This post is mostly about politics, and the media's failure to adequately cover Tuesday's elections. For those who reach the end of the post and want to write this comment, "Where's the PR angle, jerk," please recall this disclaimer.
UPDATE: Well, The Washington Post and The New York Times must read PR Junkie, because both newspapers carried stories about the Republican Party's ideological divide threatening to undermine its "renaissance."
Last month, Timothy Noah wrote a piece for Slate.com that referred to political reporters as “momentum junkies.”
They are “forever plotting out momentary trends to infinity,” he said. “If they were meteorologists, they’d interpret 90-degree temperatures in July to predict 160-degree temperatures in December.”
So, as you've probably noticed, many political reporters are riding the momentum of Tuesday's election results, marking it a momentum shift for the GOP since Republicans won gubernatorial seats in Virginia and New Jersey. Some are calling it a referendum on—even a rebuke of—Obama and Congressional Dems.
Among objective news outlets, Politico carried the most stinging report for President Obama on Tuesday’s outcomes.
“The off-year elections were, in two big races, an unmistakable rebuke of Democrats, reshuffling Obama’s political circumstances in ways likely to have severe near-term consequences for his policy agenda and larger governing strategy,” Politico’s John F. Harris and Jonathan Martin wrote.
“Independents took flight from Democrats. They suffered humiliating gubernatorial losses in traditionally Democratic New Jersey, where Obama lent his prestige in a pair of eleventh-hour campaign rallies Sunday, and in Virginia, which had been trending leftward and just last year was held up as an example of how Obama was redrawing the political map in his favor.”
Sounds to me like we’re going to see 160-degree temperatures this December.
Unfortunately, Harris and Martin are missing a far larger story from this election: The splintering of the GOP and emergence of a viable third party.
The Dem’s New Jersey and Virginia losses are not that surprising. Since 1977, the party in the White House has always lost the Virginia governors race. That means the Democrats needed to fight history, and as Obama and his supporters have said: When history calls, you need to answer. Well, Virginia voters answered.
In New Jersey, where Obama stumped for Democratic incumbent John Corzine, the loss to Republican challenger Chris Christie stings a bit more. Of course, Corzine is deeply unpopular in the Garden State, which is suffering severe economic turmoil, so the loss wasn't too surprising.
On that point, the Politico story actually backed off a bit from its strong claims about Tuesday’s contest. “Neither race should be viewed as strictly a referendum on Obama,” Harris and Martin wrote. “But if there is a danger in overinterpreting off-year elections, it is also a mistake to underinterpret.”
What happened to good old-fashioned interpreting, without all the overs and unders?
The big story Politico and many other news outlets are failing to give bigger headlines to is the congressional election in upstate New York, where a Democrat won the seat for the first time since 1877.
Democrat Bill Owens beat Doug Hoffman, the nominee from New York’s Conservative Party. Republican challenger Dede Scozzafava had dropped out of the race and endorsed the Democrat. Members of the GOP had attacked Scozzafava for being too moderate. Potential 2010 candidates, Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, inserted themselves into this race, endorsing Hoffman. Newt Gingrich also commented on the race, criticizing the Republicans for driving the moderate Scozzafava out of the race.
Several other Republicans in the 2010 congressional elections could face a similar challenge. The Illinois Senate race is one example. The socially moderate Republican Mark Kirk, currently a member of the House of Representatives, is vying for Obama’s old Senate seat. There is rumor that a more conservative candidate, Eric Wallace, may challenge Kirk—if Kirk were to win the Republican primary—as a third party candidate.
What the outcome of this race suggests is the rise of a third party — or else a re-imagined Democratic or Republican party. Newsweek’s Jon Meacham has written about this possibility.
“We have been here before,” he said in an article titled, “The Great American Ideological Crackup.” “The analogous moments that most easily come to mind — moments of economic turmoil and political realignment — are 1933 and 1981.” Presidents Roosevelt and Reagan each managed to redefine their parties, he explained.
“But we are now living in a post-Roosevelt, post-Reagan universe,” Meacham continued. “What comes next will not be post-partisan, because faction is an intrinsic human impulse. Nor, for the same reason, will it be post-ideological. The question, rather, is what new ideologies — or what new permutations of perennial ideological impulses — will form to order our politics.”
The last nine months has seen the rise of a charged conservative niche, consisting of Glenn Beck-led birthers and tea party activists. These were the people storming town hall meetings over the summer to loudly voice their discontent for the direction of the government.
Where will these charged-up voters go? Will the Republican establishment fold them into their ranks and risk alienating moderate voters?
Maybe these Glenn Beck Republicans will start their own party, a Conservative Party, in which case they’ll capture House seats, but likely fail to win broad national support. In that case, what happens to the GOP? What if its more moderate members—the Olympia Snowe’s of the party—joined the Democrats? That could result in a massive party of moderates, and create two splinter parties: Conservative and Progressive.
Lots of options here, options that the momentum junkies in the media are not covering.