Why Do Democrats Blame the People Who Lost the Election for Losing the Election?

Matt Bai of the New York Times has observed the first week of political fallout from the House Democrats’ losses in the midterm elections and has

discovered something confounding


A lot of Democrats took it for granted that these defeats marked a repudiation of the speaker and of the party’s liberal agenda. “This election was an old-fashioned whooping,” says Jim Matheson, the Utah Democrat who is next in line to head the Blue Dog Coalition. “You’ve got to shake up your leadership when that happens.”

That is not, however, how Ms. Pelosi’s liberal supporters see it. Even before the votes were cast, a counterargument was already taking hold — that it was the centrist Democrats, and not the liberals in Congress, who had imperiled the party’s majority.

What could those liberals possibly be thinking? As Bai tells it, the left wing of the party hypocritically rejected the big-tent approach that had gotten the Democrats a majority to begin with. The liberals used the conservative Democrats’ votes to pass the health-care overhaul and other major legislation, blamed the conservatives for watering down the results, and thereby turned the wise, broad center of the electorate toward the Republicans.

And that is why the voters in Indiana’s Ninth District voted Nancy Pelosi out of office. Except they didn’t, did they? They voted against their own representative , Blue Dog leader Baron Hill. Despite the best efforts of the party Congressional campaigns and the Chamber of Commerce and the Koch Brothers, House races are not national. The voters in each district decide whether to keep or remove the person who represents them.

The people who were represented by the Blue Dogs made their feelings clear. The closer Democratic members of Congress came to occupying the vital, medium-conservative center where real political strength is supposed to lie, the worse they did with the voters. As Bai points out, the conservative Democratic caucus lost two of its top members and half its membership.

In fact, the Blue Dogs lost slightly more than half their membership: 28 of 54 seats. And as Bai doesn’t point out, if the Democrats had held those 28 seats, they could still have control of the House. (It would have come down to a string of hideous and bitter recount battles .) Maybe that’s why the surviving Democrats believe the Blue Dogs “imperiled the party’s majority”: they were the most unsuccessful and unpopular part of the defeated coalition.

Would the Blue Dogs have done better if they had been even more outrightly conservative? Would they have done better if they had been more loyally liberal? That’s for the conservatives and the liberals to fight over. You know, the people who got elected.