Political Animal


November 11, 2012 10:48 AM The Party of Organization

By Ryan Cooper

Will Rogers famously said, “I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.” But James Fallows, musing on the election, writes:

For the first time in my conscious life, the Democratic party is now more organized and coherent, and less fractious and back-biting, than the Republicans. It is almost stupefying to imagine that.
But think about the facts: We’ve now had four of the past six presidential elections won by Democrats. In five of the past six, the Democrat has won the popular vote. The most effective advocate for the current Democratic incumbent was the previous Democratic president. The current president’s toughest rival in the primaries is now his Secretary of State, and another former rival is his vice president. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the nominee dared not even mention the existence of the previous Republican president. His rivals in the primary were tepid at best in shows of support. Democrats now disagree about a lot, from their relationship with Wall Street to the ethics of drone wars. But they are a more coherent whole than through most of their recent history — and much more coherent than the Republicans.

This is a staggering thought, especially for the party that choked away Teddy Kennedy’s Senate seat as recently as 2010. But on balance I think it’s true. Even the feared Republican propaganda machine was blowing fuses right and left on election night. Most tellingly in my view, much of the huge money dumped into the race on the Republican side appears to have been not just ineffective but outright looted by corrupt campaign operatives and consultants.

It would be easy to take this too far—remember how quick the GOP came back from being crushed into the dirt in 2008—but for now, their vaunted organizational edge is very much dulled.


Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • Al on November 11, 2012 11:36 AM:

    A big tent always looks more fractious from the outside. Republicans value principled debate, not lock-step conformity like democrats.

  • MikeBoyScout on November 11, 2012 11:39 AM:

    Ryan, it is anecdotal, but

    "A press-pool report from the day after the election quotes an Obama campaign official talking about the get-out-the-vote effort:

    In describing the ground game, the official told of a conversation he had with a top field director on Monday. The GOP had tweeted that they had knocked on 75,000 doors in Ohio the day prior. Not to worry, the director said, 'we knocked on 376,000.'"

    It is not enough to look back with satisfaction.
    To continue winning means to continue working. Knowing that we know how to work so well should be the wind in our sails.

  • c u n d gulag on November 11, 2012 11:54 AM:

    Maybe the party finally realized that people want politicians with some spine, and not namby-pamby cowards, too afraid to speak their minds, and therefore, triangulate themselves into indefensible corners.

    I was shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you, when at the Convention, Democrats came out for contraception, a woman's right to choose, and gay rights, and didn't use ishy-squishy weasel words, hoping the faithful would know what they really meant, but not offend anyone else.

    The country is browner, younger, more female, and gayer - and we're all better off for it.

    Democrats, we gave you a spine.
    The question is, will you be able to keep it?

  • schtick on November 11, 2012 12:01 PM:

    The teapubs can't get it together because they STILL don't get it.

  • Don Bashline on November 11, 2012 12:18 PM:

    The Democratic Party is guilty of more sins than any of us have time to document, but "choking away Ted Kennedy's Senate seat" is not among them.

    Martha Coakley was a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign. No, a terrible candidate who ran a terrible campaign. She took Scott Brown for granted, took the party faithful for granted, and was completely unprepared to deal with any issues in any substantive way.

    Scott Brown was focused, personable and coherent. Coakley was not. Brown earned his win. No chokes - the best candidate won.

  • TCinLA on November 11, 2012 1:10 PM:

    Once you finally recognize that you are indeed in a War, you realize that the way you win is you out-organize The Enemy.

    We're fortunate our enemies are right wingers. They may huff and puff and look big and dangerous, like the Nazis did in World War 2, but eventually their inability to have a coherent world view (Hitler didn't mobilize women in the war till 1944, way too late; the British put women to work in 1939 - just one example) leads to their defeat. Plus the democracy always has a better reason to fight than the totalitarian dictatorship does - it has better, more inspirational, ideas, ideas that people want to fight for.

  • James E. Powell on November 11, 2012 1:28 PM:

    @Don Bashline

    The White House, the DNC, and the DSCC sat there and let that happen. By the time most of us outside of Mass knew what was happening, it was too late to do anything about it. The president and the DNC had to know they needed to be sure to hold that seat. Had to know. They should have been on top of it from the minute they got the word that Senator Kennedy had passed. If that meant bringing Coakley in for a come to Jesus meeting, or finding some one else to be the candidate, whatever. They are in charge or not in charge.

  • Rick B on November 11, 2012 1:47 PM:

    @c u n d gulag 11:54 AM

    The Republicans have given the Democrats this unity. It was a donation.

    The donation occurred when the Republicans went out and specifically defeated as many blue dog Democrats who had been voting with the Repubs as they could. The current Democratic unity comes from the decline of the caucus of Democratic turn-coats, from the shift of liberal Republicans to the Democratic Party, and from the expansion of the urban party of modernism.

    Modernism means a lot of things but especially social equality, mass education, and mass access to healthcare. Today's Democratic Party is the party committed to rebuilding the middle class and basing government economic policy to one that focuses on the effects on consumption rather than the policy of handing the loot to the wealthy and powerful to spend on mansions and international investments. The Republicans have become the party of rebuilding the strength of the wealthy and powerful class at the expense of the middle and working classes.

    The real political ball-and-chain the national Democrats have had were the blue dog Democrats. The Republicans went out of their way to remove them from Congress. The result was the Democratic Party that matches the new America, one that as you say "is browner, younger, more female, and gayer". It's also more diverse in the religious sense. The party has the political advantage of more closely matching the future of America instead of the past.

    The skill of the technocratic Obama and his Chicago team to build on this advantage and make it pay off in the face of Citizen's United money this year was also very, very important. But the beneficial unity of the Democratic Party was sped up by the idiotic self-defeating political greed of the national Republican Party.

  • c u n d gulag on November 11, 2012 1:53 PM:

    Rick B,
    VERY well said!

  • PEA on November 11, 2012 1:58 PM:

    I disagree about Big Money not having a big effect. Yes, it was not the big hammer that destroyed all in its path, but it definitely played a significant role in this election.

    For one, it already had a significant impact at the state level in two ways: (1) ALEC laws that limited DEM voters and pushed the GOP agenda locally, enacted in many states when Repubs gerrymandered and won over state legislatures and governerships, and (2) the gerrymandering led to the GOP retaining control of the House when it would have been retaken if '08 district boundaries were still in place. (i.e. Dem voters outnumber GOP yet we have fewer representatives in the House).

    In addition, Big Money (I heard $500m) funded all those voter intimidation and misinformation billboards etc. If the Dems had faltered at all to counter this, it would have probably been a rout.

    This election, the Tea Party were so sure of themselves that they dared to reveal their basest thoughts and intent about the 47% (actually 99%), women's rights, minorities, etc. The voters heard a lot of this truth before Moderate Mitt resurfaced to try to cover it up. Lots of voters fell for his reassurances, but I credit the liberal blogs and MSNBC with helping to expose his lies and reminding voters of the real GOP beliefs and intentions. It took Bill Clinton to communicate a coherent and memorable summary of what Obama had actually achieved, what the GOP wanted to repeal, and why we should care and vote. Dem candidates could use this info and language in their campaigns

    Dems need to stay in the field for 2014 and 2016; they need to continue to learn from social scientists and cognitive science, some of whom probably used this election to investigate their theories of how things work. We need to learn from their results, not just sit on our laurels. That's what Rove did. We also need to seriously consider how the GOP will try to pick off various DEM constituencies and be sure we don't let that happen.

    Dem politicians need to learn from Clinton and others how to communicate their ideas well to a wide audience. Obama could pick up some pointers here especially! MANY of them have not done this well in the past -- it goes with but is not the same as the spinelessness already noted here. Many of the recently elected were good at this (Warren, Baldwin, et al). Dems, especially the talking heads, need to learn more about why the GOP policies are bad for the country and how their use of language is so misleading!! Too many Dems use GOP language and ideas (esp on economic, health and energy issues) without even realizing it, and how the underlying assumptions are wrong as well. Stop already! Language is critical. LEARN why/how Dem ideas are actually better, what assumptions underlie them vs the GOP assumptions, and how to explain it to others. (maybe the need to be partly a teacher is why more women are aspiring to and attaining roles as policy makers at last)

    We also need to get rid of Citizens United and ensure valid elections free from partisan shenanigans or hacking before 2014. There is no time to lose. Just because the Big Money hammer wasn't as effective as it might have been doesn't mean we have nothing to fear in the future. Adelson, the Kochs, the Bradley foundation, ALEC -- they aren't going to quit. We need to act before they find a way to shut down the majority.

  • Rick B on November 11, 2012 4:43 PM:

    @PEA 1:58 PM

    You are right about the need to end big money. This election was just a shakedown cruise for Citizen's United. They were figuring out what worked and what didn't. The money is not going away and it is extremely dangerous to America.

    The greater the distance from a national political race the more effect the big money can have, because it is invisible. It can also pay for lobbyists who will be eliminating the state-level election funding laws and the transparency that has made them workable.

    We also need to do something about the federalist society which is an activist arm of the same powers that are wielding the Citizen's United money elsewhere. I'd like to see strong campaigns against any federalist society lawyer every nominated to be a judge. "Bork"'em all. List membership in the federalist society along with membership in the Communist Party or the Nazi Party as disqualifiers for a security clearance.

  • Yellowdog on November 11, 2012 6:19 PM:

    This election is over and the next one has already begun. To all Democrats expecting to cruise through 2014 on Obama's magnetism, remember the beat down of 2010. The GOP got their people out. We didn't. We have to be ready all over again, for more money, more nonsense, and more visceral GOP anger. In an off year election, we have to be ready to defend every seat. Keep those organizing and ground-game skills fresh. We are going to need them.

  • jhm on November 12, 2012 6:45 AM:

    What @Don Bashline said, plus a low turnout, special election environment, plus the fact that no one in MA, at least until it was too late, could really believe that a milquetoast like Hon. Sen. Brown would be the replacement for Sen. Kennedy; contrary evidence notwithstanding.

    I'd add to @PEA's ideas the idea that even though GOP big money didn't win elections, this doesn't mean that the money was ineffective. I think the fact that Mr. Romney got into the high forties was an overperformance only attributable to PAC spending. The fact that seventy some odd percent of whites (overwhelmingly consisting of those who'd be undeniably worse off under the most benign of possible Romney administrations) speaks to success.

  • beejeez on November 12, 2012 1:48 PM:

    Coop, give us the congratulations-on-unity post when Democrats' superior national vote totals in House races actually result in them retaking the House instead of falling 37 seats short.

  • LAC on November 12, 2012 5:07 PM:

    Wow, Al... You really do need to sober up. "Principled debate"? When did that happen? In bizarro superman world?