Silly Ball

by Michael Walsh

The two electoral maps my colleague Charlie Cooke posted here do indeed make the point that things can change in politics very quickly. But they also make another point, one that I’ve been banging on about since this month’s election: that the Rovite fixation on the “swing states” — the putative existence of which is simply a krack kampaign konsultant’s argument for permanent employment, no matter which side wins — has distracted the GOP since the election of 2000 into essentially abandoning a national campaign of ideas in favor of non-ideological small ball.

But this kind of politics isn’t Billy Ball, it’s Silly Ball. The Republicans drew exactly the wrong lesson from the squeaker of 2000 and the pitched battle for Ohio in 2004 by hailing the genius of “the Architect” when in fact we might have been spared the spectacle of hanging chads had Bush run a more firmly principled, conservative campaign to capture the disgust much of the nation felt after the Clinton scandals. In other words, did 2000 really have to be that close? It’s a form of the fallacy of the predetermined outcome to assume that the conditions that prevailed on Election Day 2000 could not have been completely different had Bush run a different kind of campaign. 

Now, of course, we’re reading the usual suggestions about how the GOP needs to reach out to Hispanics, field better candidates, appeal to single women, trim its sails on this or that social position — i.e.., become more like the Democrats. Fooey: Principles, not programs, should be the battle cry. Romney’s foolish complaint that Obama won by giving away free stuff plays right back into the hands of the konsultant korps that lost him the election in the first place. If Mitt had a vision for America wider than the cramped, pinched and perpetually gray New England horizon, he sure didn’t show it. He didn’t show it because he was incapable of conceiving it, and there clearly was no one on his insular Boston team capable of supplying one. Instead, we got the Etch-a-Sketch metaphor, which in the end proved to be the candidate’s epitaph.

One other thought. The last two Democratic presidents have both been kids from nowhere, not poor — Bill Clinton grew up in one of the larger houses in Hot Springs, his family well-connected to Bubbles’ ruling gangster, Owney Madden, while Obama’s pedigree includes a prolonged stint at the pampered Punahou School in Honolulu — but driven to make something of themselves in the world. Some Republican presidents used to come from the same Jacksonian, bootstraps class — Richard Nixon, of course, and Ronald Reagan — but since Reagan the party has nominated a succession of blue bloods and millionaires, including the New England Bushes, John McCain (from a line of admirals), and Romney. Three of the four of them lost presidential elections and promptly returned to their former lives; in effect, they had no skin in the game.

In 2016, maybe a couple of guys with lean and hungry looks, who understand that a national election means a national campaign of principled ideas, and not just winning a few precincts in the Buckeye State, might be just the ticket.

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