A post-mortem of the Coakley campaign by the New York Times describes her failure as a case of too little and too late; overconfidence, but most of all an inability to detect the “pent-up anger of electorate”, but toward what exactly is not said.
“One of the things we missed, and I guess you could call it a mistake, was the pent-up anger,’’ he said, likening the mood to 1990, when the state elected a Republican governor in the midst of a regional recession. “There was some very pent-up anger and people took it out at the ballot box, and I think we misjudged that and he tapped into it.’’
The three causes of Coakley’s failure are essentially restatements of the same thing. Her campaign (and the national Democratic establishment) didn’t see it (the pent-up anger) coming until it was almost upon them. It wasn’t as if they weren’t looking. They took the the polls, gauged the temperature of the water, and figured it was safe to swim.
A poll the campaign conducted just before Christmas showed Martha Coakley, the Democratic attorney general, with a 19-point lead over Mr. Brown, said Dennis Newman, the Coakley campaign’s chief strategist. Ms. Coakley took some time off the trail to celebrate Christmas, prepare for the debate, film ads and try to raise money.
As late as the night before the election, liberal pundits figured that Coakley had nothing to worry about. Matt Yglesias predicted she would win because Brown didn’t the use his window of opportunity to show he was liberal enough. Yglesis figured that if Brown split the difference in his policy conflicts with Coakley then he might have a chance. He wrote:
Brown finds himself running in a winnable race, and yet he’s overwhelmingly likely to lose. … But the formula for winning as a Republican in Massachusetts is pretty clear—you want to be independent from the machine, and generally for lower taxes and less regulation than your Democratic opponent, but also decidedly not as right-wing as the kind of guys the GOP runs for Senate in Alabama. … but Brown’s not doing it. And this kind of ideological inflexibility is the best way for a party to squander a very favorable electoral landscape.
President Obama’s claimed an intimate familiarity with the forces which swept Scott Brown to victory while failing to spot it. The President claimed that he was too busy working to stay in touch and thus missed the mood shift among the voters. ABC News reports:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Robert Gibbs was saying that you were surprised and frustrated by the vote. Is that accurate?
OBAMA: Well, I think not last night, but certainly I think a lot of us were surprised about where this was going, about a week ago.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you saw it coming by then?
OBAMA: By that time, we did. And here’s my assessment of not just the vote in Massachusetts, but the mood around the country.
The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office.
People are angry, and they’re frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.
You’ve got really hard-working folks all across the country, who have seen their wages flat line and their incomes flat line.
They feel more secure than ever. Then suddenly you’ve got this bank crisis in which their 401Ks are evaporating, their home values — their single-biggest investment — is collapsing.
And here in Washington — from their perspective — the only thing that happens is that we bail out the banks.
Only a few weeks ago the President was blaming his intelligence officials for not “connecting the dots” on the Christmas Day bomber. And here he was saying that despite an army of political operatives, access to pollsters, a political machine that he likes to boast went right down to the grassroots, that neither he nor Martha Coakley saw it coming. I believe him.
Intelligence failures are often the result of fitting undeniable facts into a preconceived framework. But in this case they do not explaining everything; the facts on Christmas day were comparatively reassuring. Martha Coakley was leading by 19 points. The sea was calm. There was not a cloud in the sky. So where did the rogue wave come from?
The answer is probably that the voter’s preferences were very susceptible to an alternative orientation. Given an alternative which produced a lower-energy solution to their preferences the same sets of voters could realign very quickly along another axis. Once Scott Brown became a credible candidate with a credible message, one which aligned with the voter preferences in a more natural way than Martha Coakley’s then the stage was set for a rapid realignment. From this perspective the administration’s intelligence failure wasn’t simply a failure to “connect the dots”; it was the inability to see that someone else could connect the dots in a far superior and more natural way.
Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch argue that the voters are obsessed with three broad questions right now. These are the dots which the voters are likely to be trying to connect.
- Health care;
- The economy; and
- National security
Gillespie and Welch argue that the Democrats have made a dog’s breakfast of their policies and are saved only by the fact that their Republican opponents are inept. They are like two second raters waltzing around the ring in a parody of a boxing match. “In their hour of darkness, all the Dems need to recall is that they are running against Republicans. And vice versa. Independents–the only reliably growing voting bloc in an electorate long since fatigued by two-party politics–are swinging violently against Democrats after throwing the Republican bums out in 2008 and 2006.”
The problem each party faces is that fitting into a new set of policy clothes requires a draconian change of lifestyle of which they may not be capable of. A fat man can fit into any set of clothes he wants. The only obstacle to effective dieting is infirmity of will. But as many readers — alas — know, the will is a pretty infirm thing: it is a shorter distance to the refrigerator than it is to the jogging track in the park. So while it is likely that Washington has been given a shock, it’s more than likely that they will cast around for a diet plan consistent with their appetites. Most people have nothing against diets except it means eating less. Politicians may give up pork; and give up perks, but it’s safe bet they will do so only with a heartrending reluctance; each night they pray on their hands and knees to give up these things if that is the price of staying in power, but “not yet, Lord, not yet.”
Here’s a famous historical figure commenting on the election in Massachusetts.