The Day After

Well, that was no fun. Some disjointed thoughts:
*We lost the battle. Now, it’s up to the President to make sure that doesn’t result in losing the War.
*It’s been a long time since Republicans have had a bad mid-term loss, so we forget that this is normal. Certainly 2006 was not significantly worse than 1982 or 1986. Ask President Dukakis if a Democratic sweep in the sixth-year midterms is an omen for the next election.
*There are three things Republicans should not do that separate us from our adversaries in how we handle defeat.
First, we should not blame the voters. While I continue to believe that sticking with the GOP was the right decision, the bottom line is that our leadership and candidates just gave people too many reasons to vote against them. I can’t blame the voters for rejecting them, even if in some cases they took their more general frustrations out on good and decent public servants like Jim Talent. (Well, OK, I do sorta think the voters in Michigan will get what they deserve for deciding they want 4 more years of Jennifer Granholm’s economic policies, but other than that).
Second, we should not mutter darkly about voter fraud, voter “intimidation,” etc. Where there are specific and provable problems, as there sometimes are, we should highlight those. But we should not undermine faith in the process just on vague suspicions and fantasies that we were robbed in secret.
Third, we should not try to win with lawyers and vote-counters what we could not win at the polls. On that, I agree 100% with Leon Wolf.
*A sign of how bad last night was in New York is that even the scandal-plagued Alan Hevesit won after Spitzer renounced him and all the New York .
*John Cole should get his wish: a Congressional majority that combines the fiscal discipline of Robert Byrd and the integrity of Alan Mollohan.
*The defeats that hurt the worst: Talent, Santorum and presumably Steele in the Senate, and Ehrlich in Maryland. All of them are real stars. A couple of the good House conservatives also bit the dust, along with a fairly long list of deadwood. The silver lining is that nearly all the people with ethics or personal scandal problems got swept away.
*There were a few bright spots. Tim Pawlenty, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mark Sanford all won their governor’s races, Pawlenty surviving narrowly in Minnesota, and good Republicans won the governor’s mansions in Florida and Alaska (I know less about the new GOP governor in Nevada). In the House, Roskam defeated Duckworth, Heather Wilson seems to have survived, Bachmann beat Wetterling, Musgrave and Shays won (if anyone doubted that there is still a big tent), Reynolds, Kuhl and Walsh won in upstate NY.
*On the Republican side, if you are handicapping 2008, the winners are the outsiders – Rudy, Romney, Newt, especially since Newt’s entire theme is “the Revolution Betrayed”. The biggest loser is George Allen; even if the final ballot-counting somehow rescues him, he ran about the worst campain I have ever seen in terms of frittering away natural advantages and 15 years of good will with Virginia voters, running on things that were barely if at all relevant (Webb’s novels) or made him look more conservative than Allen (Webb’s views on women in combat). John McCain is probably also a loser; as Ken Blackwell was forcibly reminded yesterday, when voters get sick of the insiders they don’t much care that you were an outsider among the insiders.
On the VP side, Condi Rice’s stock probably dropped, as any 2008 GOP candidate will want at least a cosmetic degree of separation from Bush on Iraq; the stock of Pawlenty and Sanford as VP candidates is through the roof this morning, and one of them may even be tempted to run for the top job.
*On the D side, harder to discern winners and losers, but remember this: Hillary ran under the best possible conditions, in a deep blue state in a Democratic year, with tons of money against an overmatched and underfunded opponent who got no media traction. Those conditions allowed Eliot Spitzer to draw 69% of the vote (Chuck Schumer got 71% in 2004). Hillary drew 67%. Which goes to show that she starts with a guaranteed third of the electorate that just will not pull the lever for her under any conditions. Apply that nationally to states less Democratic than New York and conditions less favorable than 2006, and see where it gets you.
*Speaking of George Allen, the moment when the Allen-Webb Senate race turned from a low-level longshot bid to a nail-biter was, of course, the “macaca” controversy triggered by a young Webb staffer looking to provoke a confrontation with the candidate.
The anti-Allen campaign escalated that recently with a heckler shoving people over to get close to the candidate so as to hurl an unsubstantiated accusation at him and provoke a confrontation with the candidate. This resulted in the heckler getting (well-earned but probably hoped-for) rough treatment from Allen’s staff and a spate of additional bad publicity for Allen.
My prediction: if Webb hangs on to what looks like a victory (though all the ballots have not been counted yet), these kinds of tactics will be validated, especially among the lefty activist base, and we will see a lot more efforts to generate controversy by hecklers and other “guerilla” campaigners seeking verbal and physical confrontation. Whether or not one of them crosses the line to Travis Bickle territory, that is likely to lead to ever more stage-managed and security-controlled events and ever fewer genuine, open interactions between our elected officials and the people they work for.
*There is, as there ought to be periodically in any movement, some soul-searching to be done after yesterday’s setbacks, and I agree with the general view that for the most part, with only limited exceptions, Republicans suffered at the polls less for what we believe in as conservatives than for the failure to live up to those ideals.
But in our haste to blame the leaders of the party, let us not overstate the case. I hear it said sometimes that President Bush is somehow not really a conservative. Now, it is true that Bush has not governed as a small-government conservative, and the cause of smaller government is certainly an important one for conservatism. President Bush has failed to stand up for conservative principles on a few other fronts, and it is right for us to point that out. But conservatism is a philosophy, not an all-encompassing litmus-test-intensive ideology, and it has many different elements (I have a long-brewing essay on that topic that I should try to finish some time over the next several weeks). As I said the other day, Bush is the second-most-conservative president we have had since Coolidge, and he has taken principled stands on a number of key conservative priorities and stuck by them, notably on national security and war, lower taxes, and the nomination of conservative judges. And his doing so won him election in 2000 and re-election with a majority of the voting public in 2004.
In 2008, we will again run candidates for the White House and Congress who are conservatives in broad outline and on key priorities, but who may compromise on some specific issues. Perhaps, as is quite likely, they will offer different compromises than President Bush has. I can live with that, if the compromises are ones I can live with. Getting back to first principles is important and worthy, even necessary. But we should not pretend that absolute purity will be necessary to do so, or even feasible in rebuilding a majority coalition and winning national elections.