Lessons from New Jersey and Virginia
After an election, the airwaves are flooded with post-partum analysis. The great theme of this year’s Wednesday-morning quarterbacking seems to be that the Republican party needs to take a lesson from Chris Christie’s playbook. He’s a Republican governor who won re-election in a landslide in a consistently “Blue State” like New Jersey. This at the same time that the conservative Republican candidate lost to a liberal Democrat with a “checkered record” in Virginia.
The pundits all seem to agree that the message which the GOP needs to learn is this: If you run conservative candidates, you lose the independents in the middle and therefore gain only the pyrrhic victory of standing by your principles while the people who oppose them govern.
While I understand the popular reasoning, I don’t think it is correct. In fact, I think it’s mushy-headed. So let me point out where I see flaws in the analysis.
First, Chris Christie is the governor of New Jersey. A moderate Republican may play well in New Jersey, but he won’t play well in South Carolina. It’s one thing to analyze election politics in New Jersey, it’s another thing altogether to extrapolate that analysis to the nation.
For a national election, consider the results of elections that have featured conservative Republicans like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush as against those elections that featured moderate Republicans like George H. W. Bush (at least when he was running on his own record rather than Reagan’s), Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
Further, Chris Christie was re-elected. RE-elected. He was an incumbent, and incumbents are usually re-elected unless they’ve screwed something up. Christie hasn’t screwed anything up. By all accounts, his record as governor merited re-election. He accomplished much for his state. As an aside, I might note that the good he accomplished was largely based on conservative principles (reducing taxes to expand the revenue base, making his state more business-friendly, reducing government waste, etc.).
Further, Terry McAuliffe won in Virginia by 2.5%, not exactly a landslide. The polls in the week before the election showed him with a double-digit lead. He gained that double-digit lead by circumstances that had nothing to do with him – the ridiculously stupid government shutdown. He then lost that lead by other circumstances that had nothing to do with him – the ridiculously incompetent Obamacare roll-out. The whole kabuki theater of the Virginia election seems to me … well, ridiculous. Someone will have to do a better job of explaining to me why I need to take a lesson from that particular election.
So, what do I think is the big lesson that should be learned from this election? Nothing. Or at least very little.
There are lessons here, but they don’t come from these elections. Confine bedrock political principles to moral issues on which you would rather lose than change. Work with others on everything else, especially practical issues like fiscal policy. Don’t shut down the federal government (or anything equally asinine) while the other party is in power and the national press is in the tank. And accept the reality of Dan. 4:17: “The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.”