In the end, Jimmy McMillan, the viral Internet sensation as the head of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, scored fewer than 40,000 votes; had it hit 50,000, it would have automatically been on the ballot in the next election. The troubling news from New York state is that the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, went out with a concession speech for which the word “psychotic” would seem to be an understatement. He was more than a disaster; Paladino was an enormous drag at the top of the ticket, losing by nearly 28 points and in doing so, embarrassing himself and his party so much that good GOP candidates like Randy Altschuler in Suffolk County went down to defeat when they really ought to have won.
Topic: Carl Paladino
Obama has done what was seemingly impossible — he has lost David Brooks and made him into a scathing critic of the Democrats’ delusional thinking. A sample:
Over the past year, many Democrats have resolutely paid attention to those things that make them feel good, and they have carefully filtered out those negative things that make them feel sad.
For example, Democrats and their media enablers have paid lavish attention to Christine O’Donnell and Carl Paladino, even though these two Republican candidates have almost no chance of winning. That’s because it feels so delicious to feel superior to opponents you consider to be feeble-minded wackos.
On the whole “foreign money killed us” hooey, Brooks is merciless:
They see this campaign as a poetic confrontation between good (themselves) and pure evil (Karl Rove and his group, American Crossroads).
As Nancy Pelosi put it at a $50,000-a-couple fund-raiser, “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”
Even allowing the menace of secret money, embracing this Paradise Lost epic means obscuring a few inconvenient facts: that Democrats were happy to benefit from millions of anonymous dollars in 2006, 2008 and today; that the spending by Rove’s group amounts to less than 1 percent of the total money spent on campaigns this year; that Democrats retain an overall spending advantage.
But legend rises above mere facticity, and this Lancelots-of-the-Left tale underlines a self-affirming message — that Democrats are engaged in a righteous crusade against the dark villain who tricked Americans into voting against John Kerry.
Oh, and they were always behind, and for nearly a year the American people have been screaming that they didn’t like the Democrats’ agenda.
Brooks is right that the blame-everyone-but-themselves phenomenon is a bit cringe-inducing. (“Get a bottle of vodka and read Peter Baker’s article ‘The Education of President Obama’ from The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Take a shot every time a White House official is quoted blaming Republicans for the Democrats’ political plight. You’ll be unconscious by page three.”)
Brooks aptly discusses the phenomenon but not the causes and contributors to this hear-no-danger/see-no-danger modus operandi. It is in large part a manifestation of the president’s own self-regard, a distorted sense of his own ability to mold events, and a conviction that garden-variety leftism in an appealing package = blinding wisdom.
But there is something else at work here. There is an endless loop of self-reinforcing fantasy that goes on among academics, pundits, “news” reporters, and elected Democrats. They feed each other’s prejudices (e.g., Tea Partiers are racists) and affirm one another’s erroneous judgments (Americans will learn to love ObamaCare). By minimizing or ignoring the administrations’ failures or misdeeds (the New Black Panther Party scandal, the abusive use of czars and recess appointments), the media and liberal interest groups contribute to a heady sense of infallibility. “No one cares about this stuff,” concludes the already puffed-up White House aides. “We can do whatever we want,” they tell their colleagues.
And most of all, they agree that those who do report bad news (e.g., Fox) or who do object to harebrained ideas (support for the Ground Zero mosque) are irrational or bigoted — maybe both. It’s always possible that the White House will finally learn the right lessons from the upcoming midterm wipeout. But perhaps it is also time for the liberal echo chamber to consider whether it is doing more harm than good to its own cause.
Democrats are, as Jennifer noted, rapidly coming to understand that the proportions of the Republican wave this fall may turn out to swamp not only incumbents in competitive districts but also those once thought safe. Voters have had enough of taxes and spending and deficits and are profoundly dissatisfied with the Obama administration. But even in the midst of what may prove to be an unprecedented midterm tsunami, there are races that will prove that no matter how angry voters may be, there are limits to what they will accept from insurgents seeking their votes.
One obvious example is the unelectable Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. But as frustrating as that lost opportunity for a Senate seat may be for the national GOP, the spectacle of their party’s New York gubernatorial nominee is even more embarrassing.
Carl Paladino won the New York GOP primary over Rick Lazio because he presented a well-funded alternative to a retread that had no pulse and no chance to tap into the vein of voter anger that has generated the Tea Party revolution. Paladino’s bull-in-the-china-shop personality seemed perfectly suited to the 2010 election. The thinking here was that if he could sustain his momentum with attacks on his liberal-establishment opponent in Andrew Cuomo, it was just possible that the real estate mogul could make this Blue State competitive. And some polls taken in September showed that this might be happening.
Yet what this races teaches is that it even angry voters are unprepared to elect a man who is not cool under fire and devoid of judgment as well as what Main Street America used to consider common decency. With the media spotlight shining on him in the aftermath of his stunning primary victory and polls showing him to be closing the gap with Cuomo, Paladino quickly came undone. Reacting to the coverage of the revelations about his fathering an out-of-wedlock child (not all of which was unsympathetic, as the candidate’s wife was trotted out to defend her husband and the notion of a blended, if unorthodox, family group), the nominee physically threatened a reporter and then began to make unsubstantiated charges about his opponent’s personal life. While trying to pose as the victim of a prurient media, he engaged in personal slanders that made the coverage of his own life look tame. Then he used a speech before an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Brooklyn to make remarks that went beyond opposition to gay marriage and were easily construed as homophobic.
Paladino defends himself as a man who doesn’t bother with political correctness. But the pattern of his behavior in the past few weeks is more of an out-of-control blowhard who has no respect for anyone or anything. The result is that his standing in the polls has plunged, which has also damaged the already shaky chances of GOP Senate candidate Joseph DioGuardi, who is running against the vulnerable Kirsten Gillibrand.
The lesson here is that the electorate expects candidates for high office to more or less behave themselves. Rather than acting like a governor, Paladino has comported himself like the kind of guy who gets thrown out of bars for disorderly behavior. And even angry voters draw the line at electing someone like that to high office.
If there were any doubt that politics as usual is out the window this fall, it is confirmed by the latest polls from New York, one of the most reliable Democratic strongholds in the country. New York Democrats have fielded an attractive and popular candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo, while the state’s Republicans, who are in complete disarray, have put up a wacky though wealthy gadfly to oppose him. And of the two incumbent Democratic senators up for re-election, the one who is most vulnerable to a challenge, Kirsten Gillibrand, has drawn a lackluster opponent. But a funny thing is happening on the way to the Democrats’ November landslide. The polls are showing that the leads held by both Cuomo and Gillibrand are shrinking to the point where it is conceivable that both races could be competitive.
In the governor’s race, both Rasmussen and Quinnipiac show the gap between Cuomo and Carl Paladino to be narrowing. Quinnipiac showed Paladino trailing Cuomo by only six points among likely voters, while Rasmussen reported the Republican down by 16 points. In their previous polls tracking this matchup, the margins were respectively 30- and 29-point leads for Cuomo.
Over at the New York Times, analyst Nate Silver had claimed that these numbers were flawed because they didn’t add Conservative Party candidate Rick Lazio to the mix. But even he admits that the Quinnipiac poll is causing him to reconsider his assumptions about this race. While a more accurate survey would have mentioned Lazio, Silver’s assumption that many New Yorkers would stick with the man who lost the Republican primary last week in a historic landslide despite the backing of almost the entire Republican state establishment is absurd. That the Conservatives, whose original purpose was to hold the state’s liberal Republican party establishment accountable for ignoring the wishes of rank-and-file Republicans, would choose to torpedo a Conservative insurgent like Paladino by sticking with the dead-in-the-water Lazio speaks volumes about their own irrelevance. Far from sabotaging Paladino, as Silver seems to think a Lazio candidacy would, all it might accomplish is to lose the Conservatives their place on the state ballot for the next four years, something that would happen if Lazio got fewer than 50,000 votes in November.
Meanwhile, just as astounding is the Rasmussen poll showing Republican Joseph DioGuardi trailing Gillibrand by only 10 points. Previous surveys had Gillibrand up by anywhere from 15 to 25 points. DioGuardi has little name recognition and even less money. But Gillibrand is so weak that even the former Westchester congressman now must be given a chance, albeit a slim one, to knock her off.
But though liberal writers like Silver are still trying to rationalize the tsunami of voter discontent that is giving a Tea Party favorite like Paladino and a fiscal conservative like DioGuardi a chance, what is happening can no longer be ignored. Both Cuomo and Gillibrand must still be considered strong favorites, but if Republicans are surging in a state like New York, this midterm election may turn out far worse than imagined for the Democrats and the liberal agenda pursued by President Obama. Demonizing the Tea Party and publicizing opposition research about a loose cannon like Paladino may seem like an effective way to stem the GOP tide, but Democrats must understand that the rules have changed. As the New York polls indicate, voter anger about spending, entitlements, and taxes have transformed 2010 from an ordinary midterm correction to what may turn out to be a Republican tidal wave.
Speaking of Tea Party successes in the elections last Tuesday, it seems the upset win of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware sucked most of the oxygen out of the blogosphere. Thus Carl Paladino’s success in capturing the Republican nomination for governor in New York has not received that much attention except to have it widely assumed that he cannot win against the Democratic candidate, Andrew Cuomo.
I’m not so sure. Paladino didn’t just defeat former congressman Rick Lazio, the anointed of the Republican establishment in New York; he crushed him 62 percent to 38 percent.
Paladino has been called a bomb-thrower, especially for his impolitic remarks like calling the speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, the Antichrist. That might indeed be a tad over the top, but Sheldon Silver is very much the poster child for all that is wrong with Albany. I think many New Yorkers will agree with Paladino. And he has some baggage, including a 10-year-old out-of-wedlock daughter. But as his wife has evidently forgiven him and the daughter is very much a part of the Paladino family, I suspect that New Yorkers — a forgiving bunch when it comes to personal peccadilloes — will not hold it against him. An acknowledged illegitimate child didn’t stop Grover Cleveland from becoming governor of New York and then president. (Whether Cleveland was actually the father is a good question, as the mother had been bestowing her favors on more than one man, including Cleveland’s law partner. Cleveland apparently took responsibility because he was the only bachelor among the group, making him a gentleman twice over.)
Assuming there are no major skeletons to come out of the closet (and the media is surely scouring every nook and cranny of Paladino’s career looking for them) and he can come across in debate and on the campaign trail as mad-as-hell but not out-of-control, I think he has an excellent chance of winning on Nov. 2. A bomb-thrower, I think, is exactly what the long-abused citizens of New York are looking for. Add to that the fact that Paladino is seriously rich and can self-finance a credible campaign, even in super-expensive New York State. And his opponent is the very model of a modern political-establishment apparatchik, son of a former governor who presided over Albany for 12 years and did nothing — absolutely nothing — to reverse the slow decline of the Empire State or to reform its ever more corrupt political ways. He didn’t even try.
Mario Cuomo was the very embodiment of the status quo, and there is no reason whatever to think that his rather colorless son will be any different. This gives Paladino a heaven-sent political slogan: “No more of the status Cuomo!”
I share Karl Rove’s pessimism that the prospects for a GOP takeover of the Delaware Senate seat are now remote. He reels off a long list of Christine O’Donnell’s personal failings and credibility issues that are certain to come up in the general election She is, to put it mildly, a terribly flawed candidate. Rove correctly points out, ”It does conservatives little good to support candidates who at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for.” He adds, “There is a lot of nutty things she has been saying. … This is not a race we’ll be able to win.”
If a couple of Senate seats are lost — and especially if the GOP falls just a seat or two short of the majority in the Senate — there will and should be some soul-searching in the Tea Party movement. There will also, I suspect, be valid concerns about those who encouraged and endorsed unelectable candidates. If you want to be a party leader, and not simply a prominent conservative, the expectation is that you will use your influence judiciously.
The Tea Party has injected enthusiasm and provided a unifying conservative economic message, but a movement and a political party are not the same. The latter must concern itself with elections and building a governing majority. And the former, if unchecked by judgment and maturity, can unintentionally do great damage to its own cause.
One final note: outsiderness in and of itself is not a decisive factor in electability. What matters is whether the candidate is plausible and can articulate an anti-Beltway message that taps into both conservatives and independents’ disgust with the governing class. It is highly questionable whether O’Donnell can do that. On the other hand, as Ben Smith points out, conservatives dumped a dreadful establishment candidate in the New York gubernatorial primary and pushed back on a state party that has shown zero adeptness of late:
The results in New York tonight cut at Cuomo in two ways, though he wasn’t on the ballot. The first and most obvious is an energized conservative base, which chose a real outsider — Buffalo developer Carl Paladino — as a more plausible, if extremely longshot, vessel for a “mad as hell” anti-Establishment campaign against the “status Cuomo” than would have been the Establishment Republican, a former bank lobbyist.
“This is the candidate that the base of the party wanted,” conceded State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, putting a good face on a terrible night that also included a third-place finish for his son in a congressional race on Long Island.
In sum: the lesson is to choose wisely. This is the big leagues.
Blogger Nate Silver is the latest liberal scribe to lament the way so-called moderates in the Republican party are being shown the door by outraged Tea Partiers. In his latest post (his blog is now hosted by the New York Times), he echoes the GOP establishment’s lament that a primary victory by Carl Paladino over Rick Lazio would hurt the Republican Party. The thinking there is that candidates like Paladino hurt the GOP “brand” by making it appear too extreme for mainstream voters to embrace.
Like some other Tea Party favorites around the nation, Paladino is a loose cannon. But it’s hard to accept the idea that a noisy anti-establishment gubernatorial nominee would harm the rest of the Republican ticket, especially in districts where the GOP has a chance to topple incumbent Democrats in Congress and the legislature. Lazio is dead in the water with no chance to beat Andrew Cuomo in November, but the party grandees seem to think that having a candidate at the top of the ticket who has no chance would be better than one who has the ability — and the money — to make more of a splash. But, as I wrote yesterday, the real reason why Republican leaders want no part of Paladino is that he is a threat to the go-along-to-get-along culture of Albany politics.
Silver is less interested in the realties of New York politics than in trying to sell us on the thesis that conservatism dooms Republicans. To that end, he speaks of the tradition of “Rockefeller” liberal Republicans who have done well in the past in New York. But Republicans have won elections in New York in the era that followed the domination of the party by the likes of Tom Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller, and Jacob Javits. Ronald Reagan won the state in both 1980 and 1984. And Al D’Amato and George Pataki each won three statewide votes by positioning themselves as common-sense conservatives, not traditional GOP liberals. It isn’t clear that the “moderate” Republicans whom Silver and the GOP big shots say will stay home in November still exist in any appreciable numbers. While I agree that Cuomo is in such a strong position that he probably needn’t fear any Republican opponent right now, the GOP’s only hope for a respectable showing in the governor’s race as well as for an increased turnout for other more competitive races is to convince alienated independents and Republicans, who were disillusioned by the tax-and-spend policies of Pataki’s later years in office, that there’s a chance for their party to finally embrace a platform of reform.
This exposes the key fallacy of the liberal reaction to the Tea Party and the anti-incumbent tide sweeping the nation this year. They seem to believe that voter outrage over the massive expansion of federal power and budget by Obama and the Democrats is a confidence trick being pulled off by conservatives rather than a genuine movement that taps into mainstream concerns. The central question today is not, as Silver says, whether moderates think “there is any longer a place for them within the [Republican] party.” Rather, it is whether Democrats understand that anger over taxes, government-funded patronage, and influence peddling is strong enough to create a political wave that could threaten their hold on even the bluest of states this fall.
Dissatisfaction with President Obama and the Democrats in Congress is leading observers to give Republicans an even chance of ousting the majority in both houses. But instead of looking forward to a fall campaign in which they will be part of a national turkey shoot of Democratic incumbents, New York Republicans are already threatening to blow what little remains of their party.
The reason is the prospect that Carl Paladino, a well-funded Albany insider who has taken up the cudgels for the Tea Party, might defeat former Congressman Rick Lazio, the party regulars’ chosen candidate for governor. Lazio is best remembered as the not-ready-for-prime-time human crash dummy that collided with the Hillary Clinton juggernaut in 2000. Lazio has floundered in his run this year and hasn’t a prayer of beating Democrat Andrew Cuomo in November.
Paladino might not do better, but the GOP leadership is committed to going quietly to the slaughterhouse with Lazio rather than take a chance on a problematic wild card like Paladino. But they aren’t just working for Lazio to prevail in the primary. They are acting as if the not altogether unlikely possibility of Paladino beating Lazio is a worse calamity than a landslide loss to Cuomo. In an article in yesterday’s New York Times, Republican leaders made it clear that Paladino’s insurgent run is a greater danger to them than the Democrats. This conclusion was amplified in today’s New York Post, where Fred Dicker reports that Harry Wilson, the GOP’s candidate for state controller, will back Cuomo in the fall if Paladino bests Lazio.
Even odder is the fact that according to the Times, the head of New York’s Conservative Party, whose continued existence has always been justified by its ability to act as a check on the elitist and establishmentarian preferences of the leadership of the state’s Republican Party, is also aghast about the way Paladino is harnessing Tea Party activism.
“If Carl Paladino wins this thing, it will cause severe damage — it could be for decades — to the Republican Party of New York State,” said Michael Long, chairman of the state Conservative Party, which usually aligns with the Republicans and has nominated Mr. Lazio this year. “The party,” he added, “would live in darkness for quite some time.”
Really, Mr. Long? Despite Paladino’s checkered record, would his primary victory make things any darker for the Republicans than the current situation, which produced a certain loser like Lazio? Could Paladino’s populism be worse for the long-term future of the party than the mess left by former governor George Pataki and his mentor, former senator Al D’Amato? If the dwindling number of registered Republicans in the state are willing to embrace a character like Paladino, maybe it’s because they think of their party as having become the home of a leadership that is just as corrupt and devoted to influence-peddling as the Democrats. The prospect that Republican voters would consider such a controversial figure rather than meekly accept their leadership’s lame choice is actually a sign that their moribund party still has a pulse, not a harbinger of its doom.