is already shot to hell, and #4 can’t be true, either. I don’t know enough about Coons to totally discount 1 & 2, but I’d be surprised if anyone else was that awful. I don’t think the Massachusetts special election is very instructive.

            • Charlie

              I never said the race was a direct parallel to Coakley-Brown, I was merely pointing out that one should never assume that blue state Senate seats were automatically in the bag. Your points on 1,2, and 4 are well-taken, and I don’t think Coon is foolish enough to make the same mistakes. You’re overstating things in #3–yes, Brown had the advantage of an easy primary, but his campaign was, like O’Donnell, all about rallying the right-leaning pockets of a deep blue state and appearing more fresh and compelling than the competition. Like it or not, O’Donnell is similarly youthful and telegenic.

              Furthermore, given that Coon was assumed to be the underdog to a runaway Castle win, I worry if either he or his team are ready for what is now a national-spotlight race. How’s he going to respond when Palin arrives to start slinging mud? How quick can his press team volley back? How good are his finance people at getting DNC and outside money? How are his debating skills? There’s a lot of unknown-unknowns here that should make us real cautious about flipping this over to our column and not looking back.

  • You almost got Chunky Megan-ed- nice avoid.

  • Mudge

    Not fair of you to counter a mushy philosophical post by Yglesias with a realistic, pragmatic, response. Few liberals (I do not shy from the word) want the current Republican Party to be that second party anyway and any action that hastens its implosion is fine with me.

    • Ed

      I think the Republicans were supposed to implode when Obama was elected and “permanent majority” and “generational shift” were being mentioned regularly. The GOP has already demonstrated it’s far from dead even if it still has big problems. It wasn’t so long ago they’d have been quite happy with a five seat or so gain in the Senate and O’Donnell is only a major disaster because GOP hopes have gone through the roof.

      (Findings that the vice presidential candidate didn’t matter, for example, were tied to past practices, which didn’t involve selecting candidates like Sarah Palin.)

      Without Sarah Palin McCain would not have gained the lead he briefly held and he lost that lead through no fault of Palin’s. If anything, she gave McCain his only real shot. And I have no use for her, believe me.

      There’s no reason for the Democrats to be unhappy about the situation in Delaware as it stands. It’s great news.

      • John F

        Without Sarah Palin McCain would not have gained the lead he briefly held and he lost that lead through no fault of Palin’s. If anything, she gave McCain his only real shot. And I have no use for her, believe me.

        As a former member of a now extinct species- “Rockefeller Republican”, I actually WANTED to vote for McCain in 2008. Yes he was pandering to the Repub base a bit too much, but a Repub who believes in global warming was more likely to be effective than Dem (since the Repubs were going to block anything a Dem proposed) and McCain I believe would have at the very least, stopped defending torture.

        Palin made that impossible- the thought that she had a 10% chance or so of becoming POTUS by accident was horrifying- so I voted for Obama- now I know I’m in a minority but I can’t believe I was alone…

      • Oscar Leroy

        You are right: the Republian party was near death after 2008. But they were saved by mushy “Democrats” like Yglesias and Obama who Reached Across the Aisle in a quest for the holy bipartisanship, rather than going in for the winning score.

        • So on your planet, the US has a near-permanent Green Party majority, threatened only by a rising Spartacist opposition? Because on mine, Obama is in the left 25 percentile of American voters and Yglesias is in the left 5 percentile.

          • Amanda in the South Bay

            I’m not so sure if Yglesias qualifies as part of the leftmost 5%; his occasional forays into glib contrarianism and centrist tendencies tend to burst out on a fairly frequent basis.

            That’s apart from the fact that I think he’s a spoiled twat with no real life experience or academic specialization to bring to the pundit table.

            • larryb33

              Couldn’t agree more.

          • DocAmazing

            25th percentile? Try again. Look at the issues this time. With non-Rovian framing, the public option sails to a win; taxing the very rich is barely controversial. Looking at the issues and the polling that accompanies them, Yglesias is barely liberal and Obama’s about where Eisenhower was.

            • DrDick

              Exactly. And Yglesias is possibly slightly to the left of that. The world looks very strange indeed from Planet Wingnut.

            • The proportion of Americans who think Obama is “too liberal” or who consider themselves liberal Democrats and disapprove of him hovers between 10% and 15%. The fact that you are part of that group and (perhaps) so are most of the people you know is not something I care about.

              • DocAmazing

                And the fact that you continually frame Obama’s political position in terms of a one-word summary on a Good Housekeeping survey rather than looking at his position on issues relative to popular positions on those same issues suggests that you’re accustomed to dealing with people who get their political views from back issues of Time.

        • First, I was talking about tactics, primarily. Obama put bipartisanship ahead of accomplishment and thus let the Republicans get up off the mat.

          Second, oh please. You’re not buying into that ‘Obama is the most liberal senator!’ crap, are you? Half the employees of his own administration are calling him ‘the third Bush term’. He’s drilling for oil and deporting immigrants and hiding behind secrecy and bombing Muslims at the same pace as George W did, or more.

          Matt Yglesias supported the invasion of Iraq, for cripe’s sake. Look through just his last month of posts and you’ll find support for Wal-Mart’s low-wage business model and Rand Paul-esque “let companies do what they want” philosophy.

      • djw

        Without Sarah Palin McCain would not have gained the lead he briefly held and he lost that lead through no fault of Palin’s. If anything, she gave McCain his only real shot.

        A very temporary and short-lived blip in the polls in September is evidence that she was a positive asset in November? Eh?

        • Ed

          A very temporary and short-lived blip in the polls in September is evidence that she was a positive asset in November? Eh?

          McCain’s lead didn’t last primarily because he ran around like a chicken with his head cut off in the aftermath of the financial panic of September. No doubt the attacks on Palin, some of them fair, others not so much, affected her numbers as the campaign went on. (Even that would have mattered less if McCain’s age and temperament hadn’t already been issues.) But my point was that without Palin energizing the GOP base and generating excitement around McCain’s candidacy in the wake of the convention, it’s unlikely he would ever have held that lead in the first place. McCain lost the election, not Palin.

          John F, I know you weren’t alone. I know Republicans who shared your fears about Palin. I don’t think that was decisive in McCain’s loss, however. It didn’t help, but there were larger forces at work than Scary Sarah.

          • John F

            fears abouot Palin

            ????
            Terror, that so many people go so excited by her was terrifying, as I said I’m an ex-Rockefeller Repub- but that was the nail in the coffin- that was who excited the “base”… the people going to her rallies (who as far as I can tell are the same people going to teaper functions and voting for the Rand Pauls and O’Donnell’s) just horrified me- I could never be a fellow traveler with these neanderthal luddites- this country needs a third party imho, one well to the left of the 21st century Repub party.

            You want an analogy? Any “independent” voting for a teaper this fall is like the poor SOBs who voted for Hamas- they voted for Hamas because Fatah was incompetent, out of touch and corrupt…. still no excuse since any fool could see ahead of time that Hamas would be WORSE

            You don’t like the Dems (and I don’t particularly), think they are out of touch, poor leaders, etc etc… well any Teaper lead party will be WORSE

  • Hanspeter

    This is one of the reasons why every single candidate should be asked who they would vote for in the leadership election at the start of each Congress. If Castle and O’Donnell both say McConnell, then there really isn’t any difference between the two.

    • cleter

      Exactly. I sure would like an answer out of Charlie Crist.

    • hv

      Heh, candidates should be asked a LOT of things.

  • Rob

    I said in Matt’s comments, non-crazy Republicans haven’t held power in the party since 1994, not sure what one freshman Senator who’ll be ignored will do to change that. We’re going on 16 years since Bob Dole had to go against everything he believed to remain in power.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      I was going to say something similar….but I would have said 1976, not 1994.

      Once upon a time, when people like John Anderson, John Lindsay, and Nelson Rockefeller could compete for the Republican Presidential nomination and folks like Mac Matthias, Chuck Percy, Ed Brooke, Lowell Weicker and Millicent Fenwick had some power in the party, it was reasonable to talk about retaining reasonable Republicans as a political disideratum.

      But those horses have long left the barn. Heck, they were long gone by 1994.

      • Having grown up in NY in the 60s and 70s, I was left feeling quite wistful at the mention of John Lindsay and his presidential ambitions in the most recent Mad Men episode.

      • Rob

        Say what you will but at least those that took over from Nancy in 1986 and GHWB’s administration weren’t crazy. They might have relied on disgraceful tactics but they actually believed in sober government.

  • Given that if he won Castle could be expected to vote as a teabagger when it matters, isn’t it better not only for the Democrats but for electoral accountability if an actual unapologetic teabagger runs for the seat, rather than the bait-and-switch the Republicans preferred?

    I was sort of on Yglesias’s side… that the fact that insane people are winning Republican primaries is a scary thing… but this is a solid point.

  • Amanda in the South Bay

    Blah, mushy contrarianism designed to get buzz and page views isn’t my cup of tea. I think (from a liberal POV) that anything that blunts GOP momentum this fall is a good thing; I have my doubts that some of the more notorious teabaggers are going to win (Angle, Paul), but the media is going to be insufferable the day after election day anyways, so anything to blunt that shitty sword will be helpful.

  • Amanda in the South Bay

    I bet dollars to doughnuts Sully will link to this as some sort of imprimatur for silly contrarianism.

  • John F

    What surprises me is how few people are comparing this election to 1946. Basically in 1946 the Repubs gained 55 seats because the country was in a post war recession- no one knew where we were headed and Truman seemed ineffectual (at the time)

    The Republican base had, since 1932 been virulently (irrationally I might add) anti-New Deal

    The Congressional Repubs promptly misread their electoral victories as a mandate to roll back the New Deal…
    1: With a sitting Dem President that wasn’t going to happen
    2: Actually trying so horrified everyone ouutside their base they promptly lost 75 seats in 1948

    A Republican takeover of both houses in 2010 may not be such a bad thing in the long run- it will FORCE people to actually look at the Teapers and what they stand for.

  • Oscar Leroy

    “Oh gosh, I wish the non-crazy Republicans had won their primaries, because then when Republicans go back to running things etc. etc.”

    Please. What a loser mentality.

  • DocAmazing

    Pleae remember that “reasonable” to Yglesias means permanent war, impoverished workers, and rotting infrastructure to the rest of us.

    • In short, the application of the Chunky Megan doctrine.

    • Marc

      But, on the bright side, we’d have plenty of Walmarts and chain restaurants in his utopia, no unions, and lots and lots of standardized tests.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    My sense is that Big Media Matt is always quick to adopt “that kind of narrow partisan thinking” when the issue instead is people, candidates, and parties to the left of the Democrats.

  • We should also be careful not to make the same mistake that Nate Silver did with his “secret sauce” playoff prediction formula — that is, assuming that past conditions will continue to hold.

    I don’t see how you could do ANY social science without this assumption. Party insiders have always periodically nominated candidates unacceptable to the median voter, but when they pay a price for it, they learn. In the big picture, parties keep being large brokerage coalitions, and what matters in the long run is where the centre is.

  • ploeg

    You know what would be good news? If teatards actually started losing across the board and GOP “moderates” and Blue Dog Democrats started getting scared shitless about even seeming to oppose the Obama agenda, so that we wouldn’t need to fluff and bribe these people so much to do the right thing for the country. As it is, we have the very slight risk that this person will make it into the US Senate. Perhaps a few more GOPers get sick of it all and switch parties. Those who remain, if anything, become less likely to be of any help, bribe or no. All in all, it seems like status quo ante at best.

    Not that I have much to do about it, I’m not a GOP primary voter. And this is probably just a phase that the country needs to work through before things get better, so in that sense it’s a kind of progress. But I’m not going to go so far as say that I’m happy to see things go this way.

  • BC

    I think that the Democratic party has enough leftists and rightists in its ranks to be both the governing party and the opposition party. So we could let the GOP implode since they don’t have any interest in governing anyway. They want to win elections, but once in power they don’t actually govern. Makes me wish the GOP would implode and go the way of the Whigs – then the Ben Nelson wing of the Democratic party could face off against the Barbara Boxer wing and get stuff done. Ben Nelson is in no way a favorite of mine, but I would rather have opposition of people like him than the DeMints.

  • Desert Rat

    I have no idea why we keep seeing these David Broder-in-training posts from supposed liberal writers like Big Media Matt.

    I’m a former Republican. My old party is basically nuckin’ futs. The only people voting for Republicans at this point are either insane, just not paying attention, or part of the real base of the Republican Party, the filthy rich.

    The politics of the GOP is toxic, racist, misogynist, and the rhetoric borderline fascist.

    The only way the GOP is going to ever consist of sane people is if they get their collective asses handed to them in a series of elections over the next generation.

    You don’t compromise with a party that’s left the mainstream, you beat them with a shovel until they’re dead, and then hit them again for good measure.

    The GOP will be back, and will be sane again, but frankly, it’s going to take a generation of drubbings (see the Democratic Party circa 1980-2006) before that happens.

    I’m not sure why somebody as educated as Yglesias, and a whole lot of other inhabitants of the Village can’t figure that out.

  • cer

    Sure Mike Castle is a nice, reasonable guy. And And he’s even willing to break with his party on some issues and yet only in those instances where his vote did not really matter or when he was pandering to his donors (his vote for the bailout was a vote for the grifter banks located in DE). In the end he was a party hack. So the plus side is that the veneer of being nice and reasonable gets peeled off the GOP. It’s not as if sitting GOPers have been any more reasonable and willing to compromise than O’Donnell would be. The advantage of her suddenly being the symbol of the New GOP is that she is even more patently a fraud and off her rocker than Palin and demonstrates how petulant and petty the right wing really is. She’s a wingnut welfare case who has lived in Delaware 7 years, has run for Senate 3 times, lives off campaign funds, and has claimed that GOP operatives are hiding in her bushes to stalk her. And she’s a hero of the baggers. That’s the stuff that scares operatives like Rove; she’s not subtle enough in her lying and scumbaggery and that makes them all look bad.

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