The G.O.P. had two big victories yesterday in off-year elections, winning the race for governor in New Jersey and Virginia for the first time since 1997. The New York Times's coverage was dominated by three themes used to explain away the success of Republicans:
The Republicans won by appearing moderate.
The congressional race in upstate New York revealed deep divisions within the G.O.P.
These off-year elections don't mean much anyway (except when Democrats win).
1) Republicans Won by Moderating:
Even after wins by two conservative Republicans, the Times spin was that moderation had prevailed, arguing that both New Jersey Governor-elect Chris Christie and Virginia Governor-elect Bob McDonnell won by trimming their social conservative stands.
In a Tuesday web post before returns were in, the paper's chief political reporter Adam Nagourney said that even a win by Virginia conservative McDonnell would be a victory for moderation:
The liberal media just can't get over the way Democrat Michael Dukakis lost to George H. W. Bush. The Times proved it in Sunday's Page One "Political Memo," an analysis by Robin Toner, "In '88, a Lesson on Using Symbols as Bludgeons."
Toner portrayed Democrats as victims of Republicans challenging their patriotism (without showing any actual examples of such) from Dukakis in 1988 to Obama now. In '88 the unfair attack aimed at Dukakis's position on the Pledge of Allegiance in schools; in 2008, the target is Obama's flag pin.
Sometimes, as Senator Barack Obama seemed to argue earlier this year, a flag pin is just a flag pin.
But it can never be that simple for anyone with direct experience of the 1988 presidential campaign. That year, the Republicans used the symbols of nationhood (notably, whether schoolchildren should be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance) to bludgeon the Democrats, challenge their patriotism and utterly redefine their nominee, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts.