The folkways of Washington often seem strange to outsiders, but it’s hard to imagine anything stranger than the question that’s currently getting serious (but very quiet) consideration from political insiders this fall: Would it be better to lose November’s elections than to win them?
“The best scenario for us is to pick up anywhere from ten to fourteen House seats and three to four in the Senate,” just short of a majority in each case, says a top adviser to one of the leading 2008 Democratic presidential candidates. A loss this year “would focus Republicans’ minds and missions in tremendously helpful ways for 2008,” suggests a GOP strategist with ties to the Bush administration.
In the Machiavellian plotting of political Washington, next month’s elections are merely a prelude to the main event two years from now. And some of the best avenues to winning the White House in 2008 involve losing in 2006. Here’s a quick primer.
Avoid the illusion of power. No matter who wins in November, the next majority in each chamber is likely to be very narrow, and a bare majority is often the worst possible outcome from a partisan standpoint. “If we hold on to both houses narrowly,” says the GOP strategist Tony Fabrizio, “we maintain the illusion of power and control, but actually have none … We can’t really get anything done, but will get blamed for all the problems.” But if the Democrats win, Fabrizio contends, they’ll bear some responsibility for government actions, which “will make it easier for several GOP candidates to run as ‘outsiders’” in 2008—the preferred path to the White House—“without having to take on the entire GOP establishment.”