Thursday, November 20, 2008

They only look dead

Nate Silver asks if talk radio has killed conservatism. It happens to be an interesting post, with a really nice discussion about the skills necessary to be a good talk radio host, so I encourage you to read it. But the general thrust of the argument is one I've heard from a lot of sources lately, that the GOP lost handily in this past election because of something they did wrong during the campaign. In this case, it's because they used talk radio to stimulate a base but not to convert moderates. Yet in 2004, people were arguing that this sort of approach was the reason the GOP was winning. It could reduce its arguments to simple catch phrases and convey those messages as marching orders to tens of millions of people every day.

Let me just suggest that the GOP's victories in 2000, 2002, and 2004, and the Democrats' victories in 2006 and 2008, had far less to do with salesmanship than with product. Yes, Obama ran an unusually brilliant and disciplined campaign, and McCain's was pretty weak by comparison, but the results of the election probably wouldn't have been dramatically different if the campaigns had been of equal quality and funding. You can explain an awful lot of these elections by looking at the fundamentals. People this year were, on balance, upset with the Republicans because of the economy and the Iraq War, so they figured they'd try something different.

The Republicans are trying to recalibrate their message and figure out what went wrong this year. Were they too moderate? Too conservative? Too old fashioned? Too exclusive? Self-assessment is good, but the simple fact is that even if they run the same kinds of campaigns in 2010 that they ran in 2006, they'll probably do a lot better than they have in recent elections. Unless Obama can dramatically turn around the economy in the next two years, voters will direct their anger toward him and his fellow Democrats, and Republicans will pick up seats. The president's party almost always loses seats in midterm elections, anyway.

A decade ago, E.J. Dionne wrote They Only Look Dead, which argued that liberals would eventually run the government again. And of course, he was right. He could pen the same book with the same title about the GOP today. They'll be back.

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