Skip to comments.The Road Not Taken: Forfeiting a Majority
Posted on 11/08/2006 8:14:07 PM PST by Checkers
The post-mortems are accumulating, but I think the obvious has to be stated: John McCain and his colleagues in the Gang of 14 cost the GOP its Senate majority while the conduct of a handful of corrupt House members gave that body's leadership the Democrats.
The first two paragraphs of my book Painting the Map Red --published in March of this year, read:
If you are a conservative Republican, as I am, you have a right to be worried. An overconfident and complacent Republican Party could be facing electoral disaster. Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, and a host of others could be looming in our future and undoing all the good we've tried to do.
It is break the glass and pull the alarm time for the Republican Party. The elections looming in November 2006 are shaping up to be disastrous for the GOP as the elections of 1994 were for the Democrats. Most GOP insiders seem unaware of the party's political peril. Some are resigned to a major defeat as the price we have to pay for a decade of consistent gains, which, they think, couldn't have gone on forever.
As cooler heads sort through the returns, they will see not a Democratic wave but a long series of bitter fights most of which were lost by very thin margins, the sort of margin that could have been overcome had there been greater purpose and energy arrayed on the GOP's side. The country did not fundamentally change from 2004, but the Republicans had to defend very difficult terrain in very adverse circumstances. Step by step over the past two years the GOP painted themselves into a corner from which there was no escape. Congressional leadership time and time again took the easy way out and declared truces with Democrats over issues, which ought not to have been compromised. The easy way led to Tuesday's result.
The criminal activities of Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney and Mark Foley were anchors around every Republican neck, and the damaged leadership could not figure out that the only way to slip that weight was by staying in town and working around the clock on issue after issue. The long recesses and the unwillingness to confront the issues head on --remember the House's inexplicable refusal to condemn the New York Times by name in a resolution over the SWIFT program leak?-- conveyed a smugness about the majority which was rooted in redistricting's false assurance of invulnerability. Only on rare occasions would the Republicans set up the sort of debate that sharpened the contrast between the parties. In wartime, the public expects much more from its leaders than they received from the GOP.
In the Senate three turning points stand out.
On April 15, 2005 --less than three months after President Bush had begun a second term won in part because of his pledge to fight for sound judges-- Senator McCain appeared on Hardball and announced he would not support the "constitutional option" to end Democratic filibusters. Then, stunned by the furious reaction, the senator from Arizona cobbled together the Gang of 14 "compromise" that in fact destroyed the ability of the Republican Party to campaign on Democratic obstructionism while throwing many fine nominees under the bus. Now in the ruins of Tuesday there is an almost certain end to the slow but steady restoration of originalism to the bench. Had McCain not abandoned his party and then sabotaged its plans, there would have been an important debate and a crucial decision taken on how the Constitution operates. The result was the complete opposite. Yes, President Bush got his two nominees to SCOTUS through a 55-45 Senate, but the door is now closed, and the court still tilted left. A once-in-a-generation opportunity was lost.
A few months later there came a debate in the Senate over the Democrats' demand for a timetable for withdrawal for Iraq led to another half-measure: A Frist-Warner alternative that demanded quarterly reports on the war's progress, a move widely and correctly interpreted as a blow to the Administrations Iraq policy. Fourteen Republicans voted against the Frist-Warner proposal --including Senator McCain-- and the press immediately understood that the half-measure was an early indicator of erosion in support for a policy of victory.
Then came the two leaks of national security secrets to the New York Times, and an utterly feckless response from both the Senate and the House. Not one hearing was held; not one subpoena delivered. A resolution condemning these deeply injurious actions passed the House but dared not name the New York Times. The Senate did not even vote on a non-binding resolution.
Nor did the Senate get around to confirming the president's authority to conduct warrantless surveillance of al Qaeda contacting its operatives in the United States. Weeks were taken up jamming the incoherent McCain-Kennedy immigration bill through the Judiciary Committee only to see it repudiated by the majority of Republicans, and the opportunity lost for a comprehensive bill that would have met the demand for security within a rational regularization of the illegal population already here.
And while the Senate twiddled away its days, crucial nominees to the federal appellate bench languished in the Judiciary Committee. The most important of them --Peter Keisler who remains nominated for the D.C. Circuit-- didn't even receive a vote because of indifference on the part of Chairman Specter.
(The National Review's Byron York wondered why the president didn't bring up the judges issue in the campaign until the last week, and then only in Montana. The reason was obvious: Senators DeWine and Chafee were struggling and any focus on the legacy of the Gang of 14 would doom DeWine's already dwindling chances while reminding the country of the retreat from principal in early '05.)
As summer became fall, the Administration and Senator Frist began a belated attempt to salvage the term. At exactly that moment Senators McCain and Graham threw down their still murky objections to the Administrations proposals on the trial and treatment of terrorists. Precious days were lost as was momentum and clarity, the NSA program left unconfirmed (though still quite constitutional) and Keisler et al hung out to dry.
Throughout this two years the National Republican Senatorial Committee attempted to persuade an unpersuadable base that Lincoln Chafee was a Republican. For years Chafee has frustrated measure after measure, most recently the confirmation of John Bolton, even after Ahmadinejad threatened and Chavez insulted the United States from the UN stage. Chafee was a one-man wrecking crew on the NRSC finances, a drain of resources and energy, and a billboard for the idea that the Senate is first a club and only secondarily a body of legislators.
It is hard to conceive of how the past two years could have been managed worse on the Hill.
The presidential ambitions of three senators ended Tuesday night, though two of them will not face up to it.
The Republican Party sent them and their 52 colleagues to Washington D.C. to implement an agenda which could have been accomplished but that opportunity was frittered away.
The Republican Party raised the money and staffed the campaigns that had yielded a 55-45 seat majority, and the Republican Party expected the 55 to act like a majority. Confronted with obstruction, the Republicans first fretted and then caved on issue after issue. Had the 55 at least been seen to be trying --hard, and not in a senatorial kind of way-- Tuesday would have had a much different result. Independents, especially, might have seen why the majority mattered.
Will the GOP get back to a working majority again? Perhaps. And perhaps sooner than you think. The Democrats have at least six vulnerable senators running in 2008, while the situation looks pretty good for the GOP.
But the majority is not going to return unless the new minority leadership --however it is composed-- resolves to persuade the public, and to be firm in its convictions, not concerned for the praise of the Beltway-Manhattan media machine.
Hugh Hewitt is a law professor, broadcast journalist, and author of several books including Painting the Map Red: The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority .
Tell it like it is, Hugh.
There's a lot of monday morning quarterbacking going on and much of it may be right, but I still feel our biggest problem was too low of a turnout. Too many people stayed home (for whatever reason).
An Overdue Reckoning
Posted by Dean Barnett | 10:02 AM
We lost the House. We lost the Senate. As we struggle to get through the morning after, theres only one thing to do summon the circular firing squad. Dont worry, Im kidding. Sort of. For this is indeed the time to take a hard look at what brought us to this sorry juncture.
The first thing I want to do is enumerate a few things that did not cost us this election. It wasnt the media. We faced the same media in 2002 and 2004 and prevailed. And it wasnt the savvy campaigning orchestrated by a suddenly gifted group of Machiavellian Democrats. That one doesnt fly either. The Democratic Party remains the organization that allowed John Kerry access to a microphone a week before the election.
Most importantly, we didnt lose because our countrymen suddenly misplaced the virtues that make America great. It is a distinctly liberal trait to blame the people when they dont vote as one would dictate. Ill brook none of that from our side. The fact is, we thought our country would be better off with a Republican congress. We made a case to the American people. They didnt buy it because they thought it was a weak case.
And you know what? They were right. In the closing weeks of the campaign season, I felt like I was a lawyer who had a bad client while writing this blog. That client was the Republican Party which had broken its Contract with America from 1994 and had become unmoored from its conservative principles. As its advocate, I couldnt make a more compelling case for Republicans staying in power than the fact that the Democrats would be worse. I believed in that case, but when thats all the party gave its advocates to work with, you can honestly conclude that Republicans got this drubbing the old fashioned way we earned it.
THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE past six years has been the White Houses ongoing inability to express the rationale for the so-called war on terror. For most of you reading this site, the rationale is obvious and well known: There exists an enormous segment of the Muslim world that seeks our destruction. Either we transform our malefactors, or the worlds fate will be unimaginably horrific.
This is a long war, and yet leading Republicans including the one in the White House have yet to articulate why its necessary. On the campaign trail, only Rick Santorum embraced the challenges that our country faces. Our other candidates and especially the Liddy Dole-led RSCC werent worthy of the era.
In the war of ideas, the White House has also been a disappointment. The president has never clearly acknowledged the stakes or even who our enemy is. At no point has President Bush called for sacrifice, or even encouraged more young people to join the military.
The president could have been using his bully pulpit to insist that all our universities welcome ROTC back on campus. He had an ally on that front in the departed president of Harvard who also happened to be a former Democratic Secretary of the Treasury. He eschewed this opportunity, and we can label it just one of the countless blown chances of the past five years.
The president could also explain, as Eisenhower did, that the economy has to stay strong for us to be able to prosecute this long war. Thus, tax policies that foster economic growth are not inconsistent with a call for sacrifice. Again, this is a case that has never been made.
You add it all up, and the people are right to wonder why our boys are dying in Iraq. Because the president hasnt made the missions importance clear, it seems like a folly. It seems like vanity. It seems like pride. In truth it is a fight for our very survival, but this has been an argument left to the likes of the Weekly Standard, the National Review and Victor Davis Hanson to make. Weve tried, but we preach mostly to the choir.
The president has had the chance to do more, but as of yet he hasnt chosen to do so. Has he lost faith in the American people? If so, then he more than anyone else needs to look in the mirror this morning.
SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? The most important thing we can do as conservatives and as Republicans, starting today, is to show a seriousness of mission that has been conspicuously lacking the last couple of years.
That means that for the time being there are certain itches that we cannot scratch. I doubt many people reading this page are thrilled with the prospects of Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Dingell and Leader Reid. But you know what? They won, and they get the spoils. And we have to work with them and try to get this war moving in the right direction. There may come a time for partisan sniping, but that time is not this morning. Everyone involved in leading this nation now has the sacred duty to serve their country first, last and only.
If we can usher out the partisan rancor that has so marred the past five years, then we must. Its here that George Allen can play a key role.
Its no secret that I havent been a huge admirer of the Senators campaign. I thought it was beneath him, and beneath our political system. The fact that the Webb campaign was every bit as bad didnt make the Allen campaign any nobler.
Now George Allen has a chance. He can announce that he will let the electoral process run its course but decline the invitation to lawyer up. And we can support him. The vicious cycle that began with Al Gore in 2000 can be ended. Graciousness can be returned to American politics. It is perhaps a deliciously ironic coda to this election season that the candidate who waged the seasons ugliest and most inept campaign can be the guy to restore class and dignity to the American political system. This is a real opportunity for Senator Allen, as it is for the rest of us.
There is pain this morning. The loss of good men like Rick Santorum and Chris Chocola hurts. But the good news is that now our party must return to ideas as our key to power. Political sleight of hand and the weakness of our opponents carried us through most of the decade. Indeed, given the remarkable number of close races on the board last night, the Rovian/Mehlman genius came quite close to saving our bacon once again.
At the risk of committing apostasy, last nights defeat is good not only for our party but more importantly for our ideas and ideals. Those ideas and ideals have for too long taken a backseat to other less noble concerns. New leadership must emerge, leadership that understands our principles, can articulate them, and will not abandon them. A long overdue reckoning must now begin.
And there you have it: the Democrats didn't win, the Republicans lost.
I'm making a point of coming out of hiding as a Libertarian -- who has voted straight Republican in almost every election for 26 years -- that the reason the Republicans lost is that they didn't run as Republicans.
Want to win big in 2008? Here's a radical idea: run as Republicans!
Stop lying and start doing what you promise to do, then you'll win.
It's a dark day when you need to have a "Liberdopian" explain that to you.
The reality that will be used as a rectal suppository for the mindless voting public in 2008. This country is in untold trouble and imminent major danger and these morons have no clue...about not only what they have already done to America, but will probably try to do in 2008.
Okay, who's the third? I'm assuming McCain and Frist are two of them.
they do run as repubs....to bad they forgot how to govern as such.
Can you just imagine the carnage if we had faced a COMPETENT Democratic Party???
Inept Democrats have bred Miquetoast Republicans, many of whom are now GONE...
"Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no!"
Stop lying and start doing what you promise to do, then you'll win.
At the end of the day, that was the undoing of the Repubs. Bush made some serious campaign pledges, which if he had performed on, would have tipped the scales away from the Iraq War and still won back the Congress.
Those were notably: Social Security reform, illegal immigration solution, reduced size of government, and squelching radical government spending. He failed MISERABLY on all these counts. IMHO, the attitude of the voter would have been vastly different if he had delivered AS PROMISED.
He didn't and we lost.
Interesting. Who? McCain, Frist and Allen, with Allen being the one who realizes he's toast?
Don't forget Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens, Denny "Hands off Freezer Bag Jefferson" Hastert, Trent "*&%&#$ so-called Porkbusters" Lott, and John "Mr K Street" Boehner. These guys have a sense of entitlement that John Kerry can barely match.
Criminal Number 18F
Too many people stayed home for many of the reasons he outlined here. The GOP leadership sucked for the past two sessions and anyone but a Kool Aid drinker could see it.
Unless there is a significant improvement in leadership, the Republicans are going to take it on the chin even harder in '08 (barring an attack in the lower 48 or the 'rats totally screwing up).
Oh yeah, well I totally agree there!
cause and effect - you just (correctly) identified (part of) the effect. The cause is as described above + an inability or unwillingness to defend + promote things effectively. I'm still amazed that a situation now exists where people truly believe there were no (ie NONE, ZERO) WMD in Iraq, Saddam was one year away from a nuke. Every challenger should have been challenged to explain what they'd have done about Salman Pak. But they ran, ran so far away (Flock of Seagulls)
Boehner CANNOT be Minority Leader.
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