Tea Leaves: The Meaning of Scott Brown’s Victory
Reading the Tea Leaves: Deriving Meaning from the Massachusetts Senate Race
Does Scott Brown owe his victory to a well executed campaign plan, voter dissatisfaction with Democrats or to the train wreck masquerading as a campaign of his opponent, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley?
My guess is all three.
Coakley ran a campaign so bad that one Boston radio talk show host described it this way: “It wasn’t the Hindenburg campaign and it wasn’t the Titanic campaign. It was the Hindenburg crashing into the Titanic campaign!” While the list of Coakley’s blunders is well known, the most telling aspect of her gaffe-athon was the campaign’s inability to learn anything from its mistakes or to fully appreciate the foul mood of the electorate.
This hubris was on full display the week before the election when Coakley attended a Washington D.C. fundraiser where a) she was feted by Big Pharma and, b) one of her campaign consultants was photographed pushing a reporter to the sidewalk while Martha looked on. Taking campaign cash from a special interest group routinely demonized by Democrats was just plain dumb; watching a staffer walk over someone who got in her way was the perfect metaphor for a candidate who viewed the open Senate seat as something she was entitled to no matter who she had to step on.
As for the culpability of the Democrat Party, I can only conclude from the results in Massachusetts that anger against Democrats runs broad and deep.
Conventional wisdom held that Scott Brown’s best chance for victory was a low voter turnout that would magnify the influence of his highly motivated base. Conversely, high voter turnout, something in the range of 35% or more, would benefit Coakley by diluting the effect of any insurgency. It would also signal that the Boston machine had done its part and delivered a block of Democrat votes en masse. As we now know, voter turnout was over 50% – extremely high for a special election – proving that Brown was the overwhelming choice of most Massachusetts voters, not just a few of them.
Another interesting facet of the post mortem is the pre-election polling. From nearly 20 points down in late December to a 5 point advantage on Election Day, Brown gained ground relentlessly in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Why the surge?
Coakley’s slide in the polls began at precisely the point when Nebraska’s Ben Nelson was bought off with the “Cornhusker Kickback”; an act so brazenly corrupt and cynical that even the inside-the-beltway crowd was scandalized. When the unions bellied up and got their deal – a carve out exempting them from the 40% excise tax on high value health insurance plans – Coakley’s lead in the polls all but vanished. Harry Reid’s bully-boy tactics may have won him a legislative battle, but hoist by his own petard, they probably cost him the war.
In the end it the only thing that really mattered was that a very likable Scott Brown ran very good campaign and was able to sell himself to Massachusetts voters as a timely alternative to one party rule. Brown was up beat, on message and led with kitchen table issues like lower taxes, job creation and strict budget discipline. He underscored his message – and added an exclamation point – by promising to be the 41st vote against ObamaCare. You can’t beat that with a stick.
What Scott Brown did for the Republican Party was to prove that the “Big Tent” can work, at least in the current environment, provided you rely on conservatives to hold up the center. With a message of common sense, mainstream conservatism that is so obviously attractive to a majority of American voters, the Republican Party has once again found its voice.
The election of Scott Brown demonstrates that Republicans get it: Politics is the art of addition, not subtraction, and it doesn’t matter who else crowds in from the wings as long as the Republican Party holds true to its core values and stops trying to marginalize its conservative base.
Democrats try to counter all this by arguing that Brown’s victory was a fluke, the result of a unique confluence of events and a perfect storm that would have swamped any boat.
I don’t buy it.
My instinct is that Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts was for real and that it was the unavoidable consequence of what happens when an overreaching, left leaning political class either miscalculates or just doesn’t care who gets trampled on.
Those who’ve been around know that things go wrong in politics. When they do, politicians hunker down and try to ride out the storm, always hopeful that the circumstances will change and the outlook will brighten.
That is unless things go from bad to worse.
In the case of President Obama and the Democrats, I have a feeling the bottom is about to drop out. If the outlook is bad today, it will be positively frightening for them come November.
Lyndon Johnson had a favorite way of describing the desperation one feels when a calamity strikes from which there is no escape. “It’s like getting caught outside in a Texas hail storm,” he would say. “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and no way to make it stop.”
Right now the clouds are gathering and the sky grows darker with each passing day. The November election isn’t very far off and as I read the tea leaves there’s a hail storm just over the horizon and Democrats have never been more exposed.