Jon Bernstein has an interesting post suggesting that 2009 was a pretty bad year for Republicans. I think it's kind of hard to tell these things while you're in the middle of them. I mean, Republicans were a lot more enthusiastic this year than they were in 2008. It helps to have a target for your aggressions sitting in the White House doing things you don't like. But I think Jon's right that the GOP has been bullied by its conservative base into taking stances and casting votes and backing candidates that are making the party less competitive. The NY-23 race remains a fascinating case study. Thanks to the tea party wing, Democrats managed to win a House seat that they hadn't held since the invention of the telephone.
I was talking with Greg Koger earlier today, and he was arguing that this would be a great strategy for the Democrats going forward. They should do whatever they can to ensure tea party-backed primary challengers to Republican incumbents. After all, the tea party folks have only a tenuous connection with the formal GOP. To some extent, they view Republican officeholders as part of the problem.
Democrats should exploit that. How? By praising vulnerable Republican officeholders every chance they can for their commitment to bipartisanship. Democratic leaders should go on the Sunday talk shows talking about how helpful and constructive Sens. Collins, Grassley, McCain, McConnell, Shelby, Snowe, etc. have been on health care reform, energy policy, the stimulus, etc. Sure, they often had to vote against these things, but they've still been in there negotiating, and we're proud to claim them as friends and colleagues, etc. Maybe mention the friendly conversations they had with these folks at Christmas parties. The idea is to make Republicans seem like part of the same hypocrisy. I think Obama should devote at least a third of his state of the union address to praising Republican officeholders like "Teddy Kennedy's friend" Orrin Hatch.
The likely effect of all this probably wouldn't be huge, but it might fire up tea partiers to be even more critical of their officeholders and to seriously back primary challengers. This either unseats Republican officeholders and replaces them with unelectable conservatives or it forces the officeholders to move so far to the right that they jeopardize their own reelection.
Democrats are likely to lose a dozen or two seats in the House regardless, but some of that could be mitigated by exporting the NY-23 model to other districts.