“Only a Moderate can Lose”

Conventional wisdom upset

[Hence, the name of this blog...BTW]

After Obama’s presidential election, a cottage industry of punditry sprang up to forge a new conventional wisdom. It goes something like this: The Republican Party has been discredited by the Bush presidency, congressional scandals and overspending. Worse, it is “out of touch” due to the stranglehold of knuckle-dragging, troglodytic, Bible-thumping, gun-nuts and greedy capitalists. Confronted with the divine light of Obama, these hissing conservatives must scurry to the shadows like vampires fearful of the burning rays of the sun. The only chance for Republican survival is to embrace moderation, compromise and, in some cases, what Barry Goldwater called “me-too Republicanism.”

Whatever the merits of this advice, two things are now quite clear.

First, most conservatives and Republicans have next to no desire to follow it. And, second, it looks like they’re right not to.

The Virginia contest alone shows that much of this talk about “moderates” vs. “extremists” or “pragmatists” vs. “ideologues” within the GOP was nonsense.

McDonnell is socially and economically very conservative, but he has dominated the race by focusing on mainstream issues such as transportation, taxes and the economy. Meanwhile, Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have been working overtime to recast the Democrats as big spenders more committed to an ideological agenda than setting the country right. As a result, independents — the same voters who delivered the election for Obama — are now flocking to the Republicans. McDonnell beats Democrat Creigh Deeds among independents by 2-1.

The best illustration of the conservative comeback is the special election for the 23rd congressional district in New York (a district Obama carried in 2008). Before last Saturday, the race was being cast a “civil war” on the right because many conservatives were supporting not the Republican nominee, Dierdre Scozzafava, but Doug Hoffman, a Republican who switched to the Conservative Party ticket when he failed to get the nomination. Scozzafava is a very liberal, pro-choice Republican, the sort of candidate the conventional wisdom says the right must embrace to stay relevant. Hoffman is a mainstream conservative. On Saturday, Scozzafava dropped out of the race because Hoffman was crushing her in the polls. Most tellingly, it was Hoffman’s support among independents that gave him the advantage.

There’s more than one way to read all of this. Independents might just want to be a counterweight to the Democratic Party’s lurch to the left. Corzine and Deeds might just be lousy candidates in a bad economy.

All of that’s true. But it’s also true that the GOP is not much interested in becoming a Democrat-lite party, and it seems voters don’t want it to, either.