Years of living in Chicago with a baseball team like the Chicago Cubs has given me the gift of eternal hope. When spring rolls around, the entire city with one voice breathes the words “This could be the year.” And even when it isn’t, we know that there will always be another spring, another chance to make good the promise that springtime brings.
Two years is not that long to wait for renewal. It should start now with some hard and brutal introspection by GOP leaders and an acknowledgement of their total and complete failure – failure as public servants and as honorable men and women. And that introspection should extend to us, the rank and file. What are we asking of the party? More importantly, what are we asking of government?
Tough days ahead. But we’ll be all the better for it if we learn the right lessons and apply the right prescriptions for change. That’s what adults do about defeat. Not whine about “stolen elections” or “rigged machines.” Let’s take our medicine and participate in the birth of a better, more responsible, more responsive Republican party.
And that new party will not look much like the old one – or at least it shouldn’t. If we try to refashion the old majority, we will continue to lose or, in a best case scenario, win enough seats to be in a majority but not enough to enact the kinds of legislation (and start repealing others) that would bring true conservative governance to Washington.
If there is one thing exit polls are good for, it is breaking down the vote by age, income, religion, ideology, and other important indices. Here’s the bad news from exit polls taken for House races nationwide:
- Republicans saw their advantage with white men diminish from 62-37 in 2004 to 53-45 Their advantage with white women dropped from 55-44 in 2004 to a 49-49 tie. For the first time in memory, Republicans lost American males to the Democrats 51-47 compared to 55-44 advantage in 2004.
- In 2004, Bush lost the 18-29 age group but won in the 30-44, 45-59, and 60 and older. No age group voted in the majority for the GOP in 2006.
- The GOP has lost the middle class. In 2004, all income brackets above $50,000 voted in the majority for the GOP (those making $30-50,000 split their vote evenly). In 2006, only those making more than $100,000 and above voted Republican.
- In 2004, Republicans garnered majorities in all education groups except high school graduates and Post Doc grads. In 2006, the GOP failed to win any education group.
- Bush barely lost Independents to Kerry 49-48 in 2004. In 2006, indies went Dem 57-39.
- For the first time since 1976, the Republicans lost the Catholic vote 55-44. GOP won the Catholic vote 52-47 in 2004.
- The GOP lost 2/3 of the unmarried vote. Given that this demographic is growing and is now bigger than married couples, that is a huge stumbling block to majority status.
I could go on and on. The fact of the matter is that the GOP majority, cobbled together after the Reagan majority fell apart, was never really a true ideological coalition. That Reagan coalition had anti-communism as a powerful glue that held northeastern urban ethnics, blue collar rust belters, “Boll Weevil” Democrats, and Main Street Republicans together through good times and bad. The ex-Republican majority, made up of evangelical Christians and other social conservatives as well as a pastiche of libertarians, hawks, anti-immigration advocates, and fiscal conservatives had no ideological coherence. It was bound to crack when things went south.
In a large way, what was holding this coalition together was support for the President. But once Bush proved himself a weak sister on fiscal restraint, immigration, and even the war, there was nothing to keep the majority together except blind loyalty to Bush and the Presidency. And enough conservatives (20%) actually got so disgusted with the President and the GOP that they crossed over and voted Democratic.
We can’t just abandon Bush – not when the Democrats are sharpening their knives to come after him, the Presidency, the war, tax cuts, and the entire conservative agenda. The opposition to the President will be relentless as will the investigations into Iraq, war reconstruction, internal security, Katrina, energy policy, and anything else that strikes the fancy of a Democratic Committee or Sub-Committee chairman. Some of those investigations will no doubt reveal shocking waste, fraud, and abuse. Criminal charges will be forthcoming. Impeachment, demanded by the netnuts from day one, will almost certainly be on the table. And there will be much witch hunting as well as fishing expeditions into White House activities.
But Bush himself is going to have to change his way of governance if he is going to survive the next two years. I hold out little hope that he will do so. Already he is talking about reviving his flawed “guest worker” initiative, thinking he can pass it now that he has a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate. And I believe that he will take the “out” offered by the Iraq Study Group (Baker Commission) to leave Iraq before the job is done. If he does these things and if he continues to preside over the fiscal mess we find ourselves in, he will score no points with Democrats and lose the rest of his base, leaving him dangling, twisting slowly, slowly in the wind as the Democrats flay what’s left of his presidency to shreds.
There is much serious thought to be given to where the party is today and where it should be headed in the future. I anticipate that conservative blogs will play a role in redefining the party and refashioning a viable, coherent coalition that will bring the GOP back from the depths we are in today. There will be clashes of ideas. There will probably be a certain amount of fingerpointing. But blogs will be able to cull and synthesize the blizzard of ideas that will bubble up from the grass roots and present them for discussion to those who lead the party. And with any number of candidates for President waiting in the wings, many of these ideas have a real shot at being incorporated into a winning strategy that would bring the GOP victory in 2008.
We are standing on the crest of a bluff overlooking a vast undiscovered country of ideas and solutions. Let’s hope that we have the courage and the will to seize the opportunity and conquer that country for our party, ourselves, and our country.