Last night, former Congressman Chris Shays was defeated by Linda McMahon in the Connecticut Republican Senate Primary.
It’s probably a “win” for the local GOP as McMahon can self-fund in a way that Shays can’t.
Four years ago I did a half-profile of Shays for this magazine, when he was the last Republican congressman in New England, the last Rockefeller Republican, and (as I saw it) likely to be replaced by a moderate Democrat in the ’08 election.
My prediction was right, and later that year he lost to Jim Himes, a Democratic version of himself. The misgoverning of Bush had given a reason for moderate voters to punish moderate Republicans and reward moderate Democrats. But there were complications in this individual case. It was revealed that Shays’ campaign manager had embezzled $250,000 from the campaign. Shays’s campaign ended in serious debt. It was hard not to feel bad for the guy.
And again it was hard not to feel something for him last night, when Linda McMahon (wife of wrestling magnate Vince) drubbed him by almost 50 points in the Republican primary for the Senate seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman. She spent $11 million, Shays had spent $1.2 million. Politics really isn’t built for guys like him anymore. And to be honest, he made some epic miscalculations with the politics of the Iraq War. He was for it, and then he was for getting out just as the surge was about to start.
One of the points of my article four years ago was that majority parties tend to have a moderate wing. It is the price of being in power. You have to accept the people that vote with you 70 percent of the time, but who keep you controlling the committees and the legislative process.
But now I’m not so sure. McMahon isn’t a firebreathing conservative, but she certainly doesn’t have the kind of low-temperature personality or grounding in Yankee sensibility that former New England Republicans possessed. Elsewhere in New England, conservative and Tea Party Republicans have had surprising success since 2010. (I have an article in the next issue looking at Maine.) Perhaps Republicans can put together a national majority party with remarkably little dissent.
There may also be other factors. As New England ages it becomes demographically more hospitable to Republicans. In the same ways Virginia and North Carolina grow younger and diverse they become more hospitable to Democrats again. Very often we’re talking about the same voters moving from one region to another.
The lesson may be that realignments aren’t to last.