He’s already given political culture one of the great euphemisms ever for having an affair. And now the Appalachian trail walker, Mark Sanford, has become a terrific example of one of the core ideas of political parties and democracy: It’s all about the primaries.
Sanford won back his old House seat in a special election on Tuesday. Smart liberal commentators noted that Republicans had little choice. Paul Krugman:
California ventured onto unknown terrain last week, holding its first primary election with districts carved by a non-partisan commission, and under a new law that stipulates the top two finishers in the primary, regardless of party, are the candidates who advance to the November run-off.
Like almost every Democrat with claims to being a moderate, outgoing Virginia Senator Jim Webb doesn’t seem to understand that partisan politics are zero-sum:
What happened in the end, Webb said, “was five different congressional committees voted out their version of health-care reform, and so you had 7,000 pages of contradictory information. Everybody got confused. … From that point forward, Obama’s had a difficult time selling himself as a decisive leader.”
Has the political center disappeared? The Wall Street Journal thinks so, and cites the retirements of Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson and Maine Senator Olympia Snowe as further evidence that moderation has died in American politics:
Ms. Snowe is one of an increasingly rare breed of senator willing to back legislation crafted by the other side. After President Barack Obama came to office, she supplied a crucial vote for his stimulus plan and supported his health law in committee, though she later opposed it on the floor. She also backed the New Start arms-reduction treaty at the end of last year.
Here’s a new report by Third Way. They find that in 5 of 8 battleground states that register voters by political party, the number of registered independents is up. In 7 of 8 states the number of registered Democrats is down. The GOP is down in 6 of those 8. They then write:
Beyond these battleground states, national surveys such as the American National Election Studies and Pew show a steady increase in Independent self-identification throughout the United States. According to Pew, between 2000 and 2011, both the Democratic and Republican parties lost members, and the number of self-identified Independents increased by 8%. In 2000, 33% of the electorate identified as a Democrat, 28% as a Republican, and 29% as an Independent. By 2011 only 32% identified as a Democrat, 25% as a Republican, and 37% as an Independent. Democratic and Republican losses were mirrored by gains in Independents…
But there is a real way to save the Obama presidency: by challenging him in the 2012 presidential primaries with a candidate who would unambiguously commit to a well-defined progressive agenda and contrast it with the Obama administration's policies. [...]
Far from weakening his chances for reelection, this kind of progressive primary challenge could save Obama if he moves in the desired direction. And if he holds firm to his current track, he's a goner anyway.
According to Politico's Jonathan Martin, the Democratic South finally died with this month's midterm elections:
For Democrats in the South, the most ominous part of a disastrous year may not be what happened on Election Day but what has happened in the weeks since.
After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.
I'm not sure that Republicans will have any success at this:
With a big new majority in the House, Republicans will have little trouble passing whatever they want – including a full repeal of the health care reform law. But Republicans don't have a majority in the Senate, so even modest changes to the law will require the help of centrist Democrats – or at least scared ones.
Manchin is the Republicans' top target – because he campaigned against part of the law, and because he'll have to face the voters again in 2012 if he wants to serve a full term.
A couple of weeks ago, I argued that this election was going to cause more polarization, because you'd have a lot of incredibly conservative Republicans getting elected and a lot of moderate-to-conservative Democrats losing. Lo and behold, that's what happened. In particular, the Blue Dogs who have made life so miserable for the Democratic leadership were pretty much decimated:
This should have been obvious to everyone paying attention:
More than half the members of the Blue Dog Coalition—the organization of moderate to conservative Democrats in the House—are in peril in next week's election, a stark indicator of how the balloting could produce a Congress even more polarized than the current one. [...]
Of 54 Blue Dogs in the House, six already have retired or decided to seek other offices. Of those trying to stay, 39 are in competitive races, according to the Cook Political Report, and 22 of those are in pure toss-ups.