E.J. Dionne says that the Democratic leaders have a case of “Rove envy,” and it sounds like Dionne does as well. However, the envy seems to extend largely to Rove’s ability to mobilize a large turnout, not his ability to help his candidate formulate a message that resonates with voters.
To my knowledge, there is no good evidence that President Bush won because the Republicans had a better “ground game.” As I told some excited Democrats on election day, record-breaking turnout numbers are only possible if both sides are doing a great job. Moreover, Bush’s margin of victory was consistent with the results of the final pre-election polls taken as a whole, and thus need not be explained in terms of turnout in the “ground game” sense. Bush may have done a bit better than expected in solidly red states, where the Democrats wisely chose not to devote large resources. But, with the exception of Florida, the swing states all seemed to divide almost exactly as expected. Even Dionne bascially admits that any edge Bush had in terms of organization was in the solidly red states. Under these circumstances, an obsession with organization, instead of ideology, seems misplaced, except to the extent that it relieves the Democrats of the need to engage in difficult discussions and thinking.
After the Democrats lost their third consecutive presidential election in 1988, the really smart Democrats, such as Bill Clinton, quickly got over their Lee Atwater envy and started thinking about how to improve the party’s message. The result, in purely political terms, was impressive. It’s still early days, but it doesn’t look like the Democrats are following this model now. On the other hand, they’ve only lost two consecutive presidential elections and only admit to having lost one.
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