Tea Party Smears Beat 3 GOP Reps
There’s a magical adage, to which astute spouses, manipulative children, calculating students and successful politicians subscribe: What you don’t say, you don’t have to explain. Silence is golden.
As a post-mortem to the 2012 election, there are other adages to which the mouths of future Republican candidates should adhere: Zip it up. Put a cork in it. Shut up. Stifle yourself.
The job of a candidate is to relentlessly focus on issues which resonate with undecided voters, not obsess on those which appeal to the already-loyal party base. For Republicans, locally and nationally, that means focusing on economic issues, not on abortion, guns or gay rights.
This “Knucklehead Factor” cost Republicans U.S. Senate seats in Delaware, Colorado and Nevada in 2010, and in Missouri and Indiana in 2012. With those wins, Republicans would now have a U.S. Senate majority. If you believe that rape is an event that “God intended to happen,” and that the result should not be aborted, don’t be dumb enough to say it. If you believe that rape victims somehow self-abort, don’t be dumb enough to say it. As losing Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock (R) said: “To me, the highlight of politics is to inflict my opinion on someone else.”
That is exactly how not to win an election. Candidates strive to convince voters that they reflect their opinion, or, conversely, that their opponent rejects their opinion. They don’t win by telling voters that they have the wrong opinion.
According to recent polling, roughly 35 percent of the country deems itself conservative and Republican, 25 percent liberal and Democratic, 30 percent split between independent-leaning-conservative and independent-leaning-liberal, and the balance of ten percent in the netherworld. About half the hardcore conservatives are evangelical Christians; most non-Orthodox Jewish white liberals are secular, but many Democratic minorities are devout churchgoers. Religious devoutness, in a political context, is an absolute turnoff in urbanized areas.
In fact, 2012’s most under-reported development is the destruction of the Tea Party, which bodes ill for the Republican Party’s future. Originally born in 2009 as a grass-roots reaction to a government which had grown too big, Obamacare which was deemed too expensive, and a federal debt that was too crushingly large, the so-called “Tea Party” has been successfully redefined and demonized by the media and by liberals as a bunch of gun-worshipping, misogynistic, homophobic, abortion-banning, woman-controlling, entitlement-cutting, racist nitwits. “Tea Party” is now a pejorative, a code word for somebody bigoted, intolerant and dangerous.
And it was the “Tea Party” appellation, which attached itself to U.S. Representative Joe Walsh (R-8), and by extension to colleagues Judy Biggert (R-11), Bob Dold (R-10) and Bobby Schilling (R-17), and to candidate Jason Plummer, which cost the Republicans five Illinois congressional seats in 2012.
In effect, Democrats have won the “Battle of the Word”; they control the dialogue. There are principled people on both the Left and the Right, who morally and philosophically embrace their ideology. But they despise rather than respect each other. Committed liberals – who now call themselves “progressives,” which means non-adherents are “regressive” – are contemptuous and condescending toward conservatives. They deem them stupid. And they have coined a combustible term: “extremist.” In short, they deem their views “mainstream,” and those who disagree are “extreme.” Politically, it’s a masterstroke.
It’s like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. Yell it enough times, and people believe it. Dick Durbin (D) won the 1996 U.S. Senate race because he isolated Al Salvi (R) as an “extremist” on abortion and gun control, even though Durbin had only recently-flip-flopped from pro-life to pro-choice. Pat Quinn (D) won the 2010 governor’s race because he isolated Bill Brady (R) as an “extremist.” And Tammy Duckworth (D) beat Walsh because she isolated him as the “Tea Party” congressman who was on record as opposing any “exceptions” – including rape, incest, or saving the life of the mother – on abortion
Conservatives view liberals as simply misguided, and somehow susceptible to re-education and prayer, sort of like being “born again.” But the conservatives’ vocabulary and arsenal of arguments has evaporated. America, culturally and fiscally, has become increasingly more liberal and government-dependent.
Republicans criticize Democrats as tax-hikers and big-spenders, and voters yawn, cringe or get angry. Almost half the population doesn’t want government spending cut or taxes lowered, and cares not a whit about debt. And if some hapless Republican should lambaste his or her opponent for supporting abortion, gay marriage, or free birth control contraceptives – which contravenes the theology of the Catholic Church – they’re immediately attacked as “extreme.” In effect, Democrats have inoculated themselves: Their positions are not “extreme,” but the Republicans’ are.
That, at least in Illinois, is the new political reality. Cultural conservatism is toxic; fiscal irresponsibility is inconsequential; and corruption and wrongdoing (which must be committed by a Democrat, since Republicans hold few offices) are irrelevant.
Here’s an analysis of congressional contests:
8th District: Rumors abound that Walsh, fresh from his failed $7 million re-election campaign in the west suburban 8th District, is gearing up to run for governor in 2014. According to the latest unofficial tabulations, Walsh lost to Tammy Duckworth (D) 121,298-100,360, getting 45.3 percent. In a newly-created, Democratic-designed (for Duckworth) district, which Barack Obama won by 61 percent in 2008, and roughly 56 percent in 2012. Duckworth spent $4.7 million.
Walsh’s achievement is notable. He ran six points better than John McCain (R) in 2008. But so did Mitt Romney. The Walsh-Romney vote was virtually equal, as was the Duckworth-Obama vote. The Walsh game plan was to saturate the district with visibility. He held two “town hall” meetings” per week during 2011 and 2012. He presumed in-your-face contact would overcome voters’ qualms about his ideology. He was mistaken. He mobilized his base, polarized the district, and estranged the Obama-leaning independents.
In the 193 precincts in western Cook County, including working- to upper-class Barrington, Schaumburg, Palatine, Elk Grove, Hanover and Wheeling townships, Walsh’s anti-government, anti-Obamacare, anti-tax rhetoric struck a chord only with Republicans. He lost 63,554-51,147. In the 182 precincts in eastern DuPage County, which were about a third Hispanic, Walsh lost 46,855-42,557. Obama won the county 199,460-196,046.
The Duckworth game plan was to have aides follow Walsh around with a video camera, waiting for Walsh to say something stupid.– like his quote that he opposed abortion “with no exceptions” for rape, incest, or other reasons. That became the gist of Duckworth’s TV ads. And that became the theme of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) ads against Dold and Biggert – namely: that they were Tea Party “extremists” like Walsh.
10th District: Dold, running in the North Shore, was the antithesis of Walsh, backing abortion rights, Planned Parenthood funding, National Public Radio funding, and an oil drilling ban. Clinging to his association with U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R), the district’s five-term congressman, Dold positioned himself as a “moderate.” But he had three impediments:
(1) The 2011 Democratic remap reconfigured a 50/50 Cook/Lake county district into a 75/25 Lake/Cook district. The west end – Palatine and Wheeling – was excised. There are now 309 Lake County precincts, and only 110 in Cook County. In 2008, despite the Obama undertow, Kirk won Cook County 88,856-72,358, and lost Lake 64,226-65,818. In 2012, Dold lost Cook to Brad Schneider (D) 29,161-30,373 and lost Lake 101,389-103,495. Due to the remap, Cook County’s vote was sliced by 100,000.
(2) Dold didn’t have time to entrench himself, and build and burnish a Kirk-like image. After winning in 2000, Kirk was known and liked by 2006, and survived. Dold just didn’t have time. Dold spent $7.5 million, to Schneider’s $3.9 million
(3) Walsh became the 2012 Illinois face of the Republican Party
Dold lost – the final vote was 130,860-128,423 — because he couldn’t peel off as many Obama voters as Kirk in 2008, due largely to the fact that too many voters thought, as a Republican, Dold was a Walsh-like Tea Party “extremist.”
11th District: Biggert, age 75, is no spring chicken, and has nobody but herself to blame for losing. She’s been in public office for 20 years, first elected state representative from Hinsdale in 1992, and to Congress in 1998. Her old 13th District in western DuPage County was safely Republican, and she grew complacent. Her voting record was “moderate”: for abortion and gay rights.
But she never really defined herself, made herself iconic or beloved, or identified with a cause or issue. In 2006 she got 58.3 percent, and in 2008 53.6 percent – a bad trendline. When the remap chopped half her district, including Hinsdale, adding Hispanic-heavy Joliet and Aurora, Biggert knew she could load up on flip-flops and start shopping for a retirement villa.
Her opponent, Bill Foster (D), lost his House seat in another district (of which 25 percent was in the new district) in 2010. The DCCC’s ads lumped Dold and Biggert with Walsh, while the Republicans blasted Foster’s ethics. Biggert spent $6.3 million to Foster’s $4.3 million.
Biggert lost the 162 DuPage County precincts 44,093-43,682, and got creamed in the 148 Will County (Joliet) precincts 71,203-44,263 – almost the exact margin (71,035-45,900) by which Obama won. Overall, Foster won 139,860-101,010.
Russ Stewart is a Political Analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer
E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.