To an ideologue, elections are ephemeral skirmishes in a permanent ideological war over American hearts and minds. Democrats may be the liberal party and Republicans the conservative party. But an election victory by one party or the other needn’t signal an ideological victory for at least two pretty obvious reasons:
First, any candidate’s electability turns on a lot of things besides his or her ideological commitments, like a record of demonstrated competence, charisma and dumb luck.
Second, even if electability were entirely a function of voter reactions to the candidates’ ideological commitments, it still wouldn’t follow that electoral victories track ideological victories. In a predominantly two-party system like ours, ideological elections are likely to be won by the party that captures the allegiance of the median voter on the ideological spectrum. One way of doing that is by ceding enough ideological ground to the opposition to project an appearance of sensible moderation. That means that it’s possible, at least in theory, for one side to win successive elections even while the median voter continually moves in the other side’s ideological direction.
So if you want to get a sense of the state of play in the ideological war between liberals and conservatives on the basis of election results, you have to ask whether the median voter in successive elections has been moving right, left or staying pretty much in the same place on a single ideological spectrum. Those are never going to be easy comparisons to make inasmuch as voters near the center of the political spectrum are always going to be the hardest people to pin down ideologically. They’re centrists not because they embrace a centrist ideology, but because they don’t form their political preferences by seeing the political world in ideological terms.
Seen in this light, this Ford commercial (h/t Hot Air) is pretty interesting:
Have you ever seen a mass-marketing pitch that’s so overtly ideological? Presumably, the people who made this spot know a little something about selling cars (and not just to straight-laced ideologues looking for a place to put their bumper stickers). And they’ve apparently decided that associating their brand with the undiluted rhetoric of the Tea Party, and distancing it pretty explicitly from a Democratic Party that's lost track of the American way of doing things, will attract a lot more buyers than it will repel. That can’t be great news for Democrats, but it's really ominous news for liberals.