What Democrats Should Learn from Massachussetts
Neil Newhouse, who served served as the pollster for the Brown for Senate campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (and was indirectly my source* last night) has written a public memo to National Democratic Leaders with the subject line WHAT MASSACHUSETTS MEANS FOR YOU. While it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek, he makes some salient points. Among them:
Stop blaming Martha Coakley.
It’s not all her fault. It’s the policies she supported that were more to blame. She won the Democratic primary trouncing her opponents and was clearly the best candidate the party had to offer in the state. She’d won statewide in convincing fashion. She was a proven quantity. And, yet this race wasn’t even close.
After watching Creigh Deeds, Jon Corzine and now Martha Coakley go down in flames, do you really think that the one thing they had in common was that they were below average candidates running sub-par campaigns?
It’s true that Coakley and Deeds were poor general election candidates and that Corzine was tainted for a variety of reasons. But there is a trend here.
Neil notes, too, that President Obama’s visits did very little to rally support. In the case of yesterday’s contest, “While it DID energize segments of the Democratic base, Obama’s visit also helped us reinforce our support among Independent voters and ratchet up their intensity about the election.”
His closer is sardonic but correct:
Given the Republican Party’s problems from 2005-2008, I personally want to thank you for getting the GOP back into the game by overreaching and overspending.
After spending four years watching Republican campaigns face the same problems — blaming candidates instead of the challenging political environment and going negative early to define the Democratic candidate — I understand those reflexive responses.
Given the opportunities the GOP has in November, please continue to blame your candidates and press forward with a reckless policy agenda.
In sum, my advice comes down to: no need to change a thing — full speed ahead.
As he notes, this is exactly what the Republicans did in 2006 and 2008. Because candidates are chosen by the hard-core enthusiasts of the two parties, the natural instinct when losing is to conclude that the problem is that the candidates were either unable to articulate the party platform or wasn’t a true believer. While that’s sometimes true, it’s usually just the opposite of the reality on the ground. Good products tend to sell themselves and great salesmen can only peddle bad products so long.
The Republicans incorrectly interpreted their narrow wins in 2004 as a mandate for unpopular parts of their domestic agenda rather than a lack of confidence in John Kerry and company to run foreign policy. Similarly, the Democrats incorrectly interpreted their big win in 2008 as an endorsement of Nancy Pelosi’s agenda rather than a repudiation of eight years of Bush-Cheney and a backlash over a crumbling economy.
At some point, they’ll learn their lesson. They always do. But it usually takes a series of drubbings, not just some canaries in the coal mine, to make that happen.
*My wife, who’s chief operating officer of the company Newhouse founded along with Bill McInturff and Glen Bolger, passed along the info via email at 5:04 Eastern yesterday. I had previously been unaware of POS’ involvement in the campaign.