It's official: A Democrat has won a traditionally Republican U.S. House seat in upstate New York. The stupid party has once again proven it is the stupid political party.
Conventional wisdom is blaming the election loss on the budget proposed by conservative Rep. Paul Ryan, supported by all but four Republicans in the House of Representatives, which Democrats claim will decimate Medicare for our nation's seniors. Conventional wisdom, so often wrong, is probably right this time.
Polls have shown that what was considered a sure thing for conservative Republican candidate Jane Corwin, started to turn with the introduction of the Ryan budget proposal and attack ads by Kathy Hochul and her liberal allies on the issue.
No matter what the numbers said it quickly became a Republican Party talking point that the reason Corwin lost was because the conservative vote was split with artificial "Tea Party" candidate Jack Davis. Republicans had better hope the GOP does not believe its own spin. While it's true Davis had the Tea Party designation on the ballot, he spent millions of dollars telling people his main issue was preserving jobs and preventing them from going to China. A bread-and-butter Democratic issue if there ever was one.
Hochul received 47% of the vote. Do Republicans really believe she would not have taken enough of Davis's vote to put her over 50%? And as long as we are talking about third party candidates, it should be noted the Green Party candidate received 1% of the vote, the vast majority of which would have gone to Hochul.
To those of us who had to slog through a contested federal election in 1996 this is a severe case of Deja vu. We understand what we will face in 2012 because we have faced it before.
"Cut Social Security," Cut Medicare," "Cut Social Security," "Cut Medicare." If I heard those terms fewer than 50,000 in the 1996 election cycle I would be surprised.
The upcoming election is eerily similar to 1996. House Republicans will have dozens of seats of newly elected freshman to defend. In the Senate, there are a slew of potential Republican pick-ups, but they will first have to focus on Republican incumbents who are endangered. While that list is currently small, it will grow larger now that Democrats have what they think is a silver bullet issue. Add to that the chance of a weak Republican presidential candidate and the negatives for Republicans suddenly start to seem much more formidable.
Until now, Democrats had no issue on which to run in 2012. The economy is still in shambles, unemployment is back on the rise in some areas, inflation is becoming an increasing problem, and housing prices continue to get pounded. Add to that the confused Obama Administration foreign policy and it was a recipe for Democratic disaster just like 2010.
But Republicans, being Republicans, had to go ahead and hand the Democrats a present. And not only is Medicare their only issue they can really capitalize on next year, it also happens to be the best issue a Democrat could use against a conservative Republican candidate. Seniors turn out in elections more than any other demographic. Guess how they are going to respond to this alleged attack on their precious entitlement?
So now, instead of focusing on winning a majority in the Senate and holding onto the majority in the House, Republicans will have to spend millions of dollars defending their new Medicare position. And make no mistake, whether a Republican supports the plan or not, they will pay at the polls. And all because Republicans had to introduce one of the most volatile issues when the plan has absolutely no chance of making it through the Senate.
Let's also make another thing clear: It doesn't matter whether the Ryan plan would touch the Medicare of seniors or not. The Democrats will not care. There is no question the Ryan plan makes perfect fiscal sense. There is no way we are going to get the budget deficit under control without major entitlement reform.
No one is saying Republicans should not be talking about the urgency of reforming Medicare and Social Security. There are venues such as town hall meetings, opinion columns, and talk radio that could be much more effective. But making the issue part of the national political debate at this point is foolhardy at best.
Without a majority in a legislative body, all talk about ideological purity is irrelevant. If you don't have a majority you can't control leadership, and if you don't control leadership, you can't control the agenda. Holding the majority is the first step. Why Republicans continue to put targets on their backs when there would be no political or legislative gain seems to be a question we will never answer.