Obama’s best hope: Di­vide and con­quer

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The New York 26th Con­gres­sional District race is an im­por­tant cau­tion­ary tale for Repub­li­cans. Party di­vi­sions helped throw a nor­mally safe seat to the Democrats, and you can be sure the White House is tak­ing notes.

Demo­crat Kathy Hochul won a plu­ral­ity vic­tory for the usu­ally safe Repub­li­can seat with 47 per­cent of the vote. Repub­li­can Jane Cor­win, the pre­sump­tive fa­vorite, gar­nered 43 per­cent, and Obama-sup­porter-turned-Tea-Party-can­di­date Jack Davis played the spoiler, tak­ing 9 per­cent. Had unity pre­vailed, the GOP could have eked out a win. Con­ser­va­tives who aban­doned Mrs. Cor­win for Mr. Davis should re­mem­ber the words of Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son: “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.”

The race was rem­i­nis­cent of the dis­as­trous split in New York’s 23rd Con­gres­sional District in Novem­ber 2009, though in that case it was the “party reg- ular” who up­set the cart. State Assem­bly­woman Dier­dre Scoz­zafava, who was se­lected to run for the seat, was roundly re­jected by most Repub­li­cans in fa­vor of Con­ser­va­tive Party can­di­date Doug Hoff­man. Ms. Scoz­zafava’s poll num­bers were so dis­mal she ul­ti­mately with­drew from the race but spite­fully threw her sup­port to Demo­crat Bill Owens, who won with just 48 per­cent of the vote.

The divi­sion dy­namic can hurt Democrats as well. In May 2010, Repub­li­can Charles Djou took Hawaii’s his­tor­i­cally Demo­cratic 1st Con­gres­sional District with a mere 39.4 per­cent of the vote, hav­ing faced two Demo­cratic can­di­dates deeply di­vided on ide­o­log­i­cal and per­sonal grounds. How­ever, the ten­dency to split is cur­rently stronger on the right be­cause the Repub­li­can big tent is larger and more di­verse, mod­er­ate Democrats be­ing nearly ex­tinct.

The 2010 Repub­li­can midterm con­gres­sional tsunami didn’t suf­fer from the same de­gree of divi­sion be­cause of the num­ber of races in­volved. It had some­thing for ev­ery­one — main­line Repub­li­cans, Tea Par­ty­ers and non­par­ti­san mod­er­ates who sim­ply had seen enough from the dis­as­trous Pelosi Congress. There were suf­fi­ciently var­ied can­di­dates to en­er­gize all seg­ments of the party, and enough wins to take over the House, some­thing unimag­in­able in early 2009.

NY-26 should be a wake-up call to Repub­li­cans go­ing into the 2012 elec­tion sea­son at both the con­gres­sional and pres­i­den­tial level.

At this point, it’s un­clear which Repub­li­can can­di­dates for pres­i­dent will be able to unite the party’s var­i­ous tribes, but it’s cer­tain that the eas­i­est way for Pres­i­dent Obama to win re-elec­tion is to di­vide the op­po­si­tion.

Dis­unity played a key role in de­ter­min­ing the elec­toral for­tunes of the three men who pre­ceded him in the White House.

In 1992, Bill Clin­ton un­seated Presi- dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush with just 43 per­cent of the vote, aided by Ross Perot’s protest can­di­dacy. Had Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore re­ceived only a frac­tion of the more than 97,000 votes Green Party can­di­date Ralph Nader gar­nered in Florida in 2000, he would have won a re­count­proof vic­tory in the state, and thus the pres­i­dency.

The Repub­li­can field is large and ex­pand­ing and will re­main so un­til the win­now­ing process be­gins early next year. Then party mem­bers will be­gin to make that se­ries of pri­mary-sea­son com­pro­mises in which to­day’s bit­ter op­po­nent be­comes to­mor­row’s can­di­date of choice.

Democrats will go out of their way to high­light cleav­ages on the right, hop­ing to en­cour­age some form of for­mal split that will hand Mr. Obama a sec­ond term.

In the end, it will come down to whether — to para­phrase Ben­jamin Franklin — the GOP’s fac­tions would rather hang to­gether or hang sep­a­rately.

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