The last time I recall famed Democratic strategist James Carville reacting to some special elections and responding with advice, it was September 2011, and Carville was advocating that everyone hit the panic stations, and that President Barack Obama to fire a bunch of people in a melodramatic show of "doing something." Now that the special election in Florida's 13th Congressional District is in the books, Carville is back with another round of react-and-advise, and a lot has changed -- perhaps most notably, his prescriptive. Instead of advising a flailing kind of panic, we find him advocating for a sort of Zen fatalism:
The fundamental consideration is this: If the election were held in the current climate, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that the Democrats might have a bad, perhaps even awful, election ahead of them. However, the one thing we know is that it is not going to be held now -- it is going to be held in November. This is a case where we don’t know if there is going to be a political climate change or not. Suffice to say, I am pulling for some political climate change.
To examine the fundamentals of the 2014 elections -- in which Democrats have a lot more turf to defend, with an electorate in which their own partisans are clustered in too few districts to make much of an impact, even if Democrats beat turnout expectations -- and say that it's not "hard to argue" that Democrats "might have a bad ... even awful election ahead of them" is to possess an optimism so intense that it might birth unicorns out of thin air. But hey, if you can imagine that, it's not so hard to further dream that some favorable change in the political climate is possible.
Carville reckons that recent slight upticks in Obamacare's favorability ratings may portend a change in fortunes. He also surmises that economic conditions might be "better" come November. Both of these things reside within the realm of possibilities -- though I can't honestly sit here and tell you that either will improve to such a degree that it sets the aforementioned fundamentals a-wobble. What I can tell you is that this is a remarkable change in attitude from Carville, regarding this whole, "run on an improving economy" strategy. Back in 2010, he was singing an entirely different tune:
"The hardest thing to do in all of political communications is how do you deal with a bad but somewhat improving economy," said Carville. "And the skill, or the way to thread the needle in saying things are getting better when people don't feel like they are getting better. ... We fought with it and didn't do that great a job in the early years of the Clinton administration. It is not like someone has the holy grail of how to do this."
To be honest, Carville's new advice isn't bad, even though it comes couched in a sports metaphor:
One of my favorite aspects of basketball is good passing. When one of these athletes grabs a rebound, he doesn’t pass the ball to where his teammates are at the time, but rather to where they going to be down the floor. Well, the same is true for political strategy. Democratic strategists and operatives should not design a strategy based off today’s conditions. They should be setting a strategy for where the trajectory of polling is headed. You have to lead your teammate.
If that guard trips and falls, the lead pass doesn’t matter, and if the political conditions don’t improve we will be doomed anyways.
This is not a bad way of coping with the electoral realities that rather clearly portend a miserable year at the polls for Democrats. Everything's set to go wrong? May as well allow yourself to be liberated by it. At the very least, Democrats would be well-served to robustly defend the Affordable Care Act -- and more importantly, the principles of getting affordable health care into the hands of those who need it most. Especially if they've already signed their name to the bill.
Kevin Drum, noting the reluctance of Democrats to counter attacks on Obamacare for fear of being "tainted" by it, put it pretty well earlier this week:
Democrats are going to be in a world of hurt this year if they keep this up. There's no running from Obamacare. There just isn't. If they want to win, they'd better emerge from their fetal crouch and start fighting back. Nobody likes candidates who won't stand up and defend their own party's achievements.
Like I said before, no one should be under any illusions that the fundamentals don't favor the GOP in this election cycle. But to quote one inspirational American, "I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part."
It sure beats the "please GOP don't hurt me" strategy.
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