Democratic Message: We May Be Incompetent, But They're Crazy

Only in meta-ville do you hold a press conference to announce a campaign message for the fall. Today, the Democratic Party asked reporters to come over to their Ivy Lane headquarters to listen to the party chairman describe how the central collective plans to "define" Republicans heading into the midterm elections. "Define" is one of those meta-ville words, too, like "paint." When I hear strategists use these terms, I often picture a Democrat and a Republican locked in a room, pointing at each other and shouting: "You're an idiot." "No, you are!" Or, alternatively, they're spray-painting slogans on each other.

Good party messages are organic, and they are not announced. Fortunately for Democrats, theirs just sort of came along, thanks to the Tea Party movement, which has invited into politics hecklers and cranks and fairly fringe candidates who are currently hurting the Republican Party in several key states. Oh, but the Tea Party is an organic movement of conservative men and women who will feel insulted if the Democrats cast them as crazy and lumps them together with Republicans, right? Nah. These people are perpetually offended by the Democratic Party.

The Democratic strategy in a nutshell is small enough to fit in one but has the protein of a good, tasty nut. The Republicans want to be mayors of crazy-town. They've embraced a fringe and proto-racist isolationist and ignorant conservative populism that has no solutions for fixing anything and the collective intelligence of a wine flask. This IS offensive and over the top, and the more Democrats repeat it, and the more dumb things some Republican candidates do, the more generally conservative voters who might be thinking of sending a message to Democrats by voting for a Republican will be reminded that the replacement party is even more loony than the party that can't tie its shoes. This is a strategy of delegitimization, not affirmation. It is how you reduce independent turnout. It's how you fundraise for your own party.

A corollary: the House is not going to save itself for Democrats. Let's stipulate that House Democrats have passed a lot of legislation. It's too late to convince voters that all of it was good. So selling is not going to work. If you've already decided not to buy an Acura, you're not going to be convinced just because James Spader's melifluous voice tells you that it's the right thing to do. Decision science suggests that the only avenue available to Democrats is to prevent people from making the OTHER choice, too.

It's not pretty, but it might work.

BTW: If President Obama is able to increase his approval rating by five or six points nationally, he can probably save the House for Democrats.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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