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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Tapscottian View of the Elections

When Republicans worry more about staying in government than about limiting government, they get thrown out of government. That's the lesson of Nov. 7, 2006.

Conservatives have been warning the Washington Republican Establishment for years that a day of reckoning would come sooner or later if they continued to talk the talk of conservative reform such as the Contract with America without walking it as well. The day of reckoning arrived Tuesday. I am not confident that the GOP will ever again wield the power it held during the past 12 years.

All evening as I watched the returns Tuesday night and throughout the day today as I've read others' comments, I've found myself going back to the debate that ensued across the Right side of the Blogosphere in May. The debate was sparked by a Bruce Kesler post at Democracy Project entitled "Conservative Battle Fatigue."

Hugh Hewitt, the Blogfather of so many of us, christened that debate "Tapscottians versus Geraghtyites," with National Review Online's Jim Geraghty being the principal voice for those opposing the miscreants, malcontents and lone rangers who lined up with yours truly.

The fulcrum of that debate, of course, was what should be the proper attitude of conservatives and libertarians towards the GOP in the 2006 campaign. Should we stay home in protest or save the GOP's bacon yet again?

As told by Hugh, the Tapscottians advocated staying home on election day to punish the GOP for deviating from the limited government gospel no matter the consequences, even to the extent of a Democratic congressional majority being elected, while the Geraghtyites took the much more pragmatic approach of holding their noses and voting for the GOP, if only to assure sufficient support for the President on the war and in appointing conservative judges.

My purpose here, however, is not to refight that battle, but rather to review one of my concluding posts in light of Tuesday's results, the May 18 number entitled "Conservative Battle Fatique? What About the SCOTUS?"

That post opened by noting a Washington Post/ABC News survey that found 55 percent of those surveyed saying they wanted an alternative to Democrats and Republicans, then moved to comments by White House political maestro Karl Rove.

I believed Rove's comments confirmed that there was little hope of the GOP maintaining its congressional majority precisely because the response of the Bush White House and the GOP Establishment to the steadily worsening outlook would assure an election day disaster:

"Today it is doubtful the GOP can credibly offer another [Contract with America] unless it prefaces that offer with significant and concrete action toward enactment of long-promised conservative policies accomplished in a dramatic manner - 'emergency session' - that nationalizes the election on our terms rather than the Democrats' terms. Do Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert have the political acumen and courage to do this?"

The answer, of course, was no, they didn't, which meant the essential framing of the GOP congressional campaign would be left to Rove. Rove's strategy was built on the tried-and-true GOP Establishment axiom that "conservatives have no place to go," and therefore the biggest challenge was getting them to turnout on election day in sufficient numbers to overcome the Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media.

It was essential for the Rove strategy to create the appearance of sufficient progress on key issues in order to "get the GOP base stirred up." But the "progress" was little more than smoke and mirrors and everybody in Washington knew it, as did millions of conservative voters who had heard the same broken record over and over again in the past.

Thus, the Rove strategy was doomed months before it was implemented:

"Karl Rove's idea that conservatives can be lured back in sufficient numbers to protect the GOP majority by focusing on four critical issues to create the appearance of such genuine progress reminds me of the last desperate effort of the Bush I re-election campaign to portray W's father as a conservative advocate. It wasn't credible then thanks to the broken 'read my lips' promise and it isn't credible now because Bush hasn't vetoed irresponsible spending and seems determined to grant amnesty to most of the 11 million illegal immigrants."

As predicted in May, the Rove strategy fell apart by election day. As the prospect of Speaker Pelosi loomed larger, there was a small surge in GOP support, but it started far too late to change the outcome and in any case couldn't achieve the needed intensity, thanks to the years of broken promises from the GOP Establishment.

But I wasn't completely pessimistic in May:

"The good news is the opportunity thereby created for conservatives to provide the credible alternative being sought by that 55 percent who are looking around for somebody else to support in November.

"So in my view the most likely scenario is this: The GOP Establishment won't/can't seize this opportunity and so will lose in November, but the Moonbat extremism that afflicts the Democrats will quickly squander their gains.

"With Bush finally using the veto, the period leading to the 2008 presidential race will be stalemate in Congress and continued opportunity for the creation and articulation of a credible new conservative alternative. The Democrats only hope will be a triangulating Hillary, but even that won't work if her negatives remain at their typical level."

What happens in the GOP in the next 90 days will determine whether the party ever again has a realistic chance of regaining majority status in Congress and the White House. If there is not a top-to-bottom housecleaning in the congressional leadership and the national and state party structures, nothing much will change.

Frankly, I doubt that the GOP can change enough to avoid a long slide into a political oblivion not unlike that suffered by the Whigs for their inability to confront the issue of slavery.

The GOP has talked about Big Government for decades, but, with the exception of the Reagan years, has done little to change Washington. Indeed, during Bush II, the GOP has expanded Big Government even faster than the Democrats.

So what about the presidential aspirants for 2008? That's a topic for another time and frankly right now, I don't see much reason to be hopeful there either. As Scarlet said, I'll think about that tomorrow.

UPDATE: The Bums Give Us the Rush

Hugh Hewitt is surprised and angry that the House GOP leadership is calling the caucus back to D.C. next week to elect a Minority leader and other new leadership, noting that "the rush to engineer a succession communicates an unwillingness to recognize the significance of the set-back yesterday."

Oh, it communicates that and so much more, Hugh.

UPDATE II: Voters Didn't Leave Conservatism, the GOP Did - Coburn

Here's the heart of Sen. Tom Coburn's statement on the election:

"Many factors contributed to these election results. The American people obviously are concerned about the conduct of the war in Iraq. Members of both parties have an obligation to work together to offer creative and constructive solutions that will help our troops accomplish their mission.

"The overriding theme of this election, however, is that voters are more interested in changing the culture in Washington than changing course in Washington, D.C. This election was not a rejection of conservative principles per se, but a rejection of corrupt, complacent and incompetent government.

"A recent CNN poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe government is doing too much while only 37 percent want government to do more. The results of this election reflect that attitude. Among the Republicans who lost their re-election bids a surprising number were political moderates who advocated a more activist government.

"Several Republican members of the appropriations committees, which have been on a spending binge, also were not re-elected. On the other hand, the two Republican senators who pulled off the most impressive victories were unapologetic conservatives, Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and John Ensign (R-NV). It is also notable that the Democrats who won or who ran competitive races sounded more like Ronald Reagan than Lyndon Johnson.

"This election does not show that voters have abandoned their belief in limited government; it shows that the Republican Party has abandoned them. In fact, these results represent the total failure of big government Republicanism."

UPDATE III: Conservatives voted for Democrats

That may seem like a shocking headline, but Mike Franc of The Heritage Foundation has an excellent column in today's edition of The Baltimore Sun in which he lays it out in stark numbers:

"In every competitive Senate election save
Rhode Island's, the Democrat won the votes of substantially more self-identified conservatives than the Republican did of liberals. One-fifth of all conservative voters in Pennsylvania, for example, voted for Democrat Bob Casey.

"Ohio's senator-elect, Sherrod Brown, who voted the conservative position only 8 percent of the time during his 14 years in the House (according to the American Conservative Union's scorecard), nevertheless won the votes of 23 percent of Ohio's conservatives.

"But even the support of all self-identified conservatives in those states would not have been enough to pull Sens. Rick Santorum and Mike DeWine over the finish line. Significantly, in at least three of the closest races - in
Missouri, Montana and Virginia - the net cost of losing these conservatives was greater than the Republican margin of defeat."

GOP Establishment-types will argue that such voting is like cutting off one's nose to spite one's face, but Franc's data is yet another indication of just how hollow was the argument that "conservatives have no place to go" except to vote for the party of Ted Stevens, Trent Lott and Jerry Lewis.