Momentum alone won’t carry GOP

Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian has it figured out. His organization passed on an opportunity for a perfect 16-0 season by resting players in late games, losing one game and surrendering momentum.

Said the Colts executive, “Momentum is an overrated situation. We didn’t have a lot of momentum going into the playoffs the year we won the Super Bowl. The fact is that at this time of year, you have very many players who are injured, playing hurt, who need rest because they have nagging injuries through which they’ve been fighting. That’s your first and most important consideration.”

Republicans, basking in the glory of a surfeit of good news over the past 90 days, need to be just as concerned about getting over our own nagging injuries, including self-inflicted wounds from intra-party squabbling over litmus-test issues. If RINO-hunting Republicans don’t put away their weapons, Scott Brown may be their victim before he’s ever even sworn into office. Mounting Brown’s head on the wall plaque would be a prized trophy for some social conservatives, but it would sure be a momentum killer.

The problem with momentum is that it’s so substance-less and vague. I am reminded that my Democrat counterpart here in the pages of The Hill, Mark Mellman, suggested that Brown seized momentum late in the campaign based largely on the results of encouraging pre-election polls. What does this actually mean? Did the polls create momentum, or were the positive polls a sign of growing momentum that existed apart from any polls? Of course, the real answer is that there is some truth to both explanations.

Brown was surging “under the radar,” as we say, but once the radar signal locked onto his movement and the polls recorded the surge, there was a secondary surge. Which wave of progress was bigger and more responsible for his victory? Who knows? And that’s the problem. If momentum played a role, yet we aren’t able to quantify it, then the concept is too elusive to use as a guide for political strategies. I am more comfortable with conventional explanations for Brown’s victory, like anger and disappointment with the Democrats’ spending and misguided healthcare solutions.

Despite my misgivings about momentum, I am interested in anti-momentum, what some social psychologists have labeled the “spiral of silence.” Everyday Democrats, stunned by their party’s rejection, might just stop talking to friends and neighbors about politics in order to avoid hearing more conversation about how the Democrats and their policies are losers. As more Democrats stop talking, the few remaining yackers stop talking. Suddenly, the spiral is deafening silence from Democrats.

That spiral of silence is not a strategy, though. It’s just something that happens. So I just try and exploit it. If it rains during the Super Bowl and it gets too sloppy to pass a slippery ball, the team with the better running game tries to exploit that advantage. It’s raining on the Democrats’ parade right now. Will the Republicans have the strength of policies and candidates to win? Momentum alone won’t bring victory.

David Hill has been a Republican pollster since 1984. This cycle he is polling for gubernatorial campaigns in four states.