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Thinking About NY 26

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Among the many hilarious reactions to NY-26, my favorite is Martin Frost’s, posted at Politico’s The Arena:

Plan worked like a charm. Special elections often don’t mean much but this one does because of the message it sends on a big issue. GOP is now in full retreat. The House is in play.

For those of you who don’t remember –and that will be most of you– Frost managed to lose in two different congressional districts in Texas, so following his assessments of electoral tides will end the Dems up on the sandbar. “THe House is in play” is absurd, almost beyond belief, but if Democrats want to believe that, great.

The dangers of a false positive in politics are the same as in medicine. The depth of concern over the fiscal crisis and the growth of government that birthed the Tea Party and the tidal wave of 2010 is still there, and the blowback against Newt for his criticism of Paul Ryan is much more an indication of where the base is and thus where the GOP needs to be than the results out of a three way race with a deep pocketed lefty eccentric running on a Tea Party platform. Philip Klein’s caution is very useful, and I will try to get the Jedi master of all numbers Michael Barone on today’s show for the one assessment that really matters.

What is very useful to study is how did the GOP communicate about the race both within and outside of the district over the past month. Did you see the Speaker or the House Leader on air talking about the race or Medicare or the budget in recent weeks? Have you heard the Speaker or the House Leader on any of the national talk shows underscoring the importance of the House budget or the nature of the impending fiscal crisis, on how all of Medicare is imperiled if it isn’t reformed and soon? Has the House leadership, except for Paul Ryan, in essence vanished from the national stage leaving no sign of the strategy heading into the summer or a clear articulation of what the House GOP stands for?

Has the House leadership allowed the Dems and their pals in the MSM define the debate over Medicare?

The House GOP caucus seems to have dissolved overnight into, well, I am not sure what. There isn’t any message management at all as far as I can tell, and contrasted with the disciplined message machine being run out of Leader McConnell’s senate staff, the House looks worse still.

Ask yourself: What major hearings have there been to focus attention on the GOP agenda? What key floor exchanges have made it into your consciousness? What is the specific demand the Speaker has made on the president in the context of the debt ceiling? Has anyone other than Ryan tried to pound home the desperate fiscal situation facing Medicare specifically and the federal budget generally?

On this latter question there is an answer from the Speaker on the debt ceiling: A dollar of spending reduction for each dollar of debt limit raise, but without a time schedule for the cuts, that is at best a half a demand. The Speaker and the Leader have gone for the inside game, just as happened with the CR, and closed negotiations and inside games leave the base behind and wholly unenthused.

The loss in upstate New York doesn’t mean anything about 2012, but it tells us alot about May, 2011. The House GOP has lost momentum and the party energy as a result because the House leadership simply refuses to outline an agenda or engage in the enormously important debate before it by asking the grassroots to stay involved. The base could still rally behind an agenda, but NY 26 is the latest sign that the House leadership has decided to sit on its lead and play a waiting game until 2013. Lots of freshmen will lose their seats as a result and the GOP majority will shrink though it probably won’t disappear given the depth of disgust with the Pelosi era and the massive fiscal cliff on which we are dancing.

But the opportunity to reshape the debate for a generation and guarantee a sweeping win in 2012 is being frittered away by passive, inside-the Beltway tactics.

If the GOP believes in its budget, it has to fight for it, explaining it every day and from every available platform. It needs story lines and hearings that back up that story, and it needs its number one and number two out in the conservative media enocouraging and inspiring the voters it needs to stay engaged and in the fray. Going turtle guarantees no progress will be made and some more losses will accumulate.



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