The Meaning of the Republican Victory

The election is over, and one thing is clear. Despite the attempt of the Democratic spin machine to claim that their defeat is a victory -- that Republicans won the gubernatorial race in Virginia and New Jersey because of local issues alone, and that their party does not have to worry about the future -- they have suffered a rousing defeat. Local issues, combined with growing unpopularity with Obama and in particular the ObamaCare health proposals, led to Republican victory.

America remains a center-right -- and not a center-left -- nation. Remember, in New Jersey, Obama did all he could to try and guarantee Corzine’s success. He appeared with him over and over, and tried to attach his popularity to that of the governor whose own ratings were quickly tanking to the lowest digits. It didn’t work. Christie won 50% of the vote, and Corzine got a meager 44% in a state that went overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008. How Democrats can ignore this rather obvious conclusion is an issue for the psychologists, not for election analysts.

Yet, Republicans and conservatives too have to carefully evaluate the meaning of the results, and refrain from reaching conclusions that are not warranted. On this point, I second the analysis offered today by my PJM colleague, Roger L. Simon. The reason Doug Hoffman lost in the NY 23rd Congressional District is that he ran as a purist of the take no enemies Right -- that believes simple continual statements of the most far right conservative principles, particularly emphasizing so-called social conservative issues like opposition to abortion and to gay rights, would be the path to electoral triumph.

Instead, moderate and centrist voters who likely would have supported a Republican conservative like, let us say, Joe Scarborough -- fiscally conservative and socially libertarian -- or would have voted for the winning Bob McDonnell in Virgina, deserted the once solid Republican bastion (in that column since the end of the Civil War) and voted instead for the Democrat Bill Owens. In Virginia, although McDonnell is a traditional conservative, he downplayed the social issues and ran an effective campaign that stressed issues like transportation and jobs -- issues that moderates and centrists are deeply worried about.

Here, we can learn from the analysis of a left-wing journalist like John B. Judis who writes today on TNR’s website:

If the results of New York’s 23rd are placed alongside those of New Jersey and Virginia, there is a clear lesson for the Republicans. In New Jersey and Virginia, the gubernatorial candidates ran to the center. Christie is a moderate, and McDonnell at least pretended to be. And as a result, they got the swing vote of independents and moderates. In New York-23, a diehard conservative backed by rightwing groups repudiated the center and lost to a neophyte Democratic candidate who probably could not have beaten Scozzafava in a one-to-one contest.