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A Tale of Two Races

October 18th, 2009 at 11:47 am David Frum | 171 Comments |

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Two races – two standards.

Race one: the special election for New York’s 23rd congressional district. New York Republican leaders engineered the nomination of Deirdre Scozzafava, a leader of the Republican minority in the state assembly.

Many conservatives find Scozzafava an uninspiring candidate,  and not only because of her liberal social views. Deeply embedded in the crony culture of Albany, Scozzafava was chosen above all for her fundraising skills.

So conservatives have rallied to the third party candidacy of Doug Hoffman. (See the Club for Growth’s anti-Scozzafava ad, here.)

Result: a 9-point lead for Democrat Bill Owens.

Race two: the New Jersey gubernatorial election.

Here too a third-party candidate has upended the race. Only this time, the third party challenger is a more liberal Republican, former EPA administrator Chris Daggett. Daggett’s good government record, his highly detailed fiscal plans, and his appealing personality have boosted him to 13.6% in RCP’s average of state polls. (See here for a Daggett ad that amusingly lampoons Democratic governor Jim Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie.)

Result: Christie’s lead over Corzine, 10 points in mid-summer, has vanished to 0.8 points in October.

My good friend Jim Geraghty observes at National Review: “I realize this statement will break the heart of supporters of Chris Daggett, the independent running for governor in New Jersey, but he’s acting as incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine’s bodyguard.”

Here at NewMajority, John Vecchione likewise derides Daggett as a spoiler.

From an electoral point, Geraghty and Vecchione are exactly correct. But isn’t the same thing true of Doug Hoffman? Yet the electoral arithmetic that seems all-important in New Jersey matters not a bit in NY-23, where national conservative leaders have queued to endorse Hoffman over Scozzafava.

Agreed: Hoffman seems a much more attractive candidate than Scozzafava, and would probably make a much better member of Congress.

But I interviewed Daggett this past weekend, and I can attest – this independent too is a much more attractive candidate than his official Republican rival.

His proposals for balancing the state’s books are detailed and workable. He’d extend the state’s 7% sales to cover services as well as goods. He’d end the hodge-podge of property tax rebates.  He’d then use the money gained to finance an across-the-board property tax cut and also reductions in corporate income taxes. (A fuller statement of the plan can be read here.)

Daggett emphasizes New Jersey’s most important environmental issue: the preservation of open spaces from urban sprawl. He’d use state funds to buy and preserve open land. He favors major ethics reform to try to clean up New Jersey’s notoriously corrupt political culture.

Like most New Jersey Republicans, he is unexcited by social issues, accepting the status quo on abortion, guns, and gay rights. (On that last, he says he’ll leave the issue to the legislature. If they pass same-sex marriage, he’ll sign it.) And make no mistake: Daggett has been a Republican almost all his life. A protégé of former Governor Thomas Kean, he was appointed as state Environmental Protection Agency administrator by Ronald Reagan.

Daggett would make a very good governor. The rules of American politics seem likely to deny him his chance. But here’s the question for a national conservative audience:

If you are reconciled to losing NY-23 in order to send a warning to the GOP not to ignore Hoffman voters, what if anything do you have to say to Daggett voters? While Hoffman voters form the party’s base nationwide, Daggett voters are the swing voters the GOP must win to regain its competitiveness in the northeast. Without Hoffman voters, the Republican party would not exist. Without Daggett voters, the Republican party cannot win a national majority.

Can this marriage be saved?

Based on the issues, the answer would seem hopeful. Republicans managed to hold a Daggett-Hoffman coalition together in the 1980s after all. Even now, Daggett-style politics with its emphasis on fiscal responsibility would seem a much more natural ally of small government conservatism than free-spending Obama liberalism.

The problem is the cultural divide, and by that I mean more than simply the hot-button social issues.

To see the cultural divide spreading wide, please do read the Democracy Corps’ study of conservative Republicans released last week. It’s worth reading in full.

Democracy Corps convened two focus groups, one of Georgia self-described conservative Republicans, another of older, white independents in Cleveland. Let’s stipulate that the Democracy Corps is headed by James Carville and Stan Greenberg, that it is a highly partisan project of the Democratic party, and that focus groups lack the objectivity of opinion polling. Sprinkle all that salt over the report, and it still has the ring of truth.

The Democracy Corps report suggests that the most conservative Republicans make up 20% of the American electorate. They are indispensable to the GOP and provide much of its loyalty and energy. At the same time, they see the country in ways radically different from the moderate and swing voters the GOP needs to regain.

[C]onservative Republican voters believe Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives.  They view this effort in sweeping terms, and cast a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of the United States as it was conceived by our founders and developed over the past 200 years.

This concern combines with a profound sense of collective identity.  In our conversations, it was striking how these voters constantly characterized themselves as part of a group of individuals who share a set of beliefs, a unique knowledge, and a commitment of opposition to Obama that sets them apart from the majority of the country.  They readily identify themselves as a minority in this country – a minority whose values are mocked and attacked by a liberal media and class of elites.  They also believe they possess a level of knowledge and understanding when it comes to politics and current events, one gained from a rejection of the mainstream media and an embrace of conservative media and pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, which sets them apart even more.

How do we bridge the gap between voters who think this way –and the Northeastern suburban pro-environment, fiscally responsible, good –government voters to whom a Chris Daggett appeals? They are two radically different cultures, two radically different ways of viewing the universe.

Discovering some unity between them is the great challenge for Republicans ahead – in NY-23, in New Jersey, and in the whole country.

Recent Posts by David Frum



171 Comments so far ↓

  • ottovbvs

    conservative-intellectual // Oct 19, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    “Let’s face it, guy. Democrats are the party of the poor….they claim this, and if we agree that most poor people are ignorant fools, we must also agree that Democrats are largely the party of the ignorant. Just because you got some rich lawyers and hollywood bimbos on board does not refute the fact that Democratic politics is blue collar in nature’

    …….For someone who is presumably numerate since you have a engineering degrees you are staggeringly innumerate (or at least unaware or in denial) when it comes to electoral stats……….for your info in the last election Obama won a majority of college grads, a majority of those earning over 150k a year and a majority of the suburbs where most of the middle and upper middle class in the country live……the Republicans won a majority of blue collar males and those with education only up to high school diploma who could perhaps be more accurately termed the ignorant (not that this is always true of course)…….Since you’ve spent much of the day here applauding ignorance which is essentially Republican standard operating practice these days there may be a connection.

  • Cforchange

    CI, certainly we have free speech but loose lips sink ships. If you want to blat things that not everyone agrees with – that explains the current plight of the GOP: a minority incapable of winning elections.

    The “base” of the GOP has determined itself to be superior party members, in fact candidates must appeal to all their needs in order to represent the entire party. As we’ve experienced, we lose elections or must tolerate inept choices that have been made all because some if not the best candidates are precluded from representing the GOP. Example, Christie Whitman.

    I can take no credit for the current state of the GOP because since 2000, I really have been at odds with the party. But you the Intellectual on the other hand are exactly how the party is decribed over and over in the media. As such you should be very involved in finding new members that support your GOP brand. The pressure rests squarely on the shoulders of you and your cohorts to find members in strick agreement with you, similar to what you’ve all asked of existing GOP members. But if you are not successful as GOP recruiters I believe that will be the best definition of a blowhard; Talk with lacking results.

    Certainly as 2008 revealed, the “base” is the most predominant segment of the GOP so the pressure for success is really on – it’s on folks like you CI. You’re in agreement with the current game plan so you don’t need to be convincing me – you need to be recruiting new members who agree with you. But yet you waste your time here with me a site looking for a new majority, a group looking for a new approach to candidates and elections for the GOP.

    Get busy CI, the GOP future is in your hands. But one could only think – only for a few more cycles, that is unless you are more than talk. Then you can just forget about all the disenchanted over hear at the NM and leave us whining in your dust.

  • ottovbvs

    Cforchange // Oct 19, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    ……CI is an exact representative of the attitudes that are catalogued by that Dem Corps report that is doing the rounds which is why there is no question about it’s authenticity……..his intellectual myopia and total lack of self awareness is literally so mind boggling that one wonders if he is a product of home schooling by fundamentalists…….either way the GOP is currently in thrall to folks like this and is so totally f***** for a generation it’s hard know how they find a way out

  • Conservative Intellectual

    I happily concede that we intellectuals are a minority….smart people always are a minority. America’s had a good run but the history of the world is tryanny, torture, genocide, etc and the Left in America is taking us down the road to serfdom.

    Mr. Limbaugh likes to say that people are capable of taking care of themselves. The older that I get, the harder it is for me to believe this. Intellectuals like me are surrounded by people that are little more than dumb animals. I will never understand how anybody with any basic understanding of economics could vote for Obama.

  • Conservative Intellectual

    I happily concede that we intellectuals are a minority….smart people always are a minority. America’s had a good run but the history of the world is tryanny, torture, genocide, etc and the Left in America is taking us down the road to serfdom.

    Mr. Limbaugh likes to say that people are capable of taking care of themselves. The older that I get, the harder it is for me to believe this. Intellectuals like me are surrounded by people that are little more than dumb animals. I will never understand how anybody with any basic understanding of economics could vote for Obama.

  • ottovbvs

    conservative-intellectual // Oct 19, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    “I happily concede that we intellectuals are a minority….smart people always are a minority. America’s had a good run but the history of the world is tryanny, torture, genocide, etc and the Left in America is taking us down the road to serfdom……Mr. Limbaugh likes to say that people are capable of taking care of themselves. The older that I get, the harder it is for me to believe this. Intellectuals like me are surrounded by people that are little more than dumb animals. I will never understand how anybody with any basic understanding of economics could vote for Obama.”

    ……..Ok conservative-intellectual you admitted you didn’t know what QED meant and even more funnily believed it had no relevance to you…….how about Oxymoron……know what that means?…….or are you as I suspected all along…… a joker

  • Conservative Intellectual

    Obama’s the Joker, guy…..I’m not on any poster…he is. :)

    I don’t know Latin, and I have never seen QED. I dont’ admit to knowing everything, just the things that matter. Latin is a dead language.

  • Conservative Intellectual

    Obama’s the Joker, guy…..I’m not on any poster…he is. :)

    I don’t know Latin, and I have never seen QED. I dont’ admit to knowing everything, just the things that matter. Latin is a dead language.

  • anniemargret

    CI: “….poor people are ignorant fools…”

    The most disgusting thing I’ve read on this blog yet. Shame.

    If you have the capacity…

  • Conservative Intellectual

    Poor people are mostly ignorant people. I don’t see how you can deny that.

  • anniemargret

    Typical right wing slander…. poor people are poor because they want to poor, right? Typical El Rushbo smear.

    Read “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.

  • Conservative Intellectual

    Typical right wing slander…. poor people are poor because they want to poor, right? Typical El Rushbo smear

    It’s laughable that a leftwinger would accusing Rush of smears after they spent the last week making up quotes about slavery that he never said. :)

  • KL7212

    >The “base” of the GOP has determined itself to be superior party members, in fact candidates must appeal to all their needs in order to represent the entire party. As we’ve experienced, we lose elections or must tolerate inept choices that have been made all because some if not the best candidates are precluded from representing the GOP.

    A good example of this kind of thinking is the so-called Club For Growth. The only thing these knuckleheads are growing is the number of Democrats in the Legislative Branch. Doctrinaire conservative nitwits in the CFG have decimated the ranks of moderate Republicans in the Northeast over the last decade. We need only look to what happened in Maryland Congressional District 1 last year.

    For nearly 20 years, Congressman Wayne Gilchrist, a decorated Vietnam veteran and a moderate Republican, who voted the “conservative” line in Congress 60-70% of the time, was targeted by the CFG in 2008 Republican Primary and was defeated by a Club backed true believer, Andy Harris.

    Harris, an inept yo-yo, managed to lose a close election to Democrat Frank Kratovil in a district which John McCain won by double digits.

    What was the problem?

    Although, Maryland 1 is one of the most Republican districts in the Northeast, Harris LOST THE RACE and put a district which Rep. Gilchrist had won by a 2-to-1 margin in 2006, a huge Democratic year, into Democratic hands.

    Why did Harris lose? Well, apart from being a jackass, he lost because HE WAS TOO CONSERVATIVE for the Northeastern district which Gilchrist had capably and competently served for 8 terms.

    Don’t you guys get it? Once Republican seats like New York Congressional District 23 are gone, THEY’RE GONE FOR GOOD. The Congressional Delegation of New York, a state which once produced Republican stalwarts like Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Dewey, is now almost entirely Democratic. It’s only a matter of time before the Democrats control every single Congressional seat in the Empire State.

  • KL7212

    Bottom line: Half a loaf (or two-thirds of one for the that matter) is better than no loaf at all.

    Conservative Republicans don’t win in the Northeast because they’re out of step with the population in the region.

    The contemporary Republican Party has morphed into a mirror image of the 1980′s Democrats.

  • sinz54

    Oneon1isto: It’s come a long way, and now works to determine a more whole index of the body so that the nutritionist can make the proper “prescription”.
    Yep.

    I have kidney disease. Nutritional therapy is now considered a standard part of the treatment for kidney disease. And my nutritionist has prescribed specific nutrients to treat specific aspects of my kidney disease: Fish oil, L-carnitine, selenium, calcium, and N-acetylcysteine, are what I take routinely. (You can google for those to see just why they’re important for kidney disease.) My nephrologist knows all about this–and he thoroughly approves.

  • sinz54

    KL7212: For nearly 20 years, Congressman Wayne Gilchrist, a decorated Vietnam veteran and a moderate Republican, who voted the “conservative” line in Congress 60-70% of the time, was targeted by the CFG in 2008 Republican Primary and was defeated by a Club backed true believer, Andy Harris.
    Right now, over on Redstate.com, they are saying that they would actually prefer to see the Dem, Owens, win in NY-23 rather than allow a moderate Repub, Dede Scozzafava, win the seat. They say that having moderate Republicans would “muddy” the GOP message.

    I remember how hard Jacob Javits, a liberal Republican senator from NY (yes, the GOP used to have some actual liberals) worked to support Ronald Reagan for President in 1980. Back then, Reagan’s supporters never accused Javits of “muddying” their message.

    In a two-party system, ideological purity is the road to being a minority party. Because all those who don’t agree with the purist stance will go to the other party.

  • sinz54

    conservative-intellectual: if we agree that most poor people are ignorant fools, we must also agree that Democrats are largely the party of the ignorant. Just because you got some rich lawyers and hollywood bimbos on board
    I don’t agree with any of this.

    First, ignorance is hardly limited to the poor. Much of the GOP base is middle class, but their ignorance of science and modern economics is stunning.

    Secondly, in 2008, most of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs backed Obama enthusiastically. The CEO of Google, for example.

    Finally, exit polls showed that Obama won the votes of voters with postgraduate degrees by 18 points over McCain.

  • sinz54

    conservative-intellectual: Intellectuals like me are surrounded by people that are little more than dumb animals.
    Gee, and all this time conservatives have been claiming that the Obama administration is elitist. What you wrote there is far more elitist than Obama’s infamous “clinging to guns” gaffe.

    conservative-intellectual: I will never understand how anybody with any basic understanding of economics could vote for Obama.

    I didn’t vote for him, but I can give you a plausible argument:

    We have a two party system. We had just two candidates to choose from: Obama and McCain.

    And McCain admitted to his ignorance of economics.

    In September 2008, the U.S. economy had fallen off a cliff. This happened just a few months after the GOP primaries, in which all the major GOP candidates including McCain (except Paul and Huckabee) had said that the U.S. economy was in good shape.

    When the U.S. economy turned down, McCain’s own economics adviser, Phil Gramm, said that the fundamentals remained strong and that all we had was a “mental recession.” We found out later that Gramm, when he was Senator, had been instrumental in deregulating derivatives, which contributed to the 2008 economic debacle.

    When the economy fell off a cliff, McCain suspended his campaign and flew back to Washington, where he accomplished virtually nothing–after which he resumed his campaign.

    During the debates with Obama, all McCain could talk about was earmarks. Which all Americans knew had virtually nothing to do with why the U.S. economy was on the verge of collapse.

    All that virtually DISQUALIFIED McCain from leading the nation out of the worst economic crisis in 30 years. That left us with only one other viable choice.

    BTW, as the result of Gramm’s “mental recession,” Warren Buffett, who is one of the world’s sharpest and cautious investors, lost 50% of his own net worth.

    I didn’t vote for Obama, because I didn’t see him as a war President. And we were at war. And that consideration superseded all else for me. But I had no illusions about McCain’s ability to manage the U.S. economy. I could only hope he would get good advisers, maybe Romney, to do the job.

  • Conservative Intellectual

    I don’t see how you can argue the conservative base is ignorant of economics.

    It’s you leftwingers that think out of control spending, high taxation, price caps, waging the min. wage, are all good ideas…..this is a gross ignorance of economics.

    Having a postgraduate degree means nothing….I’d like to see what these Obama supporters received there postgraduate degrees in….what you major in matters more to me than the level of the degree. A postgraduate degree in some bullshit major like poli sci is not impressive.

    The Democratic party is largely the party of the super rich and the super poor. The poor are largely ignorant or they would not be poor….and the rich Democrats just feel guilty about their wealth so they champion the “little guy” rhetoric. The rich Democrats don’t care about high income taxation because they already have their wealth….if we were to start taxing wealth, Democrats would become conservatives in a skinny minute.

  • Conservative Intellectual

    I never said McCain was some genius. I don’t think he believes in much of anything…he just wanted to be president. Obama is a leftist idealogue and by defaut he is either ignorant of economics, or he’s willing to just disregard economics because it doesn’t jive with his Marxist ideals.

    Anybody that thinks Obama was qualified to be president is admitting they are a fool. The man had done nothing in his life. He gets a degree in law but rather than practice law he goes community organize.

  • Joe In NH

    Regarding the question of economics- can someone explain to me the difference between Democrats spending more to prime the pump etc. and Bush cutting taxes but not spending. The result is the same which is to say big deficits. Maybe Bush #2 was a Keynesian? It’s hard to see a difference in the final result.

    Also, regarding Obama’s history- community organizer then law school then a law firm before going into politics.