One of the biggest myths in American politics is that the other side is always doing much better than you are.
Kevin Drum rolled out a recurring meme in American politics the other day. Namely that Republicans are all strategic geniuses and Democrats and blithering idiots when it comes to the hands-on business of day to day politics. And since Drum is a liberal this is pretty typical! Partisans often times think that their side is messing everything up while the other side’s brilliant master plan is coming into place.
Drum’s main contention was that the GOP’s strategy of talking about a lot of stuff and blaming it all on Obama is going really well. Indeed it will lead them to victory in November:
An “all of the above” strategy will probably work just fine for Republicans. I doubt that the outrage over Bowe Bergdahl will last long, for example, but the weak White House response to it just adds to the perception that Obama is a weak manager and maybe Republicans are right about him. In November, even if nobody remembers Bergdahl, plenty of people will retain a vague memory that something wasn’t quite right about that whole Afghanistan thing. And because of that, they’ll pull the lever for their local Republican.
To which I would say: don’t panic quite yet.
Remember that midterm elections tend to be driven by the fundamentals, not by what the media chooses to talk about in the first week of June. The Democrats have a tough row to hoe because midterms tend to go against the party in the White House, while the economy and the President’s approval are both sort of so-so. But as Jonathan Bernstein recently pointed out, whole idea that legions of voters who would have voted for Democrats will instead pull the lever for Republicans is almost certainly wrong. After all, why should the focus on that instead of the Government shutdown (which most voters blamed on the GOP)?
Don’t get me wrong, the media obsessing about Bergdahlgate isn’t necessarily good for the Democrats, but it’s very unlikely to drive how voters behave in November. After all wasn’t Benghazi supposed to doom Obama in 2012? Wasn’t the first debate supposed to do so as well? And don’t get me started on Jeremiah Wright. In fact when you look a lot of the “scandals” that Republicans have been peddling as of late, like the IRS scandal that turned out to be basically made up or the new VA scandal that turned out to be driven by things like inadequate funding, a lack of doctors in the system, and older veterans moving to the Sun Belt, not so much the fiendish schemes of the president, a pattern emerges.
Drum’s point falls apart even quicker if you think about it on a higher level. If the thing that matters in elections is simply making charges against the other side then wouldn’t it just make sense to make lots of volume about things that just aren’t true? And if so why don’t politicians do that all the time? Would have John Kerry won in 2004 if liberals spent all summer claiming that 9/11 was an inside job?
In other words, if what reporters write is all that matters, why don’t reporters rule the world?
Which isn’t to say these issues aren’t important. The War in Afghanistan, the administration of the VA, and how money in politics is regulated are all important issues, but the latest media frenzy over these will have little impact on how voters behave in the aggregate. After all in an alternative universe where Bowe Bergdahl was left to remain a prisoner of the Taliban forever (which is presumably what the President’s critics want, I guess) Republicans would still be attacking the President over something else, and liberals like Drum would still be fretting about how better strategy could have staved off disaster at the polls. That’s just how people tend to think about this stuff.
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