Most politicians in Washington realize that the political parties are not popular, with the Republicans fairing even worse than the Democrats. But it's still somewhat startling to hear a Republican who is up for reelection next year admit his party shouldn't make the contests about Republicans, as Texas Sen. John Cornyn did in a brief interview Thursday.
On a conceptual level, elections are supposed to be about offering voters choices. Candidates offer some kind of policy platform, explain their vision, tell the public what they're prepared to do if elected, and ask for voters' support. The electorate considers their options and chooses accordingly.
At least, that's theoretically how elections work. The system looks a little different in practice.
"I think I'd say just generically, we don't need to make this election about us," Cornyn said yesterday. "We need to keep the focus on the president's failed policies."
It's an interesting admission from one of the Republican Party's top leaders. Ordinarily, one might expect a prominent GOP official to at least pretend to care about policies and the merits of the Republicans' governing vision. "We'll do well in the elections," political leaders are supposed to say, "because of the strength of our ideas and the superiority of our agenda."
Cornyn apparently doesn't feel the need to keep up appearances. For the Senate Minority Whip, Republicans don't intend to bother making the elections about Republican candidates or Republican ideas. The far-right Texan figures the GOP will just complain about President Obama for several months and voters will swoon.
At a minimum, it'll be an interesting pitch: "Vote Republican in 2014: We're unpopular and you don't like our ideas, but healthcare.gov didn't work for two months last year."
This reminds me of a story from 2008. It was just 10 days before the presidential election, and Jonathan Stein noticed that the Republican National Committee's website all but ignored John McCain -- there was a link to get a McCain/Palin yard sign, but that was about it. The RNC's homepage referenced Barack Obama six times -- five more than McCain. The Democratic National Committee's website, on the same day, heavily promoted Obama and made only passing reference to the Republican nominee.
It's a reminder that "we don't need to make this election about us" can be a risky proposition.