The Benefits of Wacking Blanche

Yesterday, Jon Chait couldn’t figure out what the benefits of running a primary challenge to Blanch Lincoln, given that she voted for the Affordable Care Act and she actually is representing a fairly conservative state. Today I think he’s much closer to figuring out the logic:

I could see an argument for deploying challengers wherever you can find them just to throw the fear of God into Democrats in Congress. Perhaps the fact that Lincoln is almost certain to lose makes her an especially good target. There was a scene in “The Untouchables” where a federal agent, played by Sean Connery, is trying unsuccessfully to get one of Al Capone’s hireling to talk. So he goes outside the room, picks up the corpse of one of the bad guys, starts interrogating him as if he’s still alive, and then shoots him. The bad guy inside the room, unaware that the colleague that Connery shot was already dead, immediately becomes terrified and starts blabbing.[...]

If you’re not following my analogy, the progressives are Sean Connery and the corpse is Blanche Lincoln. If you’re going to make an example out of somebody, why not pick somebody who’s already (politically) dead? Or so the logic might go.

That’s pretty much the way I’d look at it. Lincoln is almost certainly going to lose anyway, so even if Halter is too liberal for the state, you’re not actually losing anything; the Republican candidate comes out on top either way. And it’s not as though Lincoln is a model Democrat. Yes she voted for the ACA, but she watered it down quite a bit as part of a bloc of conservative Senate Democrats, she flip-flopped on EFCA as soon as Democrats got 60 seats in the Senate, and as the Senator from Wal-Mart and Tyson, she’s not exactly hostile to corporate interests. And for what? Pretty much anyone could have told you she was going to lose her seat no matter what, so if she wanted to, she could have been a solid vote for the Democratic agenda.

There’s a bit of an incentives issue here too. If progressive groups look at Senators seeking re-election from states like Arkansas and give them the freedom to do whatever they have to do to get re-elected, there’s nothing stopping them from running as far right as they can. On the other hand, if they think they have to worry about primary campaigns as well as general election campaigns, that goes a long way towards keeping them on the reservation. And if they’re going to lose their seat anyway, then from a national standpoint you want to get something out of them on their way out, namely their vote on the party’s agenda while they’re still holding the seat.

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