You’ve surely heard the old adage, “when you fail to make a plan, you plan to fail.” Like most old sayings, this is largely true; operating by the seat of your pants isn’t the best route to success; however, people do occasionally manage it anyway – due to sheer luck or brute force – but what about those times when a plan is so misguided that the plan itself dooms you to failure?
Matthew Manweller, an associate professor of Political Science at Central Washington State University and member of the Washington State Republican Party Executive Committee proposes just such a plan in an op-ed appearing today in the Seattle Times.
There is a tendency for national political parties, especially minority parties, to go after the most vulnerable incumbents. This means focusing on swing districts or districts where the presidential partisan vote differed widely from the congressional partisan vote. The national GOP will be making a serious mistake if they follow this strategy across the board. A more nuanced approach is necessary if the GOP wants to win back majority status, but more importantly, the trust of the American people.
God save me from a nuanced approach. Nuance is the mantle intellectuals like to don when they espouse ideas that slap common sense in the face. It allows them to maintain their self-righteous sense of superiority without having to actually justify what they’re saying because, after all, you would understand it if only you were smart enough to appreciate their nuanced approach.
GOP Chairman Michael Steele should not go after the “Blue Dog Democrats” in 2010. This small group of representatives has shown themselves to value practicality over ideology. They have been willing to compromise, change their minds and even oppose their own party when necessary, characteristics that should be valued regardless of one’s own political affiliation. More will be lost than gained if the GOP attacks this coalition.
I am not sure how Manweller defines “Blue Dog,” so we’ll just let them define themselves. Cross-referencing the list of House Blue Dog Caucus members with the American Conservative Union’s lifetime ratings, we can see that, of the 46 members who are rated, just four of them support the conservative position at least half the time, whereas 27 of them support it less than one third of the time.
Astonishingly, 18 of them support the conservative position less than one quarter of the time, with ratings ranging from 24.5 all the way down to 2! It’s a sign of just how far left the Democrats have swung that anyone who votes against the conservative position 98% of the time would even want to be part of a supposedly moderate caucus, much less be allowed to join. Tell me why, by all that’s holy, would you not challenge a so-called Blue Dog who votes with you less than 25% or even 50% of the time? Even if you elect a moderate Republican who supports the conservative position 51% of the time, that’s a gain in my book.
Now put on your thinking cap, because here comes the nuanced part:
What message does it send to conservative Democrats if the GOP assails the very people who were willing to work with them? Republican challenges will simply drive Blue Dogs to seek cover in the liberal wing of their party and make them question why they should ever cross the aisle again.
Breaking news, Professor Manweller! Not all the Blue Dogs are conservatives! Or even moderate! But you must know that, being, as you are, a professor of Political Science. And to tell the truth, I really don’t care if their feelings get hurt. Furthermore, when your party is in the majority, it doesn’t matter if the guys on the other side of the aisle are willing to cross over and work with you. Unless you want to pursue policies that really aren’t going to turn out to be all that popular, or even work as advertised, and you want to spread the blame. (Ask the Democrats how this is working out for them.)
More importantly, what message does it send to the American voter if the GOP seeks to overthrow the very group of people who are actually looking (and thinking) before they leap? If Republicans win a majority on the backs of Blue Dogs, they will look cynical in victory and send a message that the desire for power trumps a commitment to rational discourse and the politics of cooperation.
Such a victory would not be good for America. After having lost the trust of the American people in 2006, the GOP needs to show that they can put country above partisan gain. Driving out conservative Democrats doesn’t send that message. In truth, such a move would further polarize an already polarized America. For decades, Democrats have been targeting Rockefeller Republicans and Republicans have been targeting soft Democrats. The result has been an ever widening chasm between the Left and the Right. That can be good for fundraising, but not for public policy.
Does that mean the GOP should sit on the sidelines during the 2010 elections? Absolutely not. But they should target their challenges to representatives who are disproportionately liberal in comparison to their districts. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a perfect example — uncompromisingly liberal but representing the relatively conservative state of Nevada. From a pure political perspective, replacing a conservative Tennessee Democrat with a Tennessee Republican consumes scarce political resources but does nothing to increase the number of votes to block Obama’s legislation.
When the GOP mounts a strong challenge in a Blue Dog district, the average voter won’t interpret that as a cynical grab for power because – here’s another news flash for the Professor – the average American voter doesn’t know a Blue Dog Democrat from a hole in the ground. Joe and Jane Voter are far more likely to think that the failure to mount an effective challenge is a sign of GOP indifference, incompetence or inability and nobody likes to back a loser.
Manweller states, “Such a victory would not be good for America.” Why not? If you believe that conservative principles are best for this country and that that the Republican party best represents those principles, how is it “not good for America” if you do all within your power to promote them? Manweller should be encouraging Michael Steele to embrace a strategy of moving forward with strong challenges in every district that can possibly be snatched back from the Democrats and even stronger challenges in tough districts, rather than limiting the potential for success. He talks about scarce political resources without recognizing that people are motivated and motivated people can achieve great things.
To say that we should hand the Blue Dogs a pass is like saying that you should throw the game because your opponent just said your mother was ugly, rather than calling her…something worse. Perhaps Manweller finds it repugnant to think of the political process in terms of winners and losers, yet there undoubtedly are winners and losers. Failure to acknowledge this when the stakes are so high is irresponsible; the Democrats, even the Blue Dogs, understand this.
As a Washington conservative, I can only hope the other members of the WSRP Executive Committee don’t embrace Manweller’s ill-advised plan because it would be nice to hope for the possibility of some conservative representation in Olympia for the 1st District. For an ostensible expert on American politics, the Professor seems alarmingly naive. Perhaps he needs to get out and mingle with the riff-raff more often.