No Dressing up this Pig
Let us be honest. This was a wipeout. The Republicans did not win any Democrat—held House seats. They won no Democrat—held Senate seats. They won no Democrat—held Governors races. That has not happened before within memory.
The vote for Congress appears to give Democrats about a 9% point lead, if you look at the exit polls. That is larger than the GOP margin in 1994. It is also more than a 10% shift from 2004 . And for once, the exit polls were not that far off. The 5PM exit polls showed McCaskill winning by 2%, and she won by 2%. They showed the Democrats would win Senate races in Maryland , Rhode Island and New Jersey by 7% each. These were very close to actual results. They showed a 3% Corker win in Tennessse. Corker won by 3%. They were off only on Virginia and Arizona, where they were about 5% too favorable to the Democrats.
The next few weeks may be slow water torture for the Republicans. I am not optimistic that either Montana (1,700 vote lead for Tester) or Virginia (7,000 vote lead for Webb) will shift with any recount. Virginia was a blown seat. Except for the macaca fiasco, Allen would have won by at least 5%. The Democrats will likely hold a 51—49 Senate majority, thanks to Joe Lieberman caucusing with them (will the Daily Kos/Moveon.org crowd appreciate this fact, or would they rather he caucus with the Republicans?).
Hispanics voted about 70—30 for Democrats, a 15% shift from 2004. So the GOP's mixed message on immigration lost both Hispanic and white votes. The GOP lost state legislative seats around the country, and control of many chambers— in Oregon, Michigan, Colorado, as examples. As Matthew Continetti pointed out in the Daily Standard, the GOP is much more of a regional party today than it was yesterday — strong in the South and intermountain west (but weakening even there).
In New England, Chris Shays is the only GOP congressman left standing (20 Democrats), assuming Rob Simmons winds up losing in Ct. 2 (he trails by 170 votes). Both New Hampshire seats turned over, and it appears, two in Connecticut. In New York, the House makeup is now 23 Democrats, 6 Republicans. The Republican Party in New England and New York is for all practical purposes now, a sideshow.
The various strands of the Republican Party — the business wing, the social conservative wing, the strong national security wing, the nativist anti—immigrant wing — are likely to have the knives out the next few months. It is hard to see any big tent spreading. Where is the Reagan to do it?
The Democrat have their own issues, but they showed remarkable discipline in this cycle. And without question Chuck Schumer totally outclassed Elizabeth Dole, and Rahm Emanuel did the same to Tom Reynolds in running the respective Senate and House committees. They recruited better candidates, raised lots of money, and took advantage of every GOP stumble. The GOP lost at least six House seats to scandal: Penn.. 10, Pa. 7, Fla. 16, Texas 22, Ohio 18, and New York 20.
It could have been even worse. GOP candidates appear to have barely survived in Penn. 6, New Mexico 1, Washington 8, Nevada 3, Connecticut 4, Fla, 13, New York 25, New York 29, Wyoming, Il. 6, Ohio 2, Ohio 15, Colorado 4, Idaho 1,New Jersey 7, and VA. 2 . The final toll likely will be a 28—30 seat gain for the Democrats, with a runoff likely in Texas 23, since Henry Bonilla failed to get 50% of the vote.
Absent a few point movement towards the GOP in the last week, the wipeout would have been wavelike—40—45 seats. As it is, some GOP incumbents lost who were not on anybody's list of 40—50 most vulnerable incumbents: Jim Leach (Iowa 2), Jim Ryun (Kansas 2), Jeb Bradley (NH 1).
In 2008, the GOP will face the same challenge the Democrats did this cycle— having to pick up about 15 seats to take back the House. It won't be easy, and will not happen unless the GOP candidate for President wins big.
Don't forget that next cycle the GOP will have to defend 21 of the 33 Senate seats. So there is risk the Democrats could add to their Senate lead if it holds at 51—49, though a few Democratic Senate seats might be vulnerable in 2008, such as South Dakota, and Louisiana. In the end, the Democrats won 24 of the 33 Senate races this year, winning by wide margins in six states that Bush won in 2004 (Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Florida, West Virginia, and New Mexico), as well as what appear to be very narrow wins in three more red states: Virginia, Missouri and Montana.
The GOP's agony is largely attributable to the Iraq war. This is not meant as a comment on the wisdom of the war, or how it has been run. It is simply a political comment. The GOP was on the verge of becoming a dominant national party after 9/11. Now it is a party on the ropes.
Sure, GOP earmarks, and Congressional spending hurt the party. Ambiguous messages on immigration and the Foley and Abramoff scandals hurt too. But without Iraq, the news would have been far better yesterday for the GOP (and I think would have resulted in a more decisive win for Bush in 2004).
President Bush has made policy decisions that involved great political risks. On the political side he appears to have lost his bet. This was not a cautious Presidency, as Clinton's was (at least above the waist). In the long war that America and the West now face, the verdict on our decisions is still out.
But the President's political weakness going forward will likely limit his options in the next few years.
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.