On November 7th, voters nationwide gave the Republican Party a “thumping” according to President Bush. Although a thrashing might be more accurate, I suppose a thumping will do—or should. For those of us concerned about flagging voter turnout, we should at least be heartened. The turnout was well above that of recent midterm elections, in some races motivating 60 to 70 % of registered voters to participate. While the margins of victory from race to race were not spectacular between Republicans and Democrats, the cumulative effect of Democratic victories in case after case certainly was, and the undeniable conclusion is that there was a national wave that washed across the political scene in 2006—and it was a Democratic wave. Analysis reveals that whereas, some Republicans switched sides in the General Election or stayed home; and whereas, the Democrat Party’s Get Out The Vote (GOTV) phase of its campaign was more successful than in recent years, the margins of victory (10% or less) came from Independent voters. These same voters who broke for Republicans 50-50 in 2004 went 2 to 1 against them in 2006. Moreover, fully one-third of white Evangelical Christians (core of the so-called ‘rightwing religious base’ of the Republican Party) voted for Democrats.
After the thumping, Republicans had lost the House and the Senate. Democrats picked up 29 seats in the House for a majority in that chamber; and 6 Senate seats for a 51-49 majority there. This was clearly not a very good election day for Republicans. They were supposed to have a “firewall” in the Senate—no way they would lose it. To lose the Senate, why they would have to lose practically everything under any contest, including staunchly Republican “Red States” like Montana and Virginia! Republican West; Republican Southland: standard bearers of the Grand Old Party. Yet it happened. In addition, Democrats picked up 6 Governorships for a 28-22 “advantage” in states, which means less now than later when you’re gauging likely outcomes in the 2008 presidential race. Political analyst Mark Shields opined that the election was not a Democratic victory so much as a Republican defeat. Howard Dean, Democrat Party chairman, explained what happened in similar terms. Grinning from ear to ear, he explained the president had helped Democrats “a lot.”
Issues affecting the votes varied. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that corruption and ethics topped the list for many going to the polls, even more than terrorism or the war in Iraq. Of course war was on everyone’s mind too, and no one claimed to be pleased with the current situation. One of the most encouraging notes I received before the election was from a fellow conservative attempting to motivate the Republican base, advising everyone to just “hold your nose and vote All Republican.” I figured things weren’t going to go too well, if that was the best we could do. Indeed, Democrats deserve a little credit. They didn’t trot out the Ted Kennedy model, at least not in prime time. Liberal and conservative labels got a little mixed up if you ask me. John Kerry’s pitiful “botched joke” gave us all cause for a guffaw, but anyone with a lick of sense knew it was never intended to insult the troops. People can be forgiven for catching media clips and losing context, but the president knew better and still played it for coarse political advantage.
Maybe that’s all that was left. Indeed, I was amazed how vapid and vacuous had become the rhetoric from self-styled conservatives facing moderates for the first time in years. If God and guns were removed from the panoply of political discussion, Republicans seemed lost, possessing no original or thoughtful idea on virtually anything else. Howard Dean got this much right: part of their problem was that they were conjoined with the president! And sadly, he really could have used the oversight and constructive criticism from within his party for a long time—he needed it in fact, but never got it. Instead, the president bought into fallacious neo-conservative foreign policy assumptions and most in Congress followed merrily along. The president continued to combine the wars in Iraq and on terrorism as if they were the same things, without drawing distinctions, without offering meaningful explanation, without detailed strategic discussion; and he got a bye from his party that the people refused to give Republican candidates. Worst of all, the president said it was cool to be a Big Government Conservative, especially in time of war, and Republicans tripped over themselves to get “with it.” Since 2004, Republican government has resembled the animals at the end of Animal Farm, looking and acting like the people they replaced; or in this case, Republicans dancing around and behaving like Democrats. After twelve years (1994-2006) of Congressional domination, Republicans proved they could spend more for guns and butter at the same time than LBJ. Instead of inflation, they just added debt. Republicans proved they could govern as arrogantly as FDR and Nixon put together, flippantly dismissing dissent and criticism, failing to address valid concerns with current policies, as well as concern over issues not being addressed, such as immigration. Always, always, however, considering a self-ascribed holy cause to be the Republicans’ inoculation from legal or constitutional strictures, and even from meddlesome, unpatriotic questioning.
In addition, this government’s management competence came under question after Katrina, and quite frankly remains there. If the government were competent, for instance, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would have left easily, in good graces after the 2004 elections, and not after the thumping. Certainly by summer this year he should have gone, when it was clear how the war was going, clear we needed “fresh eyes” in terms of strategy, clear even as to how the outlines of this election were shaping up. Robert Gates replacing Rumsfeld helps put realism back into American foreign policy and clears the way for a course correction in both the wars on terrorism and in Iraq. Likewise, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group’s ongoing work, as well as the Democrats’ choice of Steny Hoyer (MD) over John Murtha (PA) as their new Majority Leader, bodes well for serious reassessment, for prudence and bipartisanship in the road ahead out of a difficult and challenging situation. For many of us, I’m sure it was hard to take the thumping; but it was even harder perhaps, to realize for the first time in twelve years, that the good of the nation does not always follow the political fortunes of a single political party.
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he ran for U.S. Congress (TX-District 31) in the 2004 Republican Primary. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.