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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The GOP Crackpot Factor: Potential and Limits

I imagine a group of Democratic Party insiders holed up in an office somewhere in D.C. sorting through videos and photos of various Republican candidates, and one of the Dems sighs and sums it up: “This one puts out a video saying she’s not a witch. Here’s one prancing around in a Nazi uniform. ‘Terror babies,’ census paranoia — We got a bunch of them on video who want to privatize social security, increase medicare deductibles and give huge tax breaks to the rich…I can’t believe we’re losing to these guys.”
By any measure the GOP’s ‘crackpot factor’ is inordinately high this year. No doubt individual Democratic campaigns are making the best of it on a case by case basis. But the question arises, is there some way to amp up the re-branding of the 2010 GOP as the party of crackpots?
The meme is well-established in progressive circles. But there has to be a tipping point at which a healthy chunk of swing voters, including white blue collar workers — the so-called “Reagan Democrats” — think “Jeez, much as I’d like to stick it to the Democrats, the Republicans really do seem to have a lot of crackpots. Hard to see them doing much to get the economy rolling again.”
We may not be quite at the crackpot tipping point point yet, but it shouldn’t take too much more, although time is running out.
As the crackpot factor expands, ridicule becomes a more powerful Democratic weapon. Tina Fey turned Sarah Palin into the laughing stock of America, and there’s an argument — though no data to back it up — indicating that it was devastatingly effective in making a large number of swing voters dismiss the GOP ticket as saddled with a terminal lightweight. Certainly cartoonists are having a field day with the crackpot factor this year (see here, here and here, for example). But we’re not likely to see an SNL skit as politically-potent as Fey’s Palin impersonations for a long time.
I’m worried about the “decoy effect” of one particular crackpot, Christine O’Donnell. She hogs so much media coverage with her ridiculous pronouncements and history, that other deserving Republican crackpots are slipping under the radar. Rand Paul, for example, the uncrowned King of the tea party loonies, who is in a close Senate race with a solid Democratic candidate, Jack Conway, must be thanking his good fortune for O’Donnell every day. Ditto for Sharron Angle.
It’s a lot easier to show voters why a particular candidate is too loony to vote for than it is to re-brand an entire party as too crazy to take seriously. Still, “I don’t know…the Republicans have too many crackpots” is a meme worth encouraging whenever possible. The wild card is the MSM. If it takes root in the next couple of weeks, it might help. A couple of good national ads projecting the meme couldn’t hurt.

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