Tactical breakdown

In the aftermath of their electoral drubbing in 2006, Republicans — desperate for a silver lining — tried to spin their losses by claiming that Democrats had won by adopting “conservative” positions on the issues.

The reality was far different, as voters elected unquestionably progressive stalwarts like Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump claims a 'spy' on his campaign tried to help 'Crooked Hillary' win Rising star Abrams advances in Georgia governor race Webb: Drain the swamp MORE (I-Vt.), Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThe Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump close the deal with North Korea? Senate must save itself by confirming Mike Pompeo Poll: Menendez has 17-point lead over GOP challenger MORE (D-N.J.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownPa. health secretary: 'Sustainable funding' needed to attack opioid crisis The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — How long can a Trump-DOJ accord survive? Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Google struggle to block terrorist content | Cambridge Analytica declares bankruptcy in US | Company exposed phone location data | Apple starts paying back taxes to Ireland MORE (D-Ohio), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseHouse easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump Senate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Dems expand 2018 message to ‘draining the swamp’ MORE (D-R.I.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSenate reaches deal on new sexual harassment policy Washington governor to make Iowa debut Senators near deal on sexual harassment policy change MORE (D-Minn.) to the Senate that year. Montana’s Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTrump urges anti-abortion advocates to rally in November Overnight Finance: House sends Dodd-Frank rollbacks to Trump | What's in the bill | Trump says there is 'no deal' to help ZTE | Panel approves bill to toughen foreign investment reviews House votes to ease regulation of banks, sending bill to Trump MORE (D) was an anti-Iraq war, pro-civil liberties economic populist. And if Virginia’s Jim Webb (D) was conservative, what the heck was he doing railing in The Wall Street Journal against “our society’s steady drift toward a class-based system” and the “hubris” and “arrogance” of “the nation’s most fortunate”?

Last week, Republicans once again struggled to explain a crushing defeat — this one an eight-point loss in Mississippi’s solidly Republican 1st congressional district. While recent special-election House losses in Illinois and Louisiana were at least partially explained by supposedly bad candidates and heavy Democratic spending, the MS-01 defeat was utterly inexcusable.  

Republican Greg Davis was a top-tier challenger who outraised and outspent his Democratic opponent Travis Childers by 2-1. All told, Republicans and their allies spent $2.6 million to the Democrats’ $2.2 million. Yet all it bought them was a 33-point reversal of Bush’s 25-point 2004 victory in that district.

So if it wasn’t the money, and it wasn’t the candidate, what else could it be?

Well, taking a page from their 2006 playbook, Republicans claimed Childers had hoodwinked voters by convincing them that he was, in fact, a conservative. “[W]e had somebody running as a Republican, pro-life, pro-gun, who wants to cut taxes, wants to control spending,” said NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.).

Nonsense.

Childers’s pro-gun stance is hardly notable in a Democratic Party that long ago abandoned a uniform stance on weapon ownership. And if “controlling spending” is a Republican trait, then why did Republican George W. Bush and his Republican Congress saddle the nation with record deficits and debt?

Sure, Childers’s stances on abortion (and immigration, as well) are further to the political right than that of most Democrats, but on the whole, he’s well within the Democratic mainstream. His focus through the election was on the terrible Bush economy, opposition to free trade deals, support for government-funded healthcare programs, protecting Social Security, eliminating subsidies to Big Oil, and getting our troops home from Iraq.

Republicans are furious, of course, because their typical anti-Democratic campaign no longer works. In addition to the usual “tax and spend!” bleats, the GOP worked feverishly to tie Childers to national Democratic leaders. One Davis ad claimed that Childers “took Obama’s endorsement over our conservative values.” An NRCC ad warned that “if Travis Childers ever gets elected, he’ll vote to keep the liberal House Speaker from San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi, in power.”

But the attacks on Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOn North Korea, give Trump some credit The mainstream media — the lap dogs of the deep state and propaganda arm of the left The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ MORE (D-Ill.) and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright backfired, energizing the district’s significant black electorate while doing nothing to gin up white resentment. Ultimately, neither Wright nor the city of San Francisco really mattered to everyday Mississippians in a time of economic distress and war. And with Childers effectively taking guns and abortion off the table, Republicans had nothing but the “R” next to Davis’s name to run on. In years past, in this district, that “R” would’ve been enough for victory.

That’s no longer the case.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .