Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 6, 2002
We'll be doing politics and more politics today - back to baseball in a day or so. Some thoughts on the big Election Night:
2. How far has the modern conservative movement come when Rush Limbaugh can sit next to Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert on NBC on Election Night? Of course, Russert loves a good argument, which is why he hits it off so well with Limbaugh (if you've ever seen Russert interview him). Several of the more incendiary commentators were actually somewhat restrained last night - Election Night can be humbling - including Rush, Carville (I wish I'd videotaped Carville with his head in the garbage pail) and Begala. The main exception was Pat Caddell, who was breathing fire over on MSNBC (by the way, we lost the TV remote, so last night was an agony of standing next to the TV flipping from Channel 2 to 4 to 10 to 43 to 46).
3. The Republicans basically won all the close ones, and won every way they could. Republicans won with incuumbents (Allard), with challengers (Chambliss, Talent), they won open seats (Sununu, Dole, Graham), they won blue states (Ehrlich, Coleman, Romney, Pataki), red states (Chambliss leading the Georgia sweep, Perry and Cornyn leading the Texas sweep), they won with conservatives (Bush, Allard, Chambliss, Ehrlich, Talent), moderates (Dole, Coleman, Romney) and liberals (Pataki), they won with fresh faces (Chambliss, Ehrlich), with veterans of the Clinton years (Graham), with family ties (Bush, Dole, Sununu) with former failed presidential candidates (Dole, Alexander) and former failed statewide candidates (Talent, Coleman, Romney), with executives seeking the legislature (Janklow, Coleman) and legislators seeking the executive job (Ehrlich). Where they lost, there were good and obvious reasons: Bill Simon ran an awful campaign, Tim Hutchinson was (justly) done in by a sex scandal, the Illinois and Michigan governors' mansions had been Republican too long and governors in places like Tennessee screwed the party by raising taxes, Doug Forrester was squashed by a deus ex machina intervention. The only one the party can really kick itself about is Simon, who ran well enough even in the face of an overwhelming onslaught -- Gray Davis still managed just 48% of the vote in the last tally I saw -- that a decent campaign could have unseated him.
4. The Green Party was not a factor - nearly all the victorious GOP incumbents polled 50% or better.
5. One pundit (I lost track of who said what) suggested that Bill Frist may have burnished his credentials as a 2004 VP candidate if Cheney retires, by engineering the Senate campaign. I doubt it, because the loss of the Tennessee statehouse means Frist would be replaced in the still-tenuous Senate by a Democrat.
6. Defending all these Senate seats in 2008 will be a beast, but that's then and this is now. I also think the GOP will lose the House in 2004, but then you never know.
7. The Democrats ran to the center this time, which now looks like a mistake (all the Democratic moderates got crushed), and they may compound the error by reacting and running to the Left in 2004. Repeat after me: run to your base in the off years, run to the middle in Presidential years. Bill Kristol (I think it was) probably had it right: Al Gore will be the big Democratic winner here because he'll argue that the Democrats need to have a clear voice of full-throated opposition to Bush. The problem is, Gore still doesn't have a program of his own, just bitterness, and as either NR or the Weekly Standard (I forget) was pointing out recently, all the candidates Gore stumped for got killed.
8. Everyone was asking, what turned things to the GOP in the closing days? The common wisdom is, people decided to unite behind Bush in wartime, especially in the South. I have two theories. Number one, Larry Kudlow was right: the reappearance of Fritz Mondale reminded many voters why they started voting for Republicans in the first place. Number two is the point made often lately and best by Jonathan Last: forget Democratic ire over Florida, it was the Republican base that was fired through the roof by a series of dirty tricks, classless stunts and threatened lawsuits that reminded everyone of the worst excesses of Clinton years and of the raw ambition of Gore's ham-handed, sore-headed Florida recount strategy. With the exception of California and New Jersey, the voters essentially sent the message Republicans got after Watergate: that the party needs to finally let go of its clinging-by-fingernails to every last bit of power it could clutch, and go off somewhere and reflect a little on what public service is supposed to be about. For the GOP, that was a critical factor in the transformation of the party into one that valued ideas above compromises, and the Republicans have benefitted from the resulting blossoming of the party's intellectual and spiritual base ever since.