The McDonnell Strategy

by digby

Howie talks about the vaunted McDonnell Strategy that all the GOP establishment poobahs are selling as the next big thing. Howie sagely points out that depressing the Democratic base, as McDonnell admits was a big part of the strategy, will depend upon the individual Dem candidates' willingness to adopt the Creigh Deeds strategy of moving right even as your Republican opponent was desperately trying to pretend that he isn't captive of the crazies.

McDonnell recently said:

“I never shied away when I got attacked on pro-life-- I said, ‘Yeah I’m pro-life, I’ve governed myself that way for 18 years [in the political arena] and I’m going to be a pro-life governor,” he said. “Now let’s talk about jobs and the economy. So it was more a matter of focus, not a matter at all of backtracking on things that we believed in.”

That seems to me to be the exact strategy Democrat Mark Warner used in Virginia throughout the decade, which was also touted as the super-duper winning strategy for Democrats everywhere. I think I'd start to consider whether Virginia is the fabulous microcosm of Real America that everyone who lives in its environs thinks it is. They choose to elect the same dull technocrat over and over again regardless of party and I'm not sure there's a lot of evidence that the rest of the country is as enamored of such types as Virginia obviously is.

Indeed, if there's any lesson from Virginia to be taken in this moment, it's that the Republicans are the ones who feel the need to downplay their true beliefs in favor of an appeal to competence, which should indicate to the Democrats that they can more safely run on theirs. Naturally, timorous Dems who've been traumatized by years of Republican dominance and media abuse, simply can't conceive of a circumstance in which it might actually be better for them to embrace their more liberal instincts. (In a situation where the opponent on the right is trying to direct the electorate's attention away from his social conservatism, you'd think they'd get a clue.)But these are opportunities to move the goalposts and give liberalism some exposure to people who have had almost no experience with it.

If the lesson that Democrats take from this is that they too need to have more candidates like McDonnell, just as they believed they needed more candidates like Mark Warner (who is a very nice centrist and obviously perfect for Virginia, if not the rest of the country) then Republicans will be back in the majority before too long. Unlike the Democrats, the GOP understands that when the other side is on the run and trying desperately to erase the differences between the two parties, it's an opportunity to move even farther to the right, thus shifting the center. Democrats, on the other hand, often believe that when the Republicans are on the run, it's a good time for them to tack to the right, thus ensuring that the "center" remains firmly conservative no matter what. The only way to understand this is to believe they are stupid --- or they all want the country to stay as far to the right as possible.