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Election Dissection

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As George Bush put it, the Republicans took a “thumpin’” on November 7th. By the time the counting and recounting is finished, the balance of power in the House of Representatives will have essentially flip-flopped, giving the Democrats approximately the same numerical strength that the Republicans had prior to the election. In the Senate, they will hold a one vote majority, providing that recently exiled Joe Lieberman makes good on his word to continue to caucus with the party that abandoned him.

That’s the result of what happened on Tuesday, but what actually happened? Well, a lot of things. To state the obvious, GOP candidates were paddling up stream, against public opinion infected with the infamous “six year itch”. There was bad news from Iraq, scandalous lobbyists in black fedoras, a gay congressman that liked to text dirty talk to House pages, and a hostile press (ok, that’s not new) that will no doubt soon begin to discover that the economy is actually in great shape, their previous reporting notwithstanding.

Add to that years of allowing themselves to adopt the drunken-sailor attitude towards federal spending, losing their appetite for reform, failing to make real progress on the issue agendas of those who helped elect them in the first place and, more recently, failure to adopt a party-wide strong stance on the immigration issue. In the end, the Republicans did more to lose the election than the Democrats did to win it. But the result is the same.

But what kind of Democrats won? In short, most of them weren’t your garden variety liberals. In fact, most of them ran as moderate conservatives. In the Senate you had former Republican military man Jim Webb running in Virginia; gun lovin’, big game butcherin’ John Tester in Montana; pro-life, moderate conservative Bob Casey in Pennsylvania and moderate liberal Sheldon Whitehouse running against moderate liberal Lincoln Chaffee in the blue, blue state of Rhode Island. Contrast that with far left liberal Democrat Ned Lamont losing out to moderate “Independent” Joe Lieberman in Connecticut.

In the twelve GOP House seats that were open, Republicans held five and lost seven. Of those seven loses, three were the “scandal seats”, (Ney, Foley and DeLay), which would have easily been held otherwise, (in two cases, the Republican’s name wasn’t even on the ballot). Among the newly elected House Democrats is Heath Schuler, a pro-life, pro-gun, evangelical Christian, (mark him as a prime GOP target for a future party switch).

This is not to say that the Democrats didn’t do well, they did. But they didn’t quite match up to the historical trend of off year gains for an out of power party, and their gains came largely in nationalizing the election around the issue of Iraq. Generally, they sought to define themselves around what they weren’t rather than what they were – and not as “liberal” alternatives to conservatives.

Then there were the ballot measures. According to the latest tallies, state marriage amendments passed in seven out of eight states. In Colorado, the amendment passed while an alternative referendum that would have created homosexual domestic partnerships failed. Arizonans made English the official language, legalized marijuana failed in each state it was on the ballot, and voters in the state of Michigan approved restrictions on affirmative action, (something the Supreme Court couldn’t bring itself to do over a year ago).

Add to that a clean sweep for amendments that would reign in government’s ability to use eminent domain to take private property as a means of increasing tax revenue, (again, something the Supreme Court couldn’t do). All in all, not a bad day for conservatives.

This is not to say there weren’t disappointments. The South Dakota abortion ban failed by ten points, but when you consider it allowed no exceptions whatsoever that probably indicates that a similar bill with rape and incest exceptions would pass, setting up a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade.

The point is that the issue environment wasn’t bad for conservatism, as many moderate to conservative Democrats are now newly minted members of Congress. It was bad for Republicans.

Partisan cycles come and go and, odds are, the political environment in 2008 will offer Republicans a chance to contrast themselves with the Democrat leadership in Congress, which will be dominated by liberals. The conservative members of their caucus are sure to be shown to the back of the bus and the old liberal war horses that have been out of power for a dozen years will take the wheel. We’ve seen this movie before.

But in this election, as in elections for well over twenty years, the American electorate continued to demonstrate a general preference for conservative issues and governance. As the Republican leadership (and Republicans all across the country) conduct their post-mortems and plan for the future, they would do well to keep that in mind.

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About Drew McKissick

Drew McKissick is a political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience specializing in political strategy, planning and organization as well as the development of grassroots related political action programs. He has worked as a political activist at the local, state and national levels, and has served in elected and appointed positions at all levels of the Republican Party, including serving as a member of the Republican National Committee. He also writes a regular column providing analysis and commentary on current events.
  • Alec

    Although neocons were soundly thumped, “conservative values” were not soundly endorsed by November voters. California voters rejected the eminent domain initiative (which was obviously not a national clean sweep), and rejected – for a second straight time – another initiative that would require a waiting period and parental notification of minors seeking abortions.

    Some voters are recognizing that some aspects of the conservative agenda are unconstitutional and un-American. It’s one thing to profess a belief in a deity, another to believe that the government should ladle out government money to “faith-based” programs. One interesting radio interview I heard from a conservative blogger suggested that a significant number of people, mainly men, were angered by recent Congressional legislation restricting online gambling, figuring that it was not the government’s business to regulate people’s lives in this regard, or to seek to justify this intrusion using a phoney call to either religion or to family values, especially when the legislation hypocritically laid off other forms of gambling that has left a stinky trail of campaign contributions.

    I wonder whether any of these new representatives, or any incumbents, will have the guts to explain to the American people exactly why the FCC should be able to impose excessive fines for “bad language,” bypassing all past precedents concerning local community standards, or how the federal government has any authority to prevent people from buying prescription medications from Canada or any other reputable source? Or how these actions had any connection to “conservative governance?”

    Some radio talk show hosts (Hannity, Limbaugh, a few others), and some conservative bloggers, also should be forced to explain exactly why people should continue to listen to them when they clearly were spouting talking points and an orthodox party line, and stopped listening to, and reacting to, voter discontent.

  • Nancy

    Spot on, Dr. Kurt: true Republicans of the Old School won – or at least got a fair start to taking back their party which had been stolen from them by Cheney, Rove, & crew. Neocons in no way resemble actual Republicans & mainstream conservatives; I know, I used to be one before the party grew fangs & went toxic. Actual American conservatives want small government, restrained fiscal policies, enhanced personal privacy, restricted government oversight, & are NOT particularly interested in bringing the blessings of democracy (which is a bullshit excuse that evolved, to begin with) to ANY other parts of the world, especially if it involves massive amounts of US money & lives. BushCo is no more a bunch of representative Republicans conservatives than I am a supermodel. They’re neocons, and the twain are no more alike than cheese & chalk.

  • Dr. Kurt

    Perhaps a better way to put it is, not such a bad day for conservatives; a very bad day indeed for neocons.

  • Well, I guess a number of country mice voted Democratic this time. The Blue Dogs they voted in may be conservative, but not as conservative as the Republicans they replaced.

  • RedTard

    It’s like the old book, country mouse vs. city mouse. Urban areas where people are packed in like rats with barricades and gated communities seperating economic classes and people so jaded and without any sense of community or common good they can’t find any solutions without getting the government involved you need liberal big government and that’s what they vote for.

    If you live in the 90% of the land mass of the country that doesn’t fall under these rules, tough shit, that’s democracy.

  • Baronius

    Allen, Santorum, and Steele were all seen as rising stars. Santorum and Allen were beaten by moderate Democrats. Steele was beaten by a bloody moron, but that’s Maryland’s Senate tradition. (Have you ever heard Sarbannes speak?) Even granting the seeming centrism of their opponents, this election has to count as one of the worst days in conservate history.

  • “…in this election, as in elections for well over twenty years, the American electorate continued to demonstrate a general preference for conservative issues and governance”

    Well, maybe. I believe most Americans vote for practicality, not ideology, and they tend to gravitate away from extremism and toward the middle. Also, as the excellent Hendrik Hertzberg wrote in last week’s New Yorker [the figures refer to the current, pre-election Congress]:

    “The Senate’s fifty-five Republicans represent fewer Americans than do its forty-five Democrats. On the House side, Democratic candidates have won a higher proportion of the average district vote than Republicans in four of the five biennial elections since 1994, but — thanks to a combination of gerrymandering and demographics — Republicans remain in the majority. To win back the House, Democrats need something close to a landslide.”

    And that is in effect what they got.