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My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.
[I'm splitting my post-mortem into two sections: national and state. The reason for that will be clear in a minute, but I do see the two events separately.]
I tend to look at the results of this election less as refutation of policy, and much more as a rebuke of the practice. When you look at the Democrats that were elected to replace Republicans, you don't really see a massive ideological shift: Casey is "pro-life", Webb is a former SecNavy and easily claims a "blue dog" mantle, McCaskill ran as a cultural conservative, Tester is a law & order candidate, and Whitehouse can hardly be said to be more liberal than Chaffee. The exception is Brown taking out DeWine, but Ohio was really never going to work for the GOP.
What really drove this election, I think, is the issue of competence. On that count, let me tick off a non-comprehensive set of events/attitudes that ruined the Republicans for this cycle.
:Assumptions You know what they say about these. I think there are a number of assumptions that contributed to this result:
--assuming that once Iraqi territory was conquered, it would stay conquered. This led to the battle plan that ran through Iraq, captured and toppled Baghdad, and thought everything would be okay from there
--likewise, assuming that the Iraqi people would be on our side after we 'freed' them made us complacent about the challenges of the insugency
--the same sort of complacency led us to think, apparently, too late of securing the borders and preventing Iran and Syria from taking an active role in fanning the insurgency
(mind you, I do NOT in any of this fault the military leadership; their plan was based on intelligence, and I think we've all started to understand that our intel in the region SUCKS!)
All of these assumptions were in place in 2004, as well; the difference is that the country was okay with the same news for a year; now, we're going on three years and it's time for things to be getting better.
--on purely politics, assuming that the media would have no choice but to, if not give you credit for, at least MENTION that the economy is remarkably strong and that the tax policy of this President and Congress may have played a role in that (maybe)
This one is my biggest pet peeve. I actually think that GOP strategists all over the country were just waiting for the strong unemployment numbers and a stock market record to bring the voters over to us. At no point in this interminable campaign did I see a candidate speak the plain truth about state of the economy; the President stumped on it, but, really, nobody's listening to him now.
:Katrina. I think the beginning of the end was here. Whether it's fair or not, the image of the President flying over the disaster zone, followed by the weeks of horrible press and laughably weak politics, took all the mantle of "daddy" off the White House. It was during this event that the confidence the country had in Pres. Bush to take care of them faded away. At the very least, the President missed a golden political opportunity to be "consoler in chief; at most, the image of an unconcerned, slow-to-act Executive was etched indellibly on the American mind.
:Lack of Focus Put that in contrast to the speed with which Congress and the President acted on Terry Schiavo. Or how quickly they were able to act on the strictly symbolic measures to refute John Murtha's call for "redeployment." Clearly, government is capable of dispatch--it should choose its subject lines more carefully.
:Leadership as Title, Not Action. If you analyze the last year of Congress, I think you'll find that real leadership was only coming from Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, though perhaps only in the form of disciplining their caucus. Bill Frist was unable to herd a 10-vote majority into filling the federal bench, into getting a workable Immigration Bill into conference, into confirming John Bolton, into making the tax cuts permanent . . . the list goes on. On the other hand, one person who did seem to get something done was John McCain--and most of that was a betrayal of the party.
Add to this category Dennis Hastert, who was too slow to put ethics reform front and center. While it's possible that Mark Foley was not in his lap, after seemingly beating down the "culture of corruption" charge for a year, not acting quickly, decisively and publicly early on looked weak. And, of course, who can forget Hastert coming to the defense of William Jefferson, as if Congressional perks were more important than ethical behavior.
:Betrayal of Principles Not only did the fiscal irresponsibility of Congressional Republicans become obvious and public in the last year (thanks, in no small part, to Ted Stevens' "Bridge to Nowhere"), but then to have Republicans fight against Earmark Reform and fight against transparency made it look as if there was no difference between the GOP and the Dems on this issue.
:Failure to Recognize the Strengths of Your Opponents Much has been said about the GOP caucus warning its members early on about a tough campaign, and how much that advice was ignored. I would also add to this that the GOP seems--seemed--to count on making up 4-5 points in the cycle with its GOTV efforts. What? As if after three cycles the Dems wouldn't figure it out and get better at this, too. All indicators are that the GOP GOTV effort was as good or better this time around; guess theirs was, too.
:A DISASTROUS Senatorial Campaign Committee Not only did the NRSC decide to pump $1 million into Lincoln Chaffee's primary campaign--a move which probably cost it most of its fundraising for the rest of the cycle--but then it showed a stunning incompetence at recruiting candidates. By my rough count, there were four vulnerable Dem seats left, basically, uncontested this cycle.
1. Nelson in Florida: in a state where a new GOP governor won fairly easily, you couldn't get a better candidate than Katherine Harris?
2. Nelson in Nebraska: Nebraska is as red as it gets, but Tom Osborne decides to try for Gov, fails, and then the Senate seat is basically conceded
3. Conrad in North Dakota: you're telling me that in the same type of state where a sitting Majority Leader got taken out two years ago, you can't manage to find somebody who can at least hold the GOP registration numbers?
4. Byrd in West Virginia: admittedly, a longshot--nobody's better at bringing home the pork; but WV went strong for the President in 2004, and Byrd is off his rocker. We couldn't have, at least, made the DSCC spend money here?
And, by the way, thank you, Senator Dole, for two awful television appearances in the last month of the campaign.
So, as I look at it, it was either an incompetence in governing or an incompetence in campaigning, or the combination of both, which conspired to bring down Republican leadership in Congress.
Really, though, in an era of 24/7 cable news, is it possible to hold on to majorities the way the Democrats did in the second half of the 20th century? I doubt it. A twelve year run at governing is pretty good.
What's most troubling is how willing the Republicans were to contribute to their own demise. In 1994, the GOP flat-out BEAT the Democrats; this year, the GOP lost.
Whether they can find their way back into power any time soon depends on their willingness to look--long and hard--in the mirror. This makes me think, maybe, no.