Editor’s note/APOLOGY — added 8/10.
Are Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader John Boehner privately toasting Ned Lamont? Maybe. Ironically, Republican chances to hold on to the majority in the House got a boost due to Senator Joe Lieberman’s loss in his party’s primary.
The following scenario will likely unfold in the next few weeks, according to Democrats I talked to Tuesday night. As Senator Lieberman has announced, he will definitely run as an independent. Had he lost by a bigger margin, say ten percent or more, he might have reconsidered. But due to the relatively close outcome, Lieberman will take his case directly to Connecticut voters as an Independent. Lieberman backers say that the state’s law that allowed thousands of liberal Independents, like Nader, Green, and other antiwar voters to register for the Democratic primary as late as this past weekend put Lamont over the top.
How does this impact Speaker Hastert? It’s all about the math. Democrats would have to beat all three vulnerable Connecticut Republican Reps. — Chris Shays, Rob Simmons, and Nancy Johnson — to take back the House. As one Democrat told me, “If we can’t win two out of three of those races, the chances of winning the House majority goes way down.” Chris Shays has already endorsed Lieberman. Simmons and Johnson might do the same. If Shays, Simmons, and Johnson pick up their traditional Republican base voters, plus significant numbers from “non-Lamont/pro-Lieberman Democrats,” that could be enough to safely return all three incumbents to the House.
And what about the possibility of Senator John McCain going to Connecticut to stump for his friend — and independent candidate — Joe Lieberman? McCain campaigning in that state for his “independent” Senate colleague, talking about how we need to “rise above the bitter partisanship that has engulfed Washington,” is just the kind of message that will resonate with the type of voter Shays, Simmon,s and Johnson need to win. As Lieberman said Tuesday night in his concession speech, “petty partisanship is blocking progress.” He said he’s “fed up” and he wants Washington to “stop playing political games.”
All of this is of course speculation — albeit somewhat informed. But if GOP House members were privately breaking out the Korbel last night, it’s for a good reason. And liberal bloggers — who probably just helped maintain a Republican majority in Congress — may have nothing more than a hangover and a pyrrhic victory. Cheers!
– Gary Andres is vice chairman of research and policy at the Dutko Group Companies and a frequent NRO contributor.
William J. Bennett
It’s sad to see the Democratic party go this way. I was a member of it for 25 years, and left in 1986 over their turn on foreign policy. Joe was one of the few left in the tradition I grew up in. He is also a decent and honorable man who could work with the opposition. So what was his crime? Supporting the president in the war on terror. What is the alternative? We now know. Leave the battlefield as soon as possible, telling the terrorists we can’t beat them. I do not understand how the Democrats are proud of that, but a lot of them are celebrating today, and it is a shame.
Joe and I have worked together on several issues over the years (the state of the culture, education reform, the impeachment of Bill Clinton), and there are few public servants whom I like as much as I like him, but the Democratic-party revolution has now devoured its best. When I was at the Democratic convention in 2004, I could see all the energy was with the Left, and the far Left. If the Democrats think they can become a national party by taking their cues from Howard Dean, George Soros, MoveOn.Org, the Daily Kos, and George McGovern’s appeasement-first philosophy, my read is that they will be in for a terrible surprise; their victory today will prove pyrrhic at best.
Yet one question remains for me: The vote was close; but was this because of some 11th-hour sense of filial loyalty to Joe or some self doubt about what they were doing to him? Or is it possible that a lot of Democrats who aren’t professional politicians were more uneasy about throwing out a good man on foreign policy?
Regardless, as for the war we are fighting: I hope Joe’s voice is not stilled, whatever he chooses to do now (and I hope he does run as an independent). At the end of the day what was done to him was a statement about the Democrats, not Joe. And it is a sad one. A once great party threw out its last best hope of foreign-policy sanity.
– William J. Bennett is the author of America: The Last Best Hope; the Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute, and the host of the nationally syndicated radio show Bill Bennett’s Morning in America .
Joe Lieberman is a sweetheart of a guy, but let’s review his true significance. Back in 1998, Lieberman was touted as the “conscience” of the Democratic party. This religiously observant, culturally conservative Democrat was going to denounce Bill Clinton’s disgraceful conduct and start the snowball toward impeachment. He chickened out. The effect was not to move the Democratic party in a more moderate direction but instead to provide cover. Clinton was able to declare that he “agreed with every word”
Later, as Al Gore’s running mate, Lieberman jettisoned pretty much every moderate position (e.g. school choice) he’d ever taken.
It’s not surprising that Lieberman’s pro-war stance has cost him the Democratic nomination in Connecticut. I just have trouble seeing that it makes any difference. He never represented a wing of the Democratic party. He had no noticeable influence upon his colleagues. The Democratic party is what it is — a foolish, demagogic, head-in-the-sand, appeasing party. Nothing that happens in Connecticut will affect that very much.
– Mona Charen, author and syndicated columnist, blogs on NRO.
It was almost an Oxford Union moment.
In 1933, the famous debating society at Oxford resolved that under no conditions would it fight for king and country. Observers around the world, including the Nazis, took notice of the vote as an indication of British decadence, or at least of the country’s lingering revulsion to the bloody fiasco of the First World War. The student pacifists at Oxford resolved that the way to avoid another War to End All Wars was to end all wars by refusing to fight, whoever the foe might be. How could there be a war if nobody, at least on our side, showed up to fight?
Senator Lieberman’s loss to his antiwar opponent might have been such a defining moment, when the Democratic party’s decadence, its self-righteous moralism, angry desperation, and cold hunger for power, might have been revealed for all to see. But Lamont’s victory was by such a narrow margin as to give hope to Lieberman and the pro-defense Democrats. Lamont’s slim victory suggested that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the party, that a tweak here or there — a few more days to campaign, stronger ads, a better news cycle from the Middle East — might have produced a Lieberman win, after all.
So Lieberman will feel free to run as an Independent who was unluckily beaten out of the Democratic nomination. He will not have to search his soul and forswear his party. Although the faultlines of a future schism in the party may well have been revealed, the aftershocks of the present temblor (forgive me, I live in California) will be minor. Of course, if Lieberman were to lose in November’s general election…the pressures on the party would build. But it’s likely that he will run, and win, as an unrepentant liberal Democrat who happens to be for the war and, temporarily, an Independent.
Clifford D. May
Until yesterday, Senator Joseph Lieberman was the most prominent representative of the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic party. Today, that wing is down to its last few feathers.
Last night, Lieberman gave a classy concession speech — and then immediately launched a new campaign as an independent candidate. He has a fighting chance. Connecticut has more voters registered as independents than as Democrats. The breakdown: 850,000 unaffiliated, 675,000 Democrats and 430,000 Republicans. And among those Republicans are some who will prefer Lieberman to a lackluster GOP candidate — or to the prospect of a Lamont victory. (Who doesn’t recall when WFB supported Lieberman against Lowell Weicker?)
The August Purge of Joe Lieberman is not good for the Democratic party. It is now, officially, a small-tent party, not a mainstream party. Americans last night saw Ned Lamont standing on the stage with Al Sharpton at one shoulder and Jesse Jackson hovering over the other. Neither Sharpton nor Jackson has ever won an election. One hopes neither ever will.
Spin it as he may, the central plank in Lamont’s platform is for the U.S. to accept complete and utter defeat at the hands of terrorists and insurgents in Iraq — and, by implication, before long, elsewhere too. It does not fool most of the people to say, as Lamont did, that he will bring the troops “home to a hero’s welcome.” In the real world, that is not what awaits those who suffer defeat — however painful their wounds, however great their courage under fire.
The war we are fighting — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — is nasty and bloody and we are not doing very well. But this is the face of war in the 21st century. We either learn to win such battles or we get used to getting whipped; maybe we even start to like getting whipped. Think of John Murtha almost bragging about the retreats he has favored in the past, from Beirut in 1983 and Somalia in 1993 — as though those retreats did not pave the way to 9/11/01.
What’s worse is that Lamont and his supporters believe America deserves defeat. They don’t say it the way Ward Churchill does but you can read it between the lines. They claim it will not be them or the U.S. that is defeated; only Bush and the hated neocons will be vanquished by the forces formerly led by Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That is akin to a passenger on a ship saying that when the vessels sinks, only the captain and crew will drown.
So this is a bad day for America, too. There was a time when Americans united against their enemies. But our enemies in this war have been allowed to divide us. Bush may deserve some of the blame for that. But disunity has been the goal of the Lamont/Sharpton/Jackson/Murtha/Soros/Sheehan/Moore/Kos wing of the Democratic party., the wing that triumphed last night in Connecticut.
The enemy we face is a predator: If we run from him, he will pursue us. We can not appease this enemy. We can not make ourselves inoffensive to him.
Joe Lieberman understands that. For that understanding, he has been punished. Ned Lamont and those who support him do not comprehend. For their ignorance, they have been rewarded.
– Clifford D. May is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
The war is front-and-center now in this election, and Joe Lieberman could be the first election causality. Or maybe not.
Most voters in America currently are polarized by the war and in their opinion of President Bush. Joe Lieberman, although a liberal Democrat on most issues, was tarred and feathered as a pro-Bush, pro-war candidate, and nearly won in the very liberal Connecticut Democrat primary. The irony is strong
These Connecticut Democrats were opposed to the war and unfavorable to President Bush by about a 4 to 1 ratio. Joe Lieberman stood up to the antiwar radicals Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and found out he can’t count on Hillary Clinton. However, as the intellectual activists and radicals of the Democratic party left him, working class, small-town, and moderate Democrats rallied and voted with Senator Lieberman. It’s a very important lesson for Republicans who must win in blue states. The Democrat center is available. The political descendents of George McGovern are excommunicating the heirs to Scoop Jackson. As Ronald Reagan embraced anti-Communist Democrats, anti-terror Republicans should embrace Lieberman Democrats.
The Republican party of Texas’ George W. Bush has an opportunity to regain the center in the state from which this president’s grandfather once served in Congress.
The leadership of the national Democratic party has abandoned the center and moved far to the left. The Republican party must seize the center once again. There is no credible Republican running for U.S. Senate in this race. As a matter of integrity on the issue of winning the war on terror, Connecticut and national Republicans should assist Joe Lieberman’s independent candidacy. We know we can’t count on him on most issues, but on the most important issue today, we can.
Politically Senator Lieberman may give three Republican Connecticut members of Congress a way to win in November. I predict they will embrace him.
Nationally, the biggest victims could be in two neighboring states. In Rhode Island, liberal Republican Sen. Chaffee will probably lose to conservative Mayor Laffey in their Republican primary and in New York, Sen. Clinton is about to be put in a real race. In the Democratic primary, a protest candidate will ask Senator Clinton how she can continue to support the war. After the primary, Hillary will be put in a real race by John Spencer, the Republican/ Conservative-party choice who happens to be a decorated Vietnam combat veteran (and volunteer). Tuesday’s Democrat primary in Connecticut was only the first skirmish in the political war over the real war on terror. The casualties come in November and the Democrats are shooting at their own.
– John McLaughlin is CEO of McLaughlin & Associates.
The press and most pundits make the mistake of looking at the horse-race numbers and focusing on where the incumbent is relative to the challenger. In a two-way race, the real gauge is whether the incumbent is over or under 50 percent. If the incumbent is well-known and under 50 percent vs. his challenger, he will almost always lose, because the undecideds break to the challenger. Why? Because the voters have had years to learn to like and support the incumbent; if they are still undecided late, the incumbent just hasn’t closed the deal.
So, when Lieberman dropped below 50 percent in the polling, most professionals raised their eyebrows and figured that if he didn’t get his ballot support above 50 percent in the polling, he would lose.
The other issue here is intensity of support. I have not seen data about the intensity of support (definite supporters vs. soft supporters), but would imagine that the more liberal elements of the Democratic base are more energized and ardent than Joe’s supporters. This matters and is a key factor in most turnout matrices.
Bottom line: I would have been very surprised if Lieberman had won last night. By yesterday, most colleagues I talked to assumed that Lieberman would, and it was only a matter of by how much.
I take two things from this…
1. While I respect (but do not agree with) the opinion of the Democratic primary voters in Connecticut, it appears to me that the Democratic party is in the process of cementing that it is the “peace” party that is soft on defense and foreign affairs. I believe we are in a period similar to the beginning of the Cold War and that, while history may not be repeating itself, it sure is rhyming. It is politically difficult to enter a period of instability and war as a party that is generically perceived to be weak.
2. Alternative media and communications technology are allowing local partisans to build parallel and competing structures to the party apparatus. I imagine that this will have the effect of making the parties more ideologically consistent and the party apparatus weaker. We’ve seen this on the Republican side as well. For example, it is no secret that the Ohio Republican-party establishment loathes Ken Blackwell, and yet he still won the primary. And remember, conservatives in Arizona were organizing to recall McCain before 9/11. If the immigration issue continues to simmer as I suspect it will, I believe we will see similar unrest in Republican ranks.
– Robert Moran, a pollster, is senior vice president of StrategyOne.
John J. Pitney Jr.
A week ago, E.J. Dionne compared Joe Lieberman to Jacob Javits. A liberal Republican senator from New York, Javits had served several terms by 1980. He had built a sterling reputation as a brainy, serious legislator who worked across party lines. Despite strong backing from his own party’s establishment, he faced a primary challenge from a tough young foe who flayed him for ideological disloyalty. The opponent — Al D’Amato — scored a stunning win on primary night. Javits, however, retained the (now-defunct) Liberal party line in the general election. He vowed to “campaign vigorously and aggressively.”
This morning, the Javits analogy might seem ominous for Lieberman. Despite his big talk on primary night, Javits ran a weak race, and his support melted away. In the general election, a national tide helped D’Amato edge out his Democratic opponent, with Javits running a poor third. (Ironically, D’Amato would prove to be much less conservative than his 1980 campaign suggested.)
But there are differences that should offer Lieberman some hope. Whereas Javits was seriously ill with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Lieberman still has some bounce in his step. In the 1980 New York race, Democratic candidate Liz Holtzman held on to a majority of liberal voters. In Connecticut, many conservatives and moderates are likely to favor Lieberman over the little-known and ill-financed GOP nominee, Alan Schlesinger. And much more than Javits, Lieberman has national name recognition that can enable him to cast a wide fundraising net.
Despite the similarities, Lieberman may yet avoid the fate that awaited Javits.
– John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.
Ned Lamont’s victory over Joe Lieberman raises more questions than it answers.
The first question is about the significance of the event in terms of the national election dialogue. Because it’s rare for a sitting senator to be dumped in a party primary, many pundits simply assume that it must have cosmic significance. But, it is also possible that the senator simply drifted out of touch with local Democrats and was overconfident enough to ignore early warning signs (Rasmussen Reports polling last December showed that Lieberman was potentially vulnerable to an antiwar candidate).
If this is the case, Lieberman simply got caught in a perfect storm with a wealthy and capable opponent, a motivating issue, and the lack of a serious contender from the opposing party. While quite plausible, bloggers, politicians, and journalists are likely to have too much fun spinning the significance to pay much attention to this possibility.
If the election has national significance, who does it help? It’s too early to tell. The high turnout in yesterday’s election might signal high turnout nationally from an antiwar, anti-Bush base. That would be very bad for Republicans. Another troubling sign for the GOP could come from moving the general issue of Iraq front and center at a time when confidence in the War on Terror is falling rapidly among the general public (the number who believe the U.S. and its allies are winning is down to 39 percent in our latest poll). Most Americans now expect things to get worse in Iraq over the next six months.
However, if Lieberman remains competitive in a general election match-up, the dialogue may focus more on divisions among Democrats and attempts to define the Democrats’ position in Iraq. An even better outcome for the GOP could emerge if the Lamont victory helps create the image that MoveOn.org and others on the Left are taking over the Democrats. That could be enough to carry Senators like Jim Talent (R., Mo.) and Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) to victory and retain a GOP majority in the Senate.
– Scott Rasmussen is president of Rasmussen Reports.
Larry J. Sabato
Sure, it was closer than “expected” — expectations created by polls that may or may not have been right — but it is a huge deal when any senator is defeated in his party primary. In fact, in the last dozen election cycles prior to 2006 (400 separate Senate seats), a mere three incumbent senators have lost their primaries. And Joe Lieberman isn’t just any senator, having been the toast of the Democratic party as the VP nominee in 2000. Everyone knows the upset is due to Lieberman’s position on the Iraq war, but it was more than that. Many senators who have taken deeply controversial stands that have infuriated their party activists have still managed to get renominated. Joe Lieberman forgot to keep the home fires burning; he didn’t take the critical next step of leadership. He voted his conscience, but he neglected to take the fight to his constituents, to try to convince them that his principled stand was correct, or at least tolerable. There’s some arrogance in that failing, and every incumbent of both parties ought to take note. Even — or especially — if reelected as an Independent, Lieberman will never again exert much moderating influence on the Democrats. The Lamont victory may give conservatives temporary cause for joy, since they can portray the Democrats as “loony left.” But think twice. The neutering of one of the most bipartisan national politicians is not healthy for a political system that simply must find some ways to reach across party lines.
– Larry J. Sabato is director of the Center for Politics.