Wednesday, August 09, 2006


The Jacob Javits "Center"?

When isn't it over -- even though it seems to be over? When there's the third party option!

Lieberman, ironically wants to launch a third party effort, because Tuesday's result is out of step from where he believes the political world is:

"I am, of course, disappointed by the results, but I am not discouraged," Lieberman said. "I'm disappointed not just because I lost but because the old politics of partisan polarization won today. For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand."
But is it possible that Lieberman is not merely out of step with his party, but with the political times as well?

Brendan Miniter notes, the old politics is in fact the bipartisanship/ triangulation that reigned in the '90s:

Of course, this is President Bush's fault. In the past three election cycles--in 2000, 2002 and most notably for his re-election in 2004--the president put the Republicans on top by running a get-out-the-vote campaign. In 2004 Mr. Bush even managed to win with a record turnout, proving to both political parties that getting their voters to the polls was more important than winning over supporters of the other party. By freeing the parties from hunting for votes across the aisle, Mr. Bush has inadvertently increased both the power and the stature of the most active wings of the two parties. Ironically for Mr. Bush, the net result is the rise in recent years of antiwar activists on the left and anti-illegal-immigrant activists on the right--neither of which serves his political goals.

Nonetheless in the coming years we're likely to see more of the brand of politics practiced by the Club for Growth: political groups targeting members of their own party who stray too close to the political center. For the club that has meant funding conservative challengers to tax-hiking Republicans, such as Rhode Island's Sen. Lincoln Chafee. For Mr. Lieberman, it means facing a credible, self-financed antiwar candidate in Mr. Lamont.
So, actually, polarization is in. Indeed, Lieberman made something of a comeback in the late days of the campaign by emphasizing his differences with Bush -- as opposed to his agreements. However, returning to a "bipartisan" sensibility in the general election may backfire big-time. The Republicans may note how much of an old Democrat Lieberman really is -- and the Democrats may conclude that Lamont is the "real" Democrat now.

Indeed, if anything, Lieberman's decision reminds this New Yorker of another venerable Jewish moderate senator who was rejected in an intense, bitter, primary, then ran on a third-party line -- only to lose in the general election as well.

The year was 1980 and the candidate was
Jacob Javits -- a liberal Republican. He ended up losing a three-way race to Alfonse D'Amato -- who would most likely have lost to Democratic Party nominee Elizabeth Holztman were Javits not in the race to siphon off votes on the Liberal Party line.

What will happen in Connecticut?

Good question. Republican Alan Schlesinger -- a guy with
serious gambling issues -- isn't exactly an ideal candidate, so it's unlikely that he will win on his own. But, the GOP certainly has to make a decision as to whether they should try to eke out a win or have their voters support Lieberman.

On the other hand, there's nothing to say that, with all Democratic organizational support in Connecticut now fully swinging over to Ned Lamont, it is quite possible that Lieberman might end up like Jacob Javits -- in third place.

(Another option -- that Connecticut Republicans convince Schlesinger to drop out and endorse Lieberman as their preferred candidate. During the primary campaign,
Lieberman ruled out accepting the Republican endorsement. But now?)

As much as the incumbent senator believes in the concept of "Team Lieberman" to keep him in his seat, he should realize that 48 percent is his peak among Democrats. Many of those who voted for him in the primary may feel that he is nothing more than a, um, "Sore Loserman" and refuse to support him in general election.

Still even if he only gets 25-30 percent of Democrats, he may still be able to cobble together enough votes for a plurality.

Then again, perhaps Jacob Javits thought the same thing twenty-six years ago.

UPDATE: A veteran of New York state politics writes in:

Agreed, Robert, but there are differences. Javits had long been at war with the Conservatives and, after Jim Buckley lost in 1976, Javits' defeat was priority No. 1 for the Conservative Party. Javits was also very sick with ALS. Conservatives were energized with Reagan on the national ticket. Serious people were saying that Javits was finished long before the primary. Here, Lamont put together his own organization from scratch and came out of nowhere in the last month. Interestingly, I saw one item on NRO (I don't remember which) that pointed out that Lamont does not appear to have spent his money wastefully -- so perhaps he really is a competent businessman and was able to use some of those skills in running a campaign.

It is very difficult to predict how the 11% that stayed with Javits [in the general election] would have split if they had to. NY Times polls had Holtzman up significantly on D'Amato and Javits running around 20%, while less crooked polls had D'Amato up narrowly but also Javits with 20%. So my recollection is that the Javits vote that melted away didn't go overwhelmingly to Holtzman. Even then, Holtzman's abrasive personality did not play well outside of the City.

The Republicans have themselves a first class mess in that their candidate, as you point out, is a disaster...Perhaps he and Jack Abramoff can compare notes on how to deal with Native Americans. Schlesinger has too big an ego to withdraw and it would be even worse if he did and the Republicans nominated Lieberman since Lieberman makes Lincoln Chafee look like Tom Coburn.
UPDATE II: Since this is Kos' day to crow, let him chalk up the post-CT "winners & losers." I would also caution my conservative friends eager to mock the Kossacks for their lengthy (now-broken) losing endorsement losing streak. Don't forget a certain liberal loud-mouth who had a lengthy losing streak in managing campaigns until he broke through twenty years ago. A few years later, he managed to get Bill Clinton elected president.

UPDATE III: My New York pal Jonathan Funke (can there be a cooler name?) on his recently revived blog, has a couple of insights on last night's events. Of particular note, is the slightly-overlooked loss (in comparison to the Lieberman and McKinney stories) of Michigan moderate Republican incumbent Rep. Joe Schwartz to state rep. Tim Walberg, who was backed by the Club for Growth. This could be evidence of a growing anti-incumbent wave -- which could adversely affect Republicans come November. At the same time, this also speaks to Brendan Miniter's point noted above: Right now, one wonders whether the center can hold. The bases of both parties seem intent on exerting greater ideological purity among party standard-bearers. (Corrected to reflect Schwartz's home state.)

UPDATE IV: If true, I can't imagine Lieberman seeing this as being helpful.

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