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The Daily Debate - 11/7/2013

By Robert Tracinski

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November 7, 2013

1. The Real Election Contest

2. Dispatches

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1. The Real Election Contest

The Politico comes to mostly the right conclusions on the outcome of the Virginia governor's race, where Ken Cuccinelli closed a huge deficit in the final weeks to lose by a narrow margin to Democrat Terry McAuliffe. The first conclusion: "Obamacare almost killed McAuliffe." The only factor that changed in the last two weeks of the race was that news coverage shifted from the government shutdown, which was very unpopular in government-dependent Northern Virginia, to the disastrous launch of ObamaCare. Chris Stirewalt names the implication for the 2014 mid-term elections: "It looks like if Cuccinelli had another week to tag McAuliffe for his unflinching support of President Obama's unpopular new entitlement, the race might have ended differently. What if he would have had another year?"

Here's Politico's second conclusion: "Cuccinelli might have won if he had more money." Which is to say that Cuccinelli could have won if he hadn't been abandoned by the state's Republican Party establishment. And yet. To sound a contrarian note, the burden for that should partly be on Cuccinelli. He knew that the establishment opposed him, and he knew how difficult his campaign was going to be, but he apparently didn't have an effective plan for overcoming this handicap. "Cuccinelli personally was not a great fundraiser. Removing direct contributions from outside groups, McAuliffe raised $28 million to Cuccinelli's $11.7 million."

All of which is to say that if Tea Party candidates are going to wage an insurgency against the Republican Party establishment—who are basically moderate welfare-statists, not pro-free-market firebrands—then they're going to have to get serious about strategizing how to win a political insurgency.

Speaking of political insurgencies, let's take a look at the role of the Libertarians in this race. It turns out, according to some exit polls, that the Libertarian candidate in Virginia's gubernatorial race didn't make a difference. "Had he not been on the ballot, a third of his voters said they'd have supported McAuliffe—slightly more than twice as many as said they'd have gone for Cuccinelli." So despite the revelation that the Libertarian candidates' campaign was partly funded by a big Democratic donor, he did not actually tip the result by splitting the right.

But this story still says a lot about the uselessness of the Libertarian Party and its failed four-decade experiment in creating a third party. In the Virginia race, the Libertarian offered no distinctive agenda. On social issues, he was opposed to the religious right and was pro-abortion rights, and on economics he opposed tax and spending cuts and told a reporter that he embraced "mainstream economics" (i.e., big-government Keynesianism) rather than "Austrian economics," i.e., pro-free-market economics. Which makes him—what? A moderate Democrat? No wonder he drew more votes from McAuliffe. My guess is that he got the Democrats who really, really want to legalize pot.

For all of the complaints about the Republican establishment in Virginia, it strikes me that the problem with the Libertarian Party is they have no such establishment. The Libertarian Party remains so small, so thinly staffed, and so desperate for attention that it sometimes seems like anybody can just waltz in and spread around a little money and get their nomination. (Does anybody remember back in 1994 when shock-jock Howard Stern walked into the Libertarian Party convention and walked out with their nomination for governor of New York?)

It's enough to make you wonder whether they count as a real political party, and probably the best news from the election is that the Libertarians didn't get the 10 percent of the vote that they needed to ensure automatic inclusion on the ballot. My suggestion is that the Libertarians need to follow Ron Paul's lead and become a faction within the Republican Party—or for those who liked McAuliffe better than Cuccinelli, a faction within the Democratic Party.

Four years ago, the governor's race in Virginia and the election in New Jersey sent the same message: they were both early registers of growing public opposition to President Obama. This year, they produced very opposite results, with New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie cruising to a massive re-election victory

This has naturally started a lot of people talking about how this sets up Christie for a presidential run in 2016. Actually, I would argue that the opposite is true. Christie's problem is that his margin of victory in New Jersey was too big. To win by such a wide margin is such a blue state, Christie has had to move too far to the "moderate" left of his party, which will hurt him badly in the Republican primaries. He would have been better off moving farther to right and winning by only five points.

As for whether his support in a "blue" state will help him, I don't think it's really that likely. One poll shows him losing New Jersey to Hillary Clinton, 48-44, in a one-on-one presidential contest. Which implies that a lot of blue state voters who will embrace a moderate Republican on the state level will revert to party loyalty in a national-level contest.

There's an argument to be made that Virginia and New Jersey demonstrate that moderates win elections. Maybe it's true that the Republican Party will return to form and nominate another moderate for president in 2016. On the other hand, they did that twice in a row, with John McCain and Mitt Romney, and look where it got them. Those moderates didn't win, and the "base" of the right is hopping mad. They never wanted Mitt Romney as their standard-bearer in the last election, but they couldn't coalesce around anyone else. They will really be looking hard for an alternative in the next round of primaries.

That's what ties all these Election Day stories together: the war on the right between the establish, who remain moderate, pragmatic welfare-statists, and the base, which has reacted to the Obama presidency by turning sharply to the right. The Virginia race exposed how strong this mutual enmity is on state and local level, which is important to understand. If you want to know why the Tea Party-versus-establishment tensions are so bitter, you can't explain it just by looking at John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. You have to see the conflict where it is really brutal: on the state and local levels, where the establishment views the Tea Party as troublesome crazies, and the Tea Party views the establishment as corrupt cronies who just want a free hand to sell their share of government favors to big business donors.

That's the real electoral contest in this week's elections, and how that plays out will determine a lot of what happens in 2016.

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2. Dispatches

President Obama has lost Jay Leno, big time.

Cass Sunstein tries to stir up internal conflict on the right by digging up a very old National Review attack on Ayn Rand.

A lot of people on the right have been saying that the launch of ObamaCare provides lessons about the failure of big government. I get more specific about what those lessons are.

The absurd Common Core standards for the "complexity" of literature demonstrate the basic problem with a centrally dictated federal curriculum: when the bureaucrats in DC make a big mistake, they make it for everybody.

Will Bill de Blasio's election in New York City touch off a new middle-class exodus?

India sends a probe to Mars for only $74 million, a fraction of the budget NASA would require. Should we be outsourcing our space program?

At some point, there's going to be a lot more space exploration to do, because a new estimate—based on a growing number of observations of exoplanets—indicates that there might be billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy. Which makes the Fermi Paradox all the more puzzling: if there are so many planets that can support life, how come nobody's saying "hello"?

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—Robert Tracinski

The Daily Debate

edited by Robert Tracinski

Brought to you by RealClearPolitics.

Robert Tracinski is also editor of The Tracinski Letter.

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