Some thoughts on last night's primaries, and the big bout in November:
The Democrats might not do that poorly in November. Not at all, in fact.
I have always argued that in order to win big -- win at all in this case -- you have to do things right, and your opponent has to do a piss poor job. If you look at the four great presidential landslides of the twentieth century -- Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 -- in all these cases, the winner was a shoo-in, would have won no matter who they were running against. What put them into the stratosphere, however, what gave them historic numbers, was that each of these figures faced terrible, weak opponents that year, handing over the election on a platter.
In a normal year like this one, dumb opposition can be lethal. Take a candidate who is on the margin, with significant vulnerabilities, and have them run against a loopy opponent, and you suddenly have a winning ticket.
Thus, this year the Republicans have the possibility of historic gains, similar to 1994, when they took back the House. There is growing frustration among the voters: the oil spill keeps going, deficit numbers are rising, and above all, the new jobs are coming much too slowly.
In a fair world, it would be hard to blame the current administration for these problems. The jobs are gradually returning, and a deuce of a lot faster than if the Republicans and cost cutters were in charge, with no stimulus money.
An even better example is what is happening in the Gulf. I hate the oil spill, but I think both government and business are doing whatever they can to deal with it; in both cases, it's in their vested interest to do so. But Americans don't like failures; we're winners dammit. We can do anything, go anywhere. When it turns out we can't actually blow up the asteroid in a Bruce Willis movie, there is hell to pay. It doesn't matter if the spill proves that we have lost control of drilling technology, that we're moving too fast, without controls; we don't want to hear that. Frustration, blind frustration, could be a big winner this November if it's not handled right. Just ask Jimmy Carter.
But I don't think it will turn out that way. Vulnerable as the Democrats are, the Republicans are blowing it by running the descendants of Alf Landon, or more appropriately, of Barry Goldwater.
The Republicans think the Tea Party is the wave of their future, and they're hitching up their wagon. But polls show that these insurgents are noisy but marginal, far right and out of step with mainstream America's views. The GOP wants to be America's party, but they're doing everything they can to deny themselves that mantle.
Take Nevada, for example. Harry Reid, the sitting U.S. Senator, is up for reelection, and his poll numbers are not strong. A mainstream fiscal conservative could probably take him.
So who do the Republicans nominate? For a while the leading candidate was Susan Lowden, who claimed we could solve our health care problems by adopting a barter system to pay hospitals and doctors. I wonder how many chickens a chemo treatment would cost.
But it looks like she will lose to Sharron Angle, supported by the Tea Party. Angle has some interesting views, like wanting to get rid of Social Security. If I recall correctly, Nevada has a lot of senior citizens, doesn't it? Angle also doesn't like the use of alcohol. While she does not want to bring back Prohibition, I doubt that position will go over well in Reno. Reid is suddenly viable again.
All this leads to the next point, that politicians have not entered the electronic age. It used to be you could say something outrageous, build up a fan base, then move past it. If you made enough noise in the next round, no one remembered the earlier oratory.
Now, however, everything is captured electronically, and reclaimed by reporters, or their research staffs. Just ask Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut, or Mark Kirk in Illinois.
This is particularly relevant to political campaigns this year. The old wisdom was you tack to the fringe to win the primary, then move to the center for the general election. That's what the Republicans are trying to do with a lot of their candidates.
That tactic worked for over a century, but it can't catch fire in the digital age. The old, marginal campaign pronouncements will be brought up over and over, played for eternity on YouTube. The Republicans, in many cases, have boxed themselves into a lot of corners. Which brings us to my next point:
The Republicans will lose the California Senate race, after a long, nasty, ridiculously expensive fight. Carly Fiorina captured the Republican nomination for this office, and despite all her riches, she won't win.
The problem with the Grand Old Party in this state is they would rather be ideologically pure than carry elections. And that is a failing formula, in a state where your voters are in the minority. A Republican could win easily in the Golden State's general election, but that kind of candidate would never win the party primary, never even get the nomination. Just ask Arnold Schwatzenegger, who got elected in a unique open election, knowing he could never get the party's approval in a closed process. That kind of opportunity doesn't come along often, and none is in sight this year.
Fiorina won the nomination, and with her money, is a formidable candidate. But Boxer is no weakling either, and also has a cash box saved up. Even better, Fiorina has taken positions badly out of step with voters. To use one example, she is opposed to abortion rights. In a state like this, that is a powerful tool to put in Senator Boxer's hands; I assume she will make good use of it.
And finally. Near El Paso, Texas, Border Patrol officers were rounding up some individuals for possibly entering the country illegally. One of the young men, a fifteen year old, threw some rocks at the officers. Stupid move; it generally pays not to throw stones at people armed with guns.
For his stupidity, they shot and killed him. In 2008 the number of Mexicans hurt or killed by immigration authorities was five; there have been seventeen such cases already this year.
Maybe we're looking at the wrong story.