Chess, Not Checkers

I’ve hesitated to do this post, partly because I think excessive conservative attention gets paid to short-term political horse race issues. But here’s something practical and urgent that I think everybody on the Right – from rabid Sarah Palin fans to Andrew Sullivan – should agree on: all available resources should be diverted from the McCain campaign to a handful of close Senate races.

Here’s why from the point of view of McCain / Palin supporters:

McCain has been an underdog throughout this race. According to InTrade, he’s spent 214 of the past 220 days as a less than even-money bet. His chances have collapsed within the past month. The betting line on him as I write this is about 6-1 against. Such long-shots do come in sometimes, but it is very unlikely that McCain will be president. Unless somebody has information that is unavailable to the public markets, this estimate should guide allocation of resources.

Further, Democrats are literally 10-1 to 100-1 favorites to control each house of congress. It’s time to accept all this.

The exact size of the majority in the House is not as crucial as it is in the Senate, where a key point is reached right around 60 seats for Democrats, which, in theory, allows them to prevent a filibuster. Given that the marginal Democrats and marginal Republicans are not reliable party-line voters, getting very close to 60 will prevent some filibusters, hitting 60 will prevent a lot, and getting even slightly past 60 will prevent yet a lot more.

Where this will end up is very much up in the air. According to 538, Democrats have an even-money chance of getting at least 58 seats, a 30% chance of getting at least 60 seats, and only a 10% chance of getting at least 62 seats. There is a probability cliff right around this critical point. This is the fulcrum that will determine the balance of political power for the next two years.

Subject to the constraint that the world doesn’t end on November 5th, and therefore long-term party-building is a material good, it sure seems to me that, for those who strongly oppose Obama, the highest ideological return per dollar of spending right now is in exactly the handful of marginal Senate races. Determining how to accomplish this is a job for political professionals – for all I know the most effective way to help in these Senate races is to make McCain more competitive – but the goal should be maximizing Senate wins. Some pretty partisan observers already promoting this idea.

This is a bitter pill to swallow if you passionately believe that Barrack Obama should not be the next president, but we are called upon to confront with the world as it is, not the world as we wish it might be.

From the perspective of “reform” conservatives, this should be easier to accept. Even if you have the point of view that, for whatever reason, you think Obama is a better choice for president than McCain, you should want to see some restraint and check on the authority of a combined Obama / Pelosi / Reid political leadership in enacting an agenda that extends far beyond what Obama has proposed. It seems to me that this national interest should trump even whatever specific preference that you have in these Senate races considered in isolation.

We should all get used to working together again, as it looks like it’s going to be necessary for some time.