Book Review: Election 2014: Why The Republicans Swept The Midterms

Election 2014: Why The Republicans Swept The Midterms, by Ed Kilgore

There is something thrilling and entertaining in reading a book that is designed for another audience. Just as from time to time I read the books of those who forthrightly consider themselves conservative radicals [1], it is useful from time to time to see how the other side deludes themselves. In this particular book, the author demonstrates his bias in several characteristic ways. For one, he calls Republican candidates with bad sound bytes “gaffe prone” while being more charitable to Democratic candidates in the same position. Likewise, by approvingly citing the Daily Kos as well as Cook, and by considering Republicans like Scott Brown to be moderate rather than liberal, the author demonstrates that he is at least one notch on the political continuum to the left in terms of a systematic bias. This is all the more ironic in that the author spends the introduction of a short book (less than 90 pages of core material) commenting that he thought he managed to write about the 2014 election campaign cycle in an unbiased fashion, which is ludicrously false.

In terms of its contents, the book is straightforward and filled with a dry and understated wit, with a pervasive pro-Democratic bias and the obvious aim of downplaying the significance of 2014 as a setback for Democrats and playing up the possibility of a revived Democratic party with a powerful Hillary candidacy steamrolling matters in 2016. The book itself is straightforward and direct: it begins with a preface that seeks to place this book as a worthwhile part of the genre of campaign reportage, then discusses the fundamentals of the campaign and the narrative of “wave” or “tsunami” that the author wishes to counter, then discusses the primaries and general election campaign, gives a grim and somewhat sullen account of the results, which ended up being on the high end of possibility for the Republicans, who took nearly all of the competitive seats, and some implications for the future.

It is these implications that demonstrate the author’s clear commitment to the Democratic party and its aims. For one, the author discusses the “two electorate” theory and the possibility that more motivated Republicans are doing better in off-year elections and less motivated Democrats do better in presidential campaigns. The author also discusses the effects of Republican control of various state houses, which has allowed for the apportionment of seats that mitigates the concentrated urban Democratic electorate and allows for more suburban and rural seats that Republicans regularly win. The author also discusses matters of demographics, and seeks to encourage the Democratic base so that they do not despair of taking over the House, which would have serious political consequences that the author wishes to avert. Yet even when he attempts to speak in an even-handed fashion, he tips his hand as a leftist when he comments towards the close of the book that “both parties need to come to grips with the consequences of continued instability in power arrangements and whether it might be better to have someone in charge of the federal government, even if it is the “enemy,” instead of lurching along from crisis to crisis with a choice between inaction and short-range impure “compromises” that sacrifice the best instincts of both parties and make consistent policymaking impossible (87).” Yet if one does not want the federal government to do much, inaction and instability and gridlock are positive outcomes, since it is usually better for government not to act, even for the wrong reasons, than to be free and confident in acting, since almost anything that government does will be wrong anyway. That doesn’t mean that people like Kilgore and me are any less fond at eating popcorn and reading and writing about political campaigns, though.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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