What the title says.
A bit of disclosure: I used to be a serious, no kidding Republican. As a Reagan-era college kid, I was into all of it: Young Republicans, College Republicans, Committee on the Clear and Present Danger, working for a Republican congressman (the late Harris Fawell of Illinois), working for the Republican National Committee. A bit later, the Federalist Society. Most of you know this already but, well, for the record.
Obviously this is no longer the case, but my personal political hegira is a story for another post. Right now I want to talk about voting for Republicans. Last post I mentioned that I'd vote for Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle; just to drive it home, in 2006 I did vote for Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell. Who, like Lingle, is a moderate, intelligent technocrat with just a bit of an edge.
So when is this okay?
Let's try framing this in economic terms. Right now, for reasons that we're all familiar with, any Republican candidate carries a penalty. (N.B., I'm only talking about myself here, obviously, though the discussion may have broader application. Also, let's assume we're talking about competitive elections -- voting when one side is absolutely sure to win is something else again.)
But how big a penalty? Well, here's the thing: it's very context dependent.
At one extreme, there's the Presidency. This office is so consequent, and the GOP has screwed the pooch so spectacularly, that I would have voted for almost any Democrat against almost any Republican. The fact that the Democratic candidate this time was, in fact, an interesting individual who seems to show some real promise? Pure gravy. It could have been Dennis Kucinich and I would still have checked the box marked "D". Though I suppose my hand would have trembled for long hours afterward.
At the opposite extreme, let's take a race for a state-level legislative position in a state house that's completely dominated by the Democrats. In this case, the Republican candidate hardly carries any penalty at all. Half a letter grade, let us say. He or she need only be somewhat better than the rival Democrat to claim my vote. That's because (1) state elections are much less consequent, and (2) there are almost no negative externalities. Having one more Republican in the Connecticut State House of Representatives -- currently blue in the ratio of 113 to 38 -- is not going to make the Connecticut GOP stronger in any meaningful way. And having a competent Republican in that seat is probably better for Connecticut overall than having a not-quite-as-competent Democrat.
Now, if the Connecticut House were very closely divided, so that one legislator more or less could tip control... then, of course, the calculation would change. The penalty would grow, and the Republican would have to be much, much better than the Democrat to claim my vote.
-- It still wouldn't be impossible, mind. I voted for Jodi Rell not so much because she's good -- though IMO she is -- as because she was running against the ridiculously corrupt and incompetent Mayor of New Haven, John DiStefano. I'd had a chance to see DiStefano's handiwork up close, and I didn't think much of it; he's one of the reasons New Haven missed out on the national urban renaissance of the '90s. I wasn't overjoyed to deliver a state house to the GOP; governors matter, and their appointees form part of their party's national farm team. If the Dems had run an even halfway passable candidate they could probably have claimed my vote. But even assessing a couple of letter grades worth of penalty, this was an A-minus Republican running against a D or F Democrat. So.
Interestingly, the U.S. House of Representatives is relatively inconsequent at the moment. The Democrats have a 79-seat advantage. Barring some vast political upheaval they're going to be firmly in charge for the next couple of cycles. So it's conceivable that a good Republican candidate could woo me. From my point of view, putting a thoughtful, honest moderate Republican in a House seat might be overall better than putting a weak Democratic hack. (Let's put aside the odds of finding a thoughtful, honest moderate Republican running for a House seat. Thinking out loud here.) The House GOP needs sane, thoughtful members. There's kind of a shortage right now, yah?
The Senate is something else again, because (1) individual Senators are more powerful than House reps; (2) the Dem margin is smaller; (3) historically, it's been a bit more swing-y than the House; and (4) the Senate has two bright lines for control (50 votes and 60) instead of one. So, a bigger penalty applies. Still, a very attractive Republican versus a DiStefano or a Blagojevic... mmaybe.
From my narrow personal perspective, one of the major problems in modern American politics is the... how can I put this... fucktardification of the modern GOP. The American voting public has belatedly responded to this problem by separating the GOP from bleach, sharp shiny objects, and the levers of national political power. But that is, in the vast scheme of things, a stopgap. It doesn't solve the problem. We're stuck either with permanent Democratic control of the legislature and executive (bad) or allowing an unreformed, still fucktarded GOP to come back to power in a few cycles (also bad). The GOP has to be fixed. All of us have an interest in this.
So, yes: I could imagine voting for Linda Lingle. Among others. Too few others. But that's another story.