February 16, 2007

Less Than 10% Is A 'Broad Swath'?

The Washington Post needs better headline writers. Today's story on Republican defections to the anti-surge resolution in the House implies that a massive revolt has taken place in the GOP over the war. Instead, we find out that around 6.5% of the caucus will vote with the Democrats:

Broad Swath of GOP Defecting on Iraq Vote

From the moderate suburbs of Delaware to the rural, conservative valleys of eastern Tennessee, House Republican opponents of President Bush's latest Iraq war plan cut across the GOP's ideological and regional spectrum.

Numbering a dozen or more, these House Republicans have emerged as some of the most prominent opponents of the plan to increase troop presence in Iraq. They admit to being a ragtag band, with no scheduled meetings and little political cohesion.

"We aren't organized at all," said Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), whose district includes suburbs of the Twin Cities. "It's about as diverse a group as is possible."

Borrowing time from House Democrats, these Republicans have gone to the floor to condemn the latest attempt at stabilizing Iraq, which they see as mired in civil war, and have vowed to support a Democratic-driven resolution condemning the buildup.

The conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill has been that those Republicans facing the most tenuous political hold on their seats would be in open revolt against Bush's unpopular decision to send more troops into Iraq. But the lion's share of GOP opponents of the Bush plan come from comfortable to very safe congressional districts.

Thirteen seats among 200+ does not a "broad swath" make. It's newsworthy, but the group still comprises a small minority in the Republican caucus. Both the headline and the story sell this as something much larger than it is, but the headline presents the most misleading take.

The Post plays heavily on the fact that some of these Representatives come from "safe" districts, but they also report that some who barely survived the midterms will oppose Nancy Pelosi's non-binding resolution. Christopher Shays, not exactly a dyed-in-the-wool conservative -- he co-authored the House side of McCain-Feingold -- opposes the resolution. So does Heather Wilson, who had to survive a recount to remain in her seat.

One of the baker's dozen claims that the resolution will gain somewhere between 30-50 Republican votes. Perhaps, but even at that, it comes to just less than 25% of the caucus at the highest. Right now it represents a blip, not a "broad swath", as everyone except the Washington Post understands.


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