I can't believe we paid attention to the conventional wisdom about the California recall -- that having two prominent candidates was a sign that Republicans in the state didn't have their act together. Now, Schwarzenegger is surging and McClintock has high favorables, according to the new L.A. Times poll.
It's the Democrats who can't get their act together. I'm in New York and I may be completely misunderstanding the nuances, but even from the East Coast the situation seem clear: Large percentages of California voters hate Davis and don’t want to be deprived of a delicious opportunity to act on that anger (and to stick it “the politicians” in general).
The Democrats' message is: Davis is really OK, or maybe he's not that great but it doesn't matter because this is a right-wing conspiracy, so vote no, but if you vote yes -- or no -- you should also vote Bustamante, who everyone knows is no friend of Davis, who angered Davis by getting in the race, but who won't say anything bad about Davis (nor will any other Democrat).
The Republicans' message is: Davis sucks. Vote Republican.
Gee, guess which one voters find more compelling.
But Cali Democrats have Goodness and Truth on our side, don’t they? There’s a budget deficit because the national economy is in the toilet. Enron was more to blame for the California energy crisis than Davis was.
Well, sure -- but campaigns aren’t poli-sci seminars. The Democratic Party had about as much chance of getting the populace to grasp these notions in the heat of a recall campaign as Michael Dukakis had of educating voters about the First Amendment problems of mandatory allegiance-pledging in 1988.
I'm going to seem like a turncoat for saying this, but Democrats should have abandoned Davis weeks ago. He should have resigned, and done so while it was still possible to say, “OK, he’s gone -- let’s go to court and find out whether we still have to have this recall, or whether we can just start fresh with Bustamante.” (At this point, the voters would never accept that outcome; now they want a kill, and for that purpose -- boy, am I sick to death of this metaphor -- they’ve found their Terminator.)
In D.C. a few years ago, Gingrich resigned, then Livingston resigned. More recently, Trent Lott stepped down from his leadership position. Perle and Poindexter have left the Bush administration. And guess what? Republican domination of Washington continues -- in fact, the Republicans became more powerful in the election cycle following Gingrich's abdication. These guys were pieces on the chessboard, strategically sacrificed. The game went on, and the Republicans are still winning.
(Hell, Nixon and Agnew resigned and Carter barely beat Ford.)
The recall was a horrible idea. California in the hands of the Republican Party, with a telegenic know-nothing as figurehead, is an even worse idea. And now it looks as if it’s going to become reality.