I’m writing this under the reasonable assumptions that John Kerry will not win the White House in 2004 and that the Republicans have increased the size of their majorities in both the House and the Senate. In addition the Democrats have suffered the humiliation of their Senate Minority leader Tom Daschle being rejected at the polls in his home state and increasing Republican State house memberships in many states.
The George W. Bush re-election, the health problems of Chief Justice Rehnquist, and the relatively advanced age of the current court will mean that it’s overwhelmingly likely that Mr. Bush will have the opportunity to appoint one or several new members to the Supreme Court. The increased Republican Senate majority will make it that much harder to prevent candidates that Senate Democrats find unacceptable by parliamentary tactics.
Influence of more conservative political philosophies than many Democrats will be pleased with are likely to wax far into the future.
Over the last few weeks the strategy of the Kerry campaign has become clearer. Match Republican spending on campaign advertising. Concentrate on the traditional Democratic strengths of bread-and-butter issues like health care, education, jobs. Rely on the strength of the Democratic ground game: voter registration and turnout. And let current events take their course, assuming that they will not reflect well on Bush.
The result are in and the conclusion is overwhelming: that strategy didn’t work.
Match Republican campaign spending
Kerry outspent Bush on campaign advertising. And Kerry-leaning and Democrat-leaning 527’s outspent Bush- and Republican-leaning 527’s by a very wide margin—orders of magnitude. It’s clear that Kerry’s loss was not because he was out-spent.
Concentrate on bread-and-butter-issues
The unemployment figures and inflation rate are no worse than they were in 1996 when Bill Clinton won re-election largely on the basis of good performance of the economy under his administration. But there’s something that needs to be considered when considering the economic issues: a reasonable conclusion to draw from Ray Fair’s econometric model of the presidential election is that current events, the War on Terror, and Iraq probably depressed George Bush’s results. If the Democrats hadn’t gotten a bit of headwind from them the results wouldn’t even have been close.
Education is not the issue that once it was for Democrats. The Democrats’ obvious joined-at-the-hip relationship with the teachers’ unions and the Republicans reasonable emphasis on demonstrable results have neutralized this issue somewhat for Democrats.
Kerry didn’t lose by failing to concentrate on bread-and-butter issues or by not pandering enough to enough constituencies. It’s not just the economy, stupid.
The Democratic ground game
George W. Bush has accomplished something that Bill Clinton never achieved: he has received a majority of the popular vote. More Americans showed up at the polls yesterday than ever before and more of them voted for Bush than for any candidate in history. Here’s a look at some of the popular vote results from prior elections:
Year Candidate Votes 1992 Bill Clinton 44,908,254 George H. W. Bush 39,102,343 1996 Bill Clinton 47,402,357 Bob Dole 39,198,755 2000 Al Gore 50,999,897 George W. Bush 50,456,002 2004 George W. Bush 58,301,150 John Kerry 54,782,697
Population increase alone doesn’t account for the difference. Increased voter registration and turnout helped both Bush and Kerry. But it’s clear: a superior ground game is not going to give Democrats a victory.
Hoping for bad news
It’s been said often enough—hope is not a strategy. And I believe that hoping for bad news is unbecoming and will not ultimately help Democrats.
What should they do?
So now we know what won’t work: increased campaign spending, concentration on bread-and-butter issues, rely on superior voter registration and turnout, and hoping for bad news. What will work?
I’m a registered Democrat and I sincerely want the Democratic Party to prosper. But I’m what used to be called a Scoop Jackson Democrat and what could now be called a Joe Lieberman Democrat. I’d have voted for Joe Lieberman in a heartbeat. But I voted for George W. Bush. It’s the only time I’ve ever voted for a Republican and I think the only time I’ve ever voted for a candidate that won. Of course in my home state of Illinois that was equivalent to throwing my vote away—the state went overwhelmingly for Kerry.
I believe the Democrats need a credible foreign policy and defense policy and they won’t get it on the basis of the politics of either John Kerry or Howard Dean.
Cokie Roberts was on ABC News not long ago and she said that the issues that were picked by voters as the number one issues were not economics issues, health care, jobs, or education. They were moral values (Red state) and the War in Iraq (Blue state). And I just heard Barack Obama on TV a bit ago in response to that talking about public morality.
I don’t think that dog will hunt. Virtue is fundamentally based on individual conduct. Not on what bureaucrats do in government offices. I believe that the Democratic Party needs to stand for both public and private virtue and morality.
All parties have crazy people in them. There are people who are so viciously partisan that they’ll say and do anything solely for partisan political advantage. It’s not unique to either party. The Democratic Party has to get their crazy people off the front porch.
In the primaries Democratic primary voters overwhelming repudiated the policies of Bill Clinton. The more a candidate’s policies were like those of Clinton, the more soundly they were rejected. In the same interview I mentioned above Cokie Roberts characterized the coming struggle within the Democratic Party as a struggle between moderates like Lieberman and the Deaniacs who believe that the Democratic Party would have succeeded this time around if they had done more of the same—been more viciously partisan, spent more money, been more pacifist, been more isolationist, more soak-the-rich, register more voters, get better turnout, and so on.
That’s the path to irrelevance on the national scene.
UPDATE: Outside the Beltway has a good roundup of the expected cris de coeurs from the Democrat punditry. Apparently, the electorate is too stupid to comprehend the sublimity of Mr. Kerry’s plans. They don’t get it.