Operation Hilarity: who gets the last laugh?

The Thinker by Rodin

Two Republican primaries are underway tonight, in Michigan and Arizona. In the Michigan primary, the law allows Democrats to vote in the Republican primary. This has inspired Operation Hilarity, a campaign by Markos Moulitsas (owner of the popular liberal Daily Kos website) to encourage Michigan Democrats to vote in the primary for Rick Santorum. The theory is that if Santorum wins the primary, it will keep the nomination process from coming to closure, and maybe lead to a brokered convention. According to Kos (Markos’s handle), even if Santorum ends up nominated by his party, by being so extreme he positions Obama and the Democrats in general to win even bigger in elections this November.

At least at first blush, it is hard to dismiss Kos’s logic. Every day Santorum gets weirder and weirder, which I thought was impossible. He seems to be anti-birth control, or at least anti the government requiring insurers to cover birth control. He thinks separation of church and state means religions can do whatever they want, particularly in the governmental arena, while the government can do nothing to constrain religion, and said President Kennedy’s defense of the strict separation of church and state made him want to throw up. He chastised President Obama because he wants all Americans to get a college education. Of course he is anti-gay and anti-gay marriage. Perhaps weirdest and scariest of all, he chastises President Obama for believing in global warming and defiantly says that the Bible gives us permission to use the earth for our benefit, not for the Earth’s.

The Operation Hilarity theory goes that the more outside the mainstream the Republican candidate is, the less likely he is to get elected if nominated. However, what if Santorum were nominated and then elected? Would this a better outcome than if Mitt Romney were nominated and elected? Or, for that matter, would it be better than if Gingrich or Ron Paul were elected?

It could happen. No one knows how Americans will vote, and all sorts of events are possible between now and Election Day that could change the dynamics of the election. We could go back into a recession, which seems to be happening in Europe. Unemployment could rise as a result. By most yardsticks, the challenger should win this election anyhow, as the unemployment rate is likely to be higher on Election Day than it was when Obama took office. The worse the economy gets, the more likely voters are to vote the incumbent out on the theory that, however bad the alternative, he could not do worse. It certainly happened in 1932. Roosevelt won the election handily. He had not even then come up with the idea of The New Deal. He won because he was not Herbert Hoover and fairly or not the country held Hoover to blame for the depression.

In that case, I would surely prefer a Mitt Romney in the Oval Office than Rick Santorum. This is because Mitt Romney is sane and Rick Santorum is bat-shit crazy. Mitt Romney is inconsistent because he is trying to get elected but his track record shows he governs as a fairly moderate Republican. Rick Santorum is consistent because that’s who he is: an ultra conservative. And an ultra conservative is by definition crazy. I would not like Mitt Romney as my president, but I expect he could usually make the right decision where it mattered most, like in matters of national security. Rick Santorum is far battier than even Barry Goldwater was in 1964. I sure don’t want to be responsible, even indirectly, for letting this clown get his hands on our nuclear trigger.

My chance for a little hilarity is coming up next Tuesday. Virginia is having a Republican primary on March 6. No one registers by party in this state, so anyone is free to vote in either primary. However, you can only vote in one of the primaries, not both. (Republicans would like me to sign a pledge that I would vote for the Republican candidate in the election if I vote in their primary. It has been ruled unenforceable.) So I could participate in the Republican Primary on March 6th, and vote for Rick Santorum. After all, there sure won’t be any real competition in the Democratic primary this year.

While I acknowledge that voting for Santorum would likely help Democrats more than it would Republicans, it’s not a chance I am willing to take. So I will skip voting in the primary altogether, which will doubtlessly please Virginia Republicans. But if I had to vote, I’d have to vote for the only sane one in the bunch and vote for Mitt Romney. Literally, my existence might depend on it.

To those Democrats considering voting for Santorum, just say no or the joke could be on all of us.

Addendum 3/16/11. I forgot that Virginia has very burdensome procedures for getting into Republican primaries. Only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul qualified, so I would not have been able to vote for Rick Santorum. However, a vote for Ron Paul would be only slightly less bad than voting for Rick Santorum, simply because Ron Paul has no chance of winning the nomination.

The wrath of Kos

The Thinker by Rodin

Four years ago, I warned about The Power of Kos. Most people who pay attention to politics know who Kos is. Kos (pronounced “Kohs”) is a nickname for Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the original creator of the phenomenally successful political blog site, Daily Kos. While many were responsible for the rise of the political blogosphere, arguably Kos is its chief spokesman and ringmaster. In fact, I expect that on November 5th, the Washington establishment will wake up to realize that Markos Moulitsas Zúniga is the new Karl Rove. President Obama will be one of a host of politicians that will be anxious to stay in Kos’s favor.

Election Day is still three days away but from all the early voting going on it doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out which way this election is going to go. Democrats are going to win and win big. It will resemble the 1974 election, in which Democrats benefited disproportionately by voters in a sour mood over Watergate. In that election, Democrats picked up 49 house seats and 3 senate seats. This time Democrats are unlikely to pick up 49 seats. Most political experts expect a 20-25 seat gain. My intuition tells me it will be thirty or more House and 8-9 Senate seats. On the other hand, in the 1972 election, Democrats lost 13 House seats, while in the 2006 election Democrats picked up 31 House seats. The impact of the 2006 and 2008 elections combined is likely to be much larger than the impact of the 1972 and 1974 elections combined.

There is a difference though between winning and winning big. Winning big reflects two factors. The first factor is a generally high disgruntlement with the ruling party. While Democrats currently control the House, in effect no one controls the Senate, which has had the predictable effect of gridlock. The second factor is focus and organization. While certainly the Democratic congressional and senatorial campaign committees have had more money than usual this cycle, the progressive blogosphere, overseen by ringmaster Kos, will in hindsight be seen as instrumental in the upcoming Democratic surge.

Kos is one of the founding members of ActBlue, a grassroots Internet-driven fundraising organization that focuses on progressive candidates. ActBlue is proof that the Netroots have real power. Since 2004, ActBlue has raised over $81 million dollars for progressive candidates. More recently, Kos created Orange to Blue, which allows the Daily Kos community to give directly to candidates that Kos recommends. Currently Kos’s Orange to Blue initiative has raised $2.3 million dollars from about 24,000 individual donors.

What Kos and his community do is help tip the balance in close races. They pay special attention to lowly House races that rarely get the attention they should from the DCCC. Orange to Blue acts like a shot of adrenaline to a lackluster progressive campaign that nonetheless has a compelling candidate. The funds that it provides allow the candidate to get its message out in a larger way. In 2006, the blogosphere was arguably instrumental in the election of Senators Webb and Tester to the Senate. Arguably, without its support the Senate would not have turned blue in 2006.

2006 was just a warm up for 2008. It is hard to say exactly which candidates will win this time around because of fundraising through the progressive blogosphere. If Al Franken wins the Minnesota Senate seat, Orange to Blue can take at least partial credit for the victory. If you want to see how much power Kos actually leverages Tuesday night, check out whether Ronnie Musgrove wins the Senate race in deep red Mississippi. Also, check the results in House races where Republican incumbents are favored but their Democratic challengers are within the realm of possibly defeating them. These include Bob Lord, running against John Shadegg in AZ-03, Gary Trauner who is trying to win Dick Cheney’s old house seat in very conservative Wyoming, and Darcy Burner in WA-08. If these seats flip to the Democrats, the extra fundraising push from ActBlue and Orange to Blue are probably responsible.

Kos is of course an unusually politically savvy individual. What makes him especially valuable is that he is ruthlessly pragmatic. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, for example, is hardly the sort of liberal senator that many progressives would have preferred. Nevertheless, he was right on enough issues and more importantly electable to the voters of Virginia for the blogosphere to help fund his campaign. Kos is also a very high energy individual, fast on his feet, focused and relentless. He knows how to get his readers to open their wallets.

The liberal blogosphere wants to donate to worthwhile candidates. Most of us though do not have time to independently examine all the potential candidates and their positions. However, we do trust Kos’s judgment, particularly since he demonstrated his instincts were sound in the 2006 election. This makes giving to Kos’s preferred candidates a good bet.

I think it is interesting that Karl Rove and Kos have dueling columns in Newsweek. The choices are quite appropriate. For many years, Rove has been the Republican’s ringmaster. Kos (whom many in the Democratic Party still look down on as a lowly blogger) is now arguably the Democrats’ ringmaster. Both are the brains behind their party’s successes. Rove’s star is fading and is likely to diminish altogether after this election. As for Kos, his star is likely to soar into the stratosphere.

I have been known to be unduly optimistic, yet I expect the Republican Party is going to wake up on November 5th and realize they have been run over by a truck. The size of the early voting going on in so many states indicates unusual interest in this election. The only question is which way the election will tip. On the House and Senate side, unquestionably it will tip toward the Democrats. On the presidential side, barring some last minute news event that is hard to fathom, I do not see how Obama can possibly lose. I expect he will get at least 350 electoral votes and a majority of the popular vote.

Voters are screwed and angry. An extraordinary vengeance against those whose monumental misjudgments caused so many calamities these last eight years is about to be unleashed. Whipped up in part by ringmasters like Kos, my feeling is that this election will be a blowout for progressives. It will leave the bean counters wondering how they missed the size of this surge. If it happens as I expect, I will give most of the credit to the brilliant Markos Moulitsas Zúniga.