by Paul Goldman
In business, the “customer is always right.” If they won’t buy what you are selling, you either change inventory, or file Chapter 13. This is also true in politics. But the “road not taken,” as Robert Frost might say, has far more twists and turns. Politically speaking in Virginia, there now exists possible conversion on the road to Damascus. St. Paul’s conversion was religious. Here in Virginia, it would be far more secular and far more surprising.
About the same time Terry McAuliffe began crushing Ken Cuccinelli with political advertisements on his refusal to give back gifts from Jonnie Williams, the folks running the Syrian government were being charged with using nerve gas to kill their own people. “All politics is local” famously observed beloved House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill. No voter in Virginia connected the Governor’s race to the Syrian gas attack. The 2014 Senate race loomed too far into the future for any such mental connection either among even the handful of voters thinking over a year ahead.
Three weeks later, Republicans still have no home-grown substantive issue capable of defeating Terry McAuliffe or Mark Warner. In turn, this creates a campaign narrative slowly drying into political cement. We at 200-proof have offered since the spring the substantive and statistical narrative pointing toward a Democratic sweep this coming November. The GOP ticket has proven to be incredibly inept at politics this year, while the party has no one serious willing to run against Mark Warner next year. The Democrats, as an electoral matter, have not had this good a shot at holding every statewide elected office since 1966, before the Republican Party posed a viable threat in any Southern state.
But suddenly, President Obama, not a factor in Virginia’s Governor’s race this time (he was a big factor last time), has hit a political nerve in Virginia, along with the rest of America.
Remember: Here at 200-proof, we don’t judge. Gay or straight, conservative or liberal, right or wrong politically, men or women, black, white, brown, yellow, red and green (there is no proof they don’t exist, right?, we take it as it lies, analyze the politics of the matter without passion or prejudice, as they say in the law. So for us, the President’s self-evident desire to retaliate militarily against Syria is easy to analyze: it is all upside for Ken Cuccinelli if he knows what do. That’s a big “if”, and as readers of this column will note, 200-proof doubts the GOP gubernatorial guy will get it right.
But that is to be shown in the future. For today, the following is clear: a Democratic U.S. Senate is first up to vote Yes or No on a Democratic President’s decision to go to war against the overwhelming wishes of the people of Virginia, along with the country. It may be that in the next week or so, the President’s speech tomorrow night, along with arm-twisting by the nation’s leaders and powerful interest groups, will convince the people to be more favorable toward a military attack on the Syrian regime. However, the gut instincts of the American people are not going to change in Virginia, unless something happens around the global to require altering their opinion. This may happen. At the same time, events might occur to reinforce their basic instinct.
Bottom line: Right now, 200-proof politics concludes that for a dying political man, Syria is the best news of the campaign for Ken Cuccinelli. Why? Because it is the first event this year that has gotten the attention of the voters where he isn’t on the defensive in one form or fashion. This makes it the biggest issue with the most energy where he is the one clearly on the popular side.
But you say: “Paul, what does the international situation in Syria have to do with governing Virginia, or the race for Governor in the public’s mind?” My answer: “You are right, absolutely nothing IF THE ISSUE WERE ONLY ABOUT SYRIA.” But the real issue, in terms of “all things being local” is this: a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate defying the wishes of the voters. Framed in that perspective, the political issue in 2013 is not about Syria, but rather about whom will be responsive to the voters as opposed to other forces. I have co-written an op-ed on this general angle for national publication, and it should be published soon, although the timing is out of my hands.
Because the Democratic Senate has to vote first, the politics of the issue work to Cuccinelli’s advantage on paper as of right now. But Cuccinelli’s initial statement on the issue missed the mark, as he got into the substance of whether to attack or not. Terry played it much smarter by saying nothing. Cuccinelli and his campaign continue to show a “we know best” arrogance not supported by their record. But in terms of whether you identify with the people of Virginia or the politicians in Washington, that is a bread and butter Virginia campaign issue.
Here at 200-proof, we see the 2013 politics on the matter clearly: the people of Virginia are plenty smart, plenty savvy, and they have been right on these policy decisions far more than our leaders in Washington in recent years. The Iraq War was premised on either an outright lie or an outright mistake of monumental proportions, or somewhere in between. Americans had a gut feel of it then, but got fooled by the Bush boys. As for Afghanistan, we were promised our mission was to find Osama bin Laden and his crew, not stay forever in a country that has been a proven quagmire for all foreigners since Alexander the Great.
But Washington still thinks it knows best: We have been warned about possibly having to go to war to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. We were promised a military strike on Libya would get us a new ally. We were told our policy toward Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries would lead to a whole new day in that part of the world, the now laughable “Arab Spring.”
Earth to everyone: When 2/3 of the people of this country are opposed to the President and the Pentagon, who in turn are backed by every popular figure in the country, on a matter they claim is vital to the national interest, then Americans are sending a message WAY beyond Syria. Add to this the fact NO ONE is talking about sending in troops – heck, we might not even use bombers. We are talking about the most sanitized war machine in terms of history, reducing casualties to a seeming minimum. And yet, the people are saying NO.
Why? My take: Washington is out of touch with the people of this country on several gut levels. My co-authored op-ed lays it out, albeit briefly given the word constraint. “How many ears does it take before you hear people cry?” is the words, or nearly so, from a famous song chronicling the fight to end segregation is America.
Conclusion: The voters of Virginia, like America, are tired of being taken for granted, fed-up with a stalemated political system. Underdogs like Cuccinelli don’t win while the political cement is hardening. They only have a chance when it refuses to dry. The odds of him figuring out how to tap into this situation – and then executing such figuring – are slim and none based on the past.
So 200-proof’s prediction of a sweep remains. But as we have also written, the threat to the sweep analysis is an existing issue taking hold that doesn’t need any explaining, and finds the key swing voters already leaning your way. Cuccinelli clearly doesn’t have the political skill or the campaign advisors to create anything new at this point. But a backlash against a “Democratic War” is not impossible by election day. Like it or not, the public saw the Korean War as a “Democratic War,” Vietnam as a “Democratic War” (that’s how Nixon could win a landslide by claiming a false victory), the Iranian Hostage Crisis as caused by a Democratic President (as if Carter had anything to do with it), the Iraq War and the Afghanistan Wars as those of a Republican President (and they remained sufficiently popular to allow Bush 43 to eke out re-election, but an albatross for McCain, seen as Bush’s biggest hawkish ally).
Like Libya, what happens in Syria goes with the presidential territory. Because the President has decided to seek the approval of Congress, and because the Senate goes first, Democrats per se risk owning the Syria thing far more than might otherwise be the case. Right now, the 2013 governor’s race is proof of Newton’s Law, that a body stays in motion headed the same way – to victory at the polls – unless hit over the head by a political 2 X 4. Depending on how things go on Syria between now and election day, a protest vote could emerge. Logic suggests it would be a net plus for Republican statewide candidates. Jackson is beyond help and thankfully so. But Cuccinelli and Obenshain are only Dead Candidates Walking, and there is this scientist claiming he has a new therapy that can bring people back from the dead if not too much time hasn’t elapsed. If he is looking for guinea pigs, Ken and Mark would be wise to sign up.
As for Senator Warner, he is safe in 2014 unless his vote on Syria comes back to haunt him the way Hillary’s vote on the Iraq War boomeranged her quest for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Right now, as Emerson wrote, “events are in the saddle and they ride mankind.” I was once riding a horse that got spooked. So don’t expect me to be playing Paul Revere in any historical documentary anytime soon. But it was a wild ride.