Political Animal


January 09, 2013 12:11 PM A Look Back At the Strategic Battle of 2012

By Ed Kilgore

If only because of the overlap between the strategic questions facing progressives right now and those facing the Obama campaign in the 2012 elections, I’m suggesting you check out a post I did for The Democratic Strategist assessing the two presidential candidates’ election strategies, and why Obama’s was superior. Two arguments I make are worth litigating, even if you disagree: (1) Obama’s much-despised “bipartisanship” that led up to his “pivot” to a more frankly partisan message at the end of 2011 was designed to and may have succeeded in making his attacks on Republicans successful; and (2) in all the quite understandable (if somewhat over-the-top) praise for Obama’s GOTV program, Democrats are in danger of forgetting the very different electorate they will face in 2014. Here’s the money quote from the end:

[A]ny progressive who thinks a magic formula of maximum partisan confrontation and the best GOTV money can buy is a cure-all for the Democratic Party is courting defeat in the very immediate future.

I sometimes feel like a crank in constantly drawing attention to the very new phenomenon of near-perfect alignment of the two parties with voters who do and don’t vote in midterm elections, but it’s a problem for Democrats that they should not expect their beloved “nerds” to fix without some serious help from Democratic policies and messaging.

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.


  • JMG on January 09, 2013 12:23 PM:

    Dear Ed: Maybe so, but you are basing your suppositions on precisely 1 (count 'em 1) midterm. The next to last midterm, in 2006, worked out OK for Democrats whatever the makeup of the electorate.
    Republicans have a say, a large one, in how they are perceived, too.

  • jjm on January 09, 2013 12:38 PM:

    I agree with your analysis that Obama's making a good show of attempted bipartisanship, with the subsequent and frequent slaps in the face, earned him the right to go strongly partisan in the election.

    I am hoping the Democrats learned the lessons of the 2010 midterms, and that the crazy old billionaire coots who just got burned so badly decide to keep their money out of them.

  • Peter C on January 09, 2013 12:43 PM:

    Perhaps Democrats do well in Presidential Elections (and less well in off-elections) because they speak about national priorities and act in a nationally coordinated way only in Presidential elections. In Presidential elections, we have big important people who talk about our ideas in big public settings. In off-years, we have local races with local politicians who speak softly and about mostly local concerns. But off-year election have major implications for big, national issues.

    SO, WE SHOULD HOLD OFF-YEAR POLIICAL CONVENTIONS! We should have lots of speakers pushing our national priorities on a national stage. We should take the opportunity to mobilize party-wide enthusiasm and let it electrify the Party across the board.

    Conventions used to be mostly a mechanism for picking a nominee. They don't serve that function anymore; the primary process has selected the nominee before the convention occurs these days. The convention is to mobilize the party and THAT'S WHAT WE NEED TO DO in off-year elections.

  • Midland on January 09, 2013 12:59 PM:

    It is a hopeful sign that the Obama administration is accepting the need to present a vigorous political offensive at all times, not just immediately before an election. While the Democrats did win many victories over the last four years, they managed to look consistently hapless, compromised, defeated, and humiliated for most of the day to day news cycle. They need to understand that they are not just running the country, they are putting on a TV series about running the country. They cannot just fight and win, they have to LOOK like they are fighting and winning, and not let the Republicans come off every crisis as the heroes of their followers and the stronger faction to the undecided voters.