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The Right Pols for the Right Jobs

The New York Times compares the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mitch McConnell “brands” of Republicanism. The former, a Democratic-lite, hasn’t panned out well. As to the latter, McConnell is holding his caucus together and earning kudos from the base for opposing Obama’s ultraliberal agenda. The Times notes:

Inside the Capitol, Mr. McConnell has a different Republican message: stick together in resisting Mr. Obama’s ambition.

“We have an example, in my view, of not doing it right, and that was the hurry-up job on the stimulus,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview. “They said we had to get it done almost immediately. If we didn’t do it, unemployment would go over 8 percent. We did do it; unemployment is now going to go over 10 percent.”

He continued, “And the assumption that doing health care is going to help the economy, which the president’s been selling, is utter nonsense.”

That message gains traction with every new caution from the Congressional Budget Office, every tick up in unemployment, every slip in Mr. Obama’s approval ratings. It emboldens a cadre of Senate Republicans — including Senators Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine — in their protracted negotiations with the Finance Committee chairman, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, on a possible compromise.

“I view them as somewhat like agents of the rest of our conference,” Mr. McConnell said. “They don’t want to be part of an agreement that doesn’t have widespread support among Republican senators.”

Now, to some degree the comparison is unfair (and not simply because California is falling off the fiscal cliff). McConnell would likely not win office in California, and the jobs of governors in liberal-leaning states are fundamentally different from the Senate minority leader’s job. So McConnell-ism won’t work everywhere. But it doesn’t have to.

This is seen as the mistake that pundits and Republican strategists continually make. They search for a single model of success, the key to unlocking the Republicans’ political fortunes. But there is no such silver bullet. Before being the less-than-successful chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel was the very successful congressional recruiter for the Democrats who, along with Sen. Chuck Schumer, found just the right candidates with just the right message in diverse states and congressional districts to deliver a majority. (Yes, that diversity in the Democratic caucus is bedeviling them now but only because the president has chosen to defer to the far Left of the caucus rather than aim down the middle.)

The lesson here is not that there is a single formula for political success. It is that capable people who understand their role and their electorate are essential to building successful political parties. McConnell has mastered his job; Arnold, not at all. One-size-fits-all politics rarely works. We’ll see in 2010 which party has better internalized this lesson.



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