In the last several elections, Republicans have become masters at undermining Democratic support for Democratic candidates. They have been supporting candidates in our local Democratic primaries who have been hammering at the idea that the front-runner “could not win” in the general election. In each case, the front runners did gain our nomination but were handicapped in the general election because a portion of the Democratic electorate had become convinced that they could not win, so they didn't work as vigorously, or at all, to secure a victory. Their candidate having lost the primary, they sat out the general election, doing their part to make sure that the Democratic nominee could not win, and thus proving that they had been right all along.
Not being on the inside of the Republican organization, I can't know whether the candidates they supported to do their dirty work were recruited for that purpose or were simply taken advantage of. But the results were the same. We lost, because just enough Democrats were convinced that we had nominated a candidate who could not win. It didn't matter that the candidate who had the secret Republican backing did not win. What was important was that in the general election, the actual Republican candidate did.
I am hearing the same talk again. It is pretty easy to trace it back to the Republicans, since they harp on it in their blogs. They have seen time and again that we Democrats are so eager to win that we will cannibalize our best candidates on the mere whisper that they can't win. Can't win because not enough money. Can't win because too liberal. Can't win because hasn't been blessed by the extreme militant right-wing of a foreign government's lobby. Can't win because African American. Can't win because gay. Comb through the FEC reports and it isn't hard to see who is behind these “can't win” choruses. The money, and even the candidates, show up, spread their doubts, and tend to vanish until the next election.
The genius of this Republican tactic is that it recruits Democrats to destroy their own party's chances, like a virus replicating within a body. Brilliantly, the Republicans have figured out that there are Democrats who are so fatigued from losing that they welcome an excuse to not even try anymore. If our candidate can't win, why bother? And when the election is over, if we lose, they can say with great satisfaction, “I told you so.”
So far I have not heard any of our candidates themselves say their opponents “can't win”. They don't have to. The Republicans are seeing to it that the meme gets a lot of exposure, and vanity assures that there are Democrats who will carry the tune. By saying someone “can't win,” a person can imply that they really understand beltway politics; they are real insiders. Shake your head sadly when you say someone “can't win” and, like Tevya says of the rich man, “they think you really know!”
There is a defense against this pernicious attack: awareness. If you hear someone say your candidate “can't win,” recognize that you are listening to Republican propaganda. You may be hearing it from a friend or someone whom you respect, whom it will be difficult to confront. But your response need only be the truth. The truth is that no Democratic candidates can win if the Democrats don't support them, and this time around, with the new district boundaries and recent history of very close elections, good Democratic candidates can win with the support of the people. The question should be whether the candidate deserves your support, not whether they “can win.” The Republicans are the ones who want you to get those questions mixed up.