The political pundits are running wild.
Recent primary elections have produced some unexpected results, unleashing cosmic speculation about the future of American politics. Most of their supposed insights, which could condition voters’ behavior, is likely to turn out to be completely wrong.
A lot of the “wisdom” results from the Republican primary in a single Virginia congressional district. U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was toppled by a Tea Party conservative.
The “experts” claimed that such an upset was unprecedented in modern times. That’s plain untrue. In 1994, House Speaker Tom Foley, a Washington State Democrat, lost his seemingly assured re-election.
Cantor was thought to have lost as the result of a couple of votes, when he was willing to compromise rather than to see his party get the blame for dire results like a government shutdown.
Somehow, those votes made him a “liberal.” despite his adherence to a brand of conservatism that put him to the right of Speaker John Boehner. But his opponent said he failed to take a “my way or the highway” approach often enough.
Another explanation was his constituents thought he paid too much attention to his role as a congressional leader and too little attention to their more parochial interests. That has happened to others in Congress who had enjoyed the national spotlight.
Or perhaps Cantor’s primary, like most such races, involved only a relative handful of voters, party activists and those strongly motivated by ideology. When that happens in primaries, extreme views are often overrepresented.
It’s possible that happened in Maine’s second district congressional primaries in which the more liberal Democrat Emily Cain and the more conservative Republican Bruce Poliquin won. Both Cain and defeated Republican Kevin Raye favor seeking compromise. The general election could show if voters favor confrontation or compromise.
In the Virginia race at least, one conclusion may be money doesn’t automatically translate into electoral victory. Cantor massively outspent his rival, but not enough to drown him out. In fact, too much money seems to have made Cantor’s campaign embarrassingly wasteful.
The same conclusion can be reached about a Maine race. Without any precedent in memory, a Democratic primary challenger in the Cumberland County sheriff’s race against incumbent Kevin Joyce spent on his own and with the help of an outside fund far more than Joyce’s normal spending level. Still, Joyce won.
The results in both Virginia and Maine may show that while money may buy election results, that’s more likely in major campaign than in those closer to the voters.
From Cantor and a few other isolated races, the pundits jumped to conclusions.
They see even more Washington deadlock (is that possible?), because Republicans will resist any compromises making them look the slightest bit moderate. They ignore any successes of non-Tea Party candidates in the primaries and the resounding defeats of some Tea Partiers.
The pundits also warn that, for the same reasons, President Obama will have no success in the getting his legislation passed. All hope for immigration reform is gone, simply because Cantor supported some truly modest measures.
And, they say, the fact incumbent GOP senators fended off Tea Party challengers who would have made weak candidates against the Democrats increases the likelihood the Republicans will take control of the Senate after this year’s elections.
These forecasts could as easily turn out to be wrong.
Who knows about intervening events? Would anybody have forecast a few weeks ago Iraq would be falling apart and the government there, having sent the U.S. packing, would be begging for American help? Or the U.S. talking with Iran?
There have always been moderate Republican voters. Where will they go, if the extreme right continues to gain control of their party? When, if ever, will party loyalty give way to their desire to see government work?
Will the GOP unwillingness to pass immigration reform on which both parties largely agree stimulate support by Hispanics for Democrats?
And, though the chances are slight, will Obama provide a sense of leadership restoring a degree of optimism in the country, which, as President Ronald Reagan showed, can overcome political inertia?
Months of political campaigns are ahead. They may move enough swing voters to show the country is deeply conservative or there is a premium on moderation. If Republicans move more to the right, Democrats could try to come across as centrists. In short, much can happen between now and the November elections.
So beware of pundits. Voters are likely to be influenced by events and campaigns, probably even more than by the “wisdom” of pundits.