Political Animal


October 26, 2012 12:49 PM The Right’s Big Miscalculation

By Ed Kilgore

E.J. Dionne is getting a lot of attention for a provocative column suggesting that whatever happens on November 6, the Right has lost this election cycle because its presidential champion has publicly discarded any association with it. Here’s the basic argument:

Almost all of the analysis of Mr. Romney’s highly public burning of the right’s catechism focuses on such tactical issues as whether his betrayal of principle will help him win over middle-of-the-road women and carry Ohio. What should engage us more is that a movement that won the 2010 elections with a bang is trying to triumph just two years later on the basis of a whimper.

That’s true, but I have two reservations about E.J.’s argument. One is that Mitt may have “burned the catechism” in terms of rhetoric and positioning, but he hasn’t changed more than a few of the specific policies he embraced to make himself acceptable to conservatives during the primaries. So long as he’s still on record saying he’s ready to sign a reconciliation bill implementing the Ryan Budget, I don’t really care whether he’s now opposing cuts to Pell Grants.

And the second is that I don’t think conservative activists much care whether they get their way via stealth as opposed to a grand national repudiation of the New Deal and the Great Society. After all, the very core of today’s conservatives—the so-called “constitutional conservatives”—don’t much believe in democracy to begin with, unless it happens to be useful at some particular point in restoring the Eternal Verities that must be permanently enforced through public policy.

More to the immediate point, it’s just too late in the election cycle for conservatives to object to Mitt’s exhibits of “moderation,” even if it drives them nuts.

But there is one front on which the Right most definitely seems to be in the process of failing this cycle, and which is probably more important to their ideological project than how Mitt Romney’s represents himself at any particular moment: the Senate.

The whole grand strategy for conservatives this cycle was to get a Republican Congress and a president pliable enough to agree to sign the aforementioned reconciliation bill implementing the Ryan Budget (not to mention make and get confirmed the fateful fifth vote on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade). No, Romney wasn’t their dream candidate, but he made the requisite promises not to stand in the way of a Republican Congress’ will, as Grover Norquist explained earlier this year. And they didn’t even need to trust him, because the real power would be at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

I honestly don’t think it occurred to anyone in either party until fairly recently that there was a decent chance Republicans could fall short in the Senate even if Mitt Romney won the presidency. The landscape, after all, was so incredibly in their favor, with only 10 of 33 seats to protect and seven Democrats retiring, two of them in deep red states. But then Snowe retired and then Lugar lost his primary and then Akin imploded and then GOP candidates underperformed in Florida and North Dakota and New Mexico and Arizona and Hawaii, and now the Mourdock time bomb has gone off, and it’s just a friggin’ fiasco!

I’m sure in retrospect conservatives are wishing they had spent just a little less time indulging their unglued hatred of Obama and a little more time shoring up their Senate lineup. Who knows, if they’d left Lugar alone or tilted the playing field a bit in Missouri to John Brunner or Sarah Steelman or been nicer to Olympia Snowe or figured out Connie Mack was a poor candidate—maybe they’d be celebrating Mitt Romney’s relatively strong late showing and debating whether their reconciliation bill ought to be even more vicious than originally designed. Now it looks like they’ve got a problem no matter what happens at the top of the ticket.

Maybe I’m wrong and they’ll win the Senate after all, or maybe they’ll find a way to bribe or threaten a Democratic Senator into submission or at least into a half-a-loaf compromise. And perhaps Obama will win, making control of the Senate less critical. But for my money, the biggest defeat the Right has already suffered (other than the failure to recruit and/or unite behind a presidential candidate less weaselly than Romney) was to take a Senate victory for granted. They’ve got no one but themselves to blame for that mistake.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • TCinLA on October 26, 2012 1:00 PM:

    Bad news for Republicans is Good News for America.

  • potomacupstream on October 26, 2012 1:04 PM:

    Dionne (bless his heart) was wrong and Frank Rich was right: Tea Party is not going anywhere. Extreme radical movements rarely worry much about whether they've got a majority of citizens behind them, so long as they have the tactical smarts (and lack of moral compass) to pull off the little incremental victories to get them where they need to be. Won't be too hard IMO. As for the Senate: "bribing or threatening a Democratic Senator into submission" didn't seem to hard for the Rechtfront to pull off when the Dems had a supermajority. Can't imagine it will be too hard in Romneyworld.

  • samuel Knight on October 26, 2012 1:11 PM:

    Pathetic column by EJ and one that makes me completely convinced that the Post really loves "liberals" who don't get it at all.

    The GOP operatives have never cared about all those silly social issues - they just want the power baby and they'll obscure what they do, make things up, etc. to do it. They did it in Whitewater, Bush 2000, Congressional campaigns, etc. They'll happily pour money into think tanks to come up with lots of reasons why rich people shouldn't pay taxes - but that doesn't mean they really believe all that garbage.

    This campaign is not anything new - it's exactly the same playbook being run again. And Democratic "analysts" like EJ who really think that "conservatives" lose when they win the election - are frankly pathetic. The only thing that matters is whether they win. In 2000 they were more than happy to have the Supreme Court do it for them, and now if they have to make a few things up - what's the big deal?

    It's not an accident that the Post has pathetic liberal columnists - Richard Cohen and company are designed to make liberals look like idiots. And just because the Post ostensibly "endorses" a Dem in no way means that they are for the Dems.

  • c u n d gulag on October 26, 2012 1:14 PM:

    On top of voter suppression, now add a few key Electronic Voting Machines in the right districts, that could not only flip for Mitt, but for the Senate candidates, as well.

    I trust the Reich wing in this country about as far as I can throw Rush.

  • FriscoSF on October 26, 2012 1:21 PM:

    Can you say: 'Wishful Thinking' ??

    You already know that Mitt is a 'Flip Flopper'
    WHAT would stop Mitt from Flopping back Conservative ??
    If the Tea Party sends him a restirctive Anti-abortion bill.
    will Mitt VETO IT ??
    What if they send him a bill defunding PBS and Big Bird ??
    Banking regulations ? Consumver protection ?

    Obama might very well lose
    (he's done almost Nothing to merit re-election)
    If he does, Mitt will be as Conservative as W
    Count on that

  • low-tech cyclist on October 26, 2012 1:33 PM:

    There's a real possibility that the Dems might even gain a Senate seat or two this year. Which is good, because if you think the deck was stacked against us this year, wait until you see 2014.

    Of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs in 2014, we hold 20, the GOP holds 13, and those 13 are all in the South, the Plains states, and the northern Rockies: KY, TN, SC, GA, AL, MS, TX, OK, KS, NE, ID, WY.

    We really picked up every winnable seat in this class back in 2008; there's nothing left on the table. The better we do this year, the more likely we are to be able to hold onto the Senate in 2014.

  • spiny on October 26, 2012 1:39 PM:

    Ed please- we now have two candidates that are eager to cut social security and trim the social safety net. Both major candidates believe that president has unilateral powers to assassinate Americans and spy on us without legal autherization and will do so if they are elected. Both candidates believe in a separate set of rules for the financial elite than the rest of us. How is this not anything but a total victory for the right?

  • BJ smith on October 26, 2012 2:13 PM:

    No one could ever convince me this country would vote for the far right platform, if Romney should prevail it likely would have happened only with a combination of buying votes, suppression, & machines switching votes. If then he did enact that platform or attempt to overturn Roe vs Wade, their party would be done. I'm with with the school that knows how serious voting is this year of complete lunacy.

  • liam foote on October 26, 2012 3:16 PM:

    I'm sorry to say that I don't recall the name of the article or author; it may well have been right here (sorry, Ed.) The essential message was that voters are fed up with this Congress which has the lowest approval rating in US political history. They have seen what the 2010 mid-terms did to the House (narrowly avoiding the same fate in the Senate). Most expect the House to remain under GOP control and ... the important point ... they are not about to relinquish control of the Senate to the GOP, no matter who is in the White House.

    This includes a good number of Republicans. Take a look at the polling numbers for president in a number of Red states where Romney is decimating Obama and then look at the Senate races where the outcome seems to be far less determined. This is not a year for straight-ticket on the Republican side.

  • Doug on October 26, 2012 5:58 PM:

    E.J. Dionnemay have it half right. That Romney, as have many candidates, HAD to move towards the center in itself isn't much and was undoubtedly expected by those RWNJs with more than two functioning synapses.
    What has a good chance of harming far-right Republicans is that now just far to the right from the center they are is now in plain view. Views that were considered a little "out there", but supposedely wouldn't really effect the way the candidate voted. You know, the views that, when expressed were immediately buried beneath the next shiny object? Those views.
    Today? Those views are no longer being hidden, either deliberately or by obfuscation; today they're in plain view and being bragged about and defended. In plain view. In plain view of all those non-batsh*t crazy Republican voters. In plain view of all those "independent" voters.
    Being "in plain view" does NOT help the right-wingers...

  • tom on October 26, 2012 8:04 PM:

    "They’ve got no one but themselves to blame for that mistake."

    Well, no one but themselves and their lousy anti-government philosophy of governing.

  • jhm on October 27, 2012 8:34 AM:

    Oddly enough, this seems the exact same miscalculation which resulted in a large enough Dem majority to squeeze ACAPP through the Senate (even with Hon. Sens. Lieberman and Nelson, et alii).