Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Symbols of delusion: Chambliss, Cao, Boehner, and the future of the Republican Party

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yesterday at WaPo's The Fix, Chris Cillizza asked if Republicans are "on the march" and concluded that the recent Republican victories in Georgia (Senate) and Louisiana (House) "give Republicans something to rally around" and "lay the foundation for at least the possibility of a comeback in 2010 and beyond."

Oh... really.

While I do not deny that things can change quickly in politics, and that the GOP could make a comeback within the next few years, I'm not sure that any sort of pre-comeback should be read into what happened in two of the reddest states in the country:

Georgia: Saxby Chambliss held on to his Senate seat in last week's run-off election. No surprise there. He was ahead in the polls leading up to the (first) election and he almost reached the 50% threshold the first time around. The fact that a libertarian was on the ballot, and won about 3%, cost him the outright win. True, he expanded his lead in the run-off, but the Republicans poured far more money and resources into the run-off campaign than the Democrats did, with the likes of Sarah Palin stumping for him. In the end, the incumbent won. So what?

Louisiana: Disgustingly corrupt Democratic incumbent William Jefferson lost his bid for re-election in the state's 2nd District to Republican challenger Anh Cao on Saturday. In response, House Minority Leader John Boehner wrote that "[t]he Cao victory is a symbol of our future." True, Cao is untraditionally Republican (he will be only the fourth visible minority in the GOP House caucus, joining three Cuban-Americans), and, true, the 2nd District (which includes New Orleans), where Jefferson (the first black to represent Louisiana in Congress since Reconstruction) has been firmly and comfortably ensconced since he first won the seat way back in 1990, is overwhelmingly Democratic, but was it a win for Cao or a loss for Jefferson? Surely the latter much more than the former. Indeed, according to an analysis of the vote reported by the Times-Picayune, "Jefferson's downfall was largely a product of apathy and confusion among black voters." Had black voters turned out as they did on November 4, Jefferson would have won. Some voters may simply have had enough of Jefferson, at long last, but it was the turnout, or lack thereof, that gave the vote to Cao.

So... that's the "symbol" of the GOP's future? Capitalizing on low turnout against a corrupt incumbent? That's not much of a future.

And... Republicans can "rally around" these two wins? Well, they can rally around whatever they want, including their own delusions, but the two wins don't really "lay the foundation" for anything. Will the new Boehner-inspired strategy be for GOP incumbents like Chambliss to hold on to their seats in tight races and run-offs and for upstart no-names like Cao to topple disgustingly corrupt Democratic incumbents in low-turnout run-offs?

That's not much of a strategy, and certainly not much of a winning one. Then again, maybe it's all the Republicans have.

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