No, Governor Palin Did Not Cost the GOP the Senate; UPDATED

I find it remarkable that it’s even necessary to point out something as obvious as the above, but this lunacy just won’t die. So, I thought it worthwhile to take a dispassionate and rigorous look at the facts, something those who are pushing this absurd meme are too lazy — or ignorant — to do. As a reminder, the following beltway pundits and politicos have made this asinine claim: Mark McKinnon, Michael Gerson, Slow Joe Scarborough, Peggy Noonan, Margaret Carlson, Spencer Bachus, and Client #9’s partner, Kathleen Parker.

I’m sure there will be more…beltway ignorance, evidently, knows no bounds. We could possibly throw Karl Rove into this as well, but I can’t recall hearing him state, specifically, that Governor Palin is responsible for the Republican’s failure to take the Senate. Delaware, but not the Senate as those above have. So I’ll leave him off the list … for now.

Regardless of what happens in Alaska, The Republican caucus will number 47 when the Senate convenes in January. Since the mid-terms, many of our brilliant beltway betters have attempted to make the case that the Republicans would have won a majority if not for Governor Palin’s involvement in the mid-term elections. To have a majority, Republicans would have needed to net four more seats. A 50-50 Senate would still be controlled by the Democrat Party as Joe Biden would have been the tie-breaker.

First, as I noted in a previous post, “blaming” Governor Palin for the failure of the Republicans to take the Senate is not qualitatively different than blaming a pitcher who just threw a two-hit shutout for not tossing a no-hitter. A recent poll of right of center bloggers noted the obvious: that those most politically active in the conservative grass roots know that Governor Palin was the overwhelming “MVP” in the mid-terms. In short, she had more influence on the Republican blowout than any other single person, and to suggest that she bears “blame” for anything is beyond silly. That is unless you wanted Democrats to win.

That aside, let’s attempt to determine where the aforementioned geniuses think those additional four seats could have come from, and examine their case for Governor Palin’s culpability in the failure to take them. The seven states thought to be in play from which the Republicans would have had to capture those four seats were, in no particular order, California, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Delaware, West Virginia, and Connecticut. None of the other Democrat-held seats were considered to be in play.

First, let’s consider Washington and Connecticut. In Washington she endorsed Clint Didier, a Tea party favorite who lost to the establishment candidate, Dino Rossi. In Connecticut, Governor Palin made no primary endorsement, though Linda McMahon easily defeated her two opponents in the primary and, due to her ability to self-finance, had at least the tacit support of the establishment.

In California, Governor Palin endorsed Carly Fiorina in the primary, and she was generally regarded as the strongest of the potential candidates the Republicans could run against Barbara Boxer in a deep blue state, even by the establishment. In West Virginia, John Raese, though certainly not an establishment candidate, ran unopposed in the primary. Governor Palin only endorsed Raese in the general election. Enough said. So, in Washington, Connecticut, California, and West Virginia, Governor Palin only made two primary endorsements. One to Clint Didier, who lost in the Washington Primary, and Carly Fiorina in California, hardly a Tea Party candidate. Indeed she endorsed Fiorina instead of the Tea Party candidate, Chuck Devore.

In the remaining three states, Colorado, Nevada, and Delaware, the Tea Party candidate did ultimately win the primary. Let’s examine Governor Palin’s role, if any, in their primary victories. In Colorado, Ken Buck was never endorsed by Governor Palin, not in the primary, not even in the general election. And in Nevada, we’ve noted multiple times that Governor Palin did not endorse Sharron Angle in the Nevada Primary. It was only after Nevada voters chose Angle that Governor Palin offered her support.

This brings us to Delaware. Governor Palin endorsed Christine O’Donnell less than a week before the Delaware Primary. At the time, O’Donnell was surging in the polls and was no doubt boosted by Palin’s endorsement. Polls leading up to the primary indicated that Mike Castle would beat the Democrat, Chris Coons, and O’Donnell would lose to him. It’s on this basis that establishment Republicans claim that Governor Palin is responsible for Coons’ victory. This raises two questions: First, did Governor Palin’s endorsement seal Castle’s fate? Second, can we count on the accuracy of pre-primary hypothetical polls? The answer to the first is a definite maybe. As I noted, O’Donnell was already closing on Castle in the polls. Whether or not Governor Palin’s endorsement alone was enough to put her over the top is open to question.

With regard to the second question, we have more to go on. Ian noted that exit polling data indicated Coons would have beaten Castle too. The question here is which polls are more reliable: hypothetical pre-primary polls or exit polls of actual voters. I believe the latter has more predictive value, and that Coons would have defeated Castle. But that being said, let’s assume that Governor Palin is personally responsible for the Democrat victory in Delaware (she isn’t, but in the interest of compromise and civility, I’ll pretend to concede this point to my beltway betters).

The question then becomes this: does conceding Governor Palin’s “culpability” in Delaware allow one to credibly make the charge, as those listed above do, that she is responsible for Republican failure to capture the additional seats required for a Senate majority? Well, for that to be the case, we have to assign blame to Governor Palin in at least three of the remaining six races for the math to work. So let’s take another look and see if we can find three more states where a plausible (or even implausible) case can be made that Governor Palin is in any way responsible for the Republican’s inability to select a stronger general election candidate.

Washington: She endorsed Clint Didier, who lost in the primary to the establishment candidate, Dino Rossi. Mark that down as a definite no.

Connecticut: She didn’t endorse anyone in the primary. Another no.

Nevada: As in Connecticut, she did not endorse anyone in the primary. Another no.

Colorado: See Connecticut and Nevada.

West Virginia: See Colorado

California: While she did make an endorsement in this primary, the endorsement went not to the Tea Party candidate, but to Carly Fiorina, a mainstream conservative who was universally acknowledged by the establishment as the strongest possible candidate the Republicans could field to run against Barbara Boxer. Another no.

Hmmm. Looks like Bachus, Slow Joe, and the rest of the characters above are skating on some pretty thin ice, if any at all. The only case they may have, however implausible, is in Delaware (see above). Even if we concede that, we only get to 48 Senators, no? The math simply doesn’t work. That is unless 48 constitutes a majority (maybe their mathematical prowess is as sound as their political analysis). Am I missing something? Perhaps one of the geniuses listed above who is pushing this narrative can enlighten me. In which three of the above six states is Governor Palin responsible for the Republican loss? It’s time to put up or shut up. State your case. I’m all ears.

Update: Although he agrees with my conclusion that Governor Palin is not responsible for the failure of the GOP to take the Senate, Dave Weigel at Slate disagrees with my contention that Coons would have won Delaware even if Castle had prevailed in the Republican primary. He cites a final exit poll indicating Coons would have lost to Castle by two points (44-42) to counter the exit poll to which I linked indicating Coons would have defeated Castle by one point (43-42). Fair enough. But, I hasten to add, both are within the margin of error and, even if we concede that the poll to which Weigel referred is superior and Castle would have defeated Coons had he won the primary, there is still no concrete evidence that Governor Palin’s late endorsement alone resulted in Christine O’Donnell’s primary victory.

But this is irrelevant. As Weigel correctly notes, even if we acquiesce to the notion that Governor Palin is “responsible” for O’Donnell’s primary victory and subsequent failure of the GOP to take the Delaware Senate seat, there is no credible case to be made that she is responsible for any of the six other Republican Senate losses to which I referred. On that much more salient point, Weigel and I are simpatico.



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