November 7 was a disaster for the Republican Party. Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress. They lost 6 seats in the US Senate, 30 seats in the House of Representatives, and 6 Governorships. This disaster extended to all levels of the ballot. Republicans lost control of at least nine state legislatures.
I had planned to write a summary of national races, but once again Robert Novak has already done an excellent job. I strongly encourage you to read his report.
I'll state my thesis now: This election was a defeat for the Republican Party. It was not a defeat for conservatism.
One indication of this is the many ballot initiatives decided Tuesday. They were generally a bright spot for conservatives. Seven of eight states passed amendments protecting traditional marriage. Colorado rejected "domestic partner" benefits. Ten of twelve states passed amendments protecting against eminent domain abuse. Arizona passed four measures to fight illegal immigration-all with more than 70% of the vote. Michigan passed the MCRI and rejected mandatory education spending. California rejected an oil tax increase.
There were some tough losses as well, including the failure of the South Dakota abortion ban. Opponents heavily outspent proponents of this measure. Still, on balance ballot measures were a plus for conservatives.
We find proof that voters did not endorse liberalism in the fact that Democrats in close races did not run as liberals. Liberals still want to promote abortion, confiscate guns, create "gay marriage," give amnesty to illegal immigrants, raise taxes, increase spending, surrender our national sovereignty, and generally wreck America. But that's not what Democrats ran on.
Most ran as pro-gun. Some claimed to be pro-life. Most advocated securing the border. Most criticized wasteful spending in Washington. Most opposed "gay marriage." In short, Democrats ran as conservatives. Most of them were lying, of course. A few (Brad Ellsworth, Heath Shuler) may actually be conservatives. Time will tell. But the fact is that Americans generally embraced a conservative critique of the incumbents in Washington.
For Americans to reject conservatism, the Republicans in Congress would have to have been conservative. They were not. Whatever their rhetoric, the record shows that the Republican Congress was not conservative. While I don't have exact statistics, the facts are that Congress spent a large majority of its time passing budget-busting spending bills, stuffing them full of pork projects, and passing more bills to take away our freedom. Their actual results in advancing the conservative agenda come down to a handful of relatively trivial measures and a lot of empty promises.
Calamity strikes the good as well as the bad, and so some genuine conservatives ( John Hostetler, Jim Ryun, Gil Gutknecht, JD Hayworth) went down to defeat. Still, it is interesting to note that Republican losses were concentrated most heavily amongst moderate Republicans. Moderates who lost were Chafee, Fitzpatrick, Kelly, Bass, Bradley, Johnson, Leach, Simmons, and Weldon. In addition, Boehlert and Kolbe retired and Foley resigned.
Meanwhile, several new conservatives were elected. The candidates that the Club for Growth supported in contested primaries all won. They are staunch conservatives Jim Jordan, Adrian Smith, Bill Sali, Doug Lamborn, and Tim Walberg. Michelle Bachmann and Peter Roskam won races that were rated as toss-ups.
So why did voters reject Republicans?
One major factor was corruption. Robert Novak details the many corruption scandals in his report. Two committed criminal behavior and were rewarded with prison (Cunningham, Ney). Others committed actions that were not criminal but clearly unethical (Foley, Sherwood). Others seem to have been unjustly tainted (Hayworth, Burns). And in many cases, the truth remains unclear. These scandals doomed a number of districts. It's not entirely clear how much corruption resonated beyond these specific districts, but it had to hurt.
Of course, the "culture of corruption" was hardly limited to Republicans. Democrats William Jefferson, Cynthia McKinney, and Alan Molohan had scandals of their own. The Republicans didn't defend members who were proven guilty, as the Democrats often did during the days when they were in power (e. g. Gary Studds, Dan Rostenkowski). Democrats continue to defend members with serious misdeeds in their past, including Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, and John Murtha. But none of this excuses what Republicans did.
Voters also rejected the war in Iraq. Was this not a rejection of conservatism? There is a key distinction that needs to be made here. When we refer to "the war," there are two distinct things that we mean. The first was removing Saddam from power in Iraq. The second is the occupation of Iraq, along with nation-building and imposing democracy. The first was highly successful and fairly popular. The second has been unsuccessful and highly unpopular. While this policy has been seen as conservative, it is not. It is actually rooted in neo-conservatism, which is a particular type of liberalism. There is nothing conservative about the utopian ideas of nation-building and a universal desire for freedom, which I have criticized in the past.
Voters also rejected the out-of-control spending in Washington. While Republicans still talk about fiscal conservatism, the facts are clear. The federal government now spends 2.7 trillion dollars per year. Spending, including non-defense spending, has increased faster under Bush than under Clinton. The real national debt, including unfunded entitlements, is something like 60 trillion dollars. Republicans only made the problem worse by passing the new prescription-drug entitlement. Government takes roughly half of everything that we earn.
Many Democrats criticized earmarking and wasteful spending in their campaigns. When Democrats say you're spending too much, you know you're in trouble.
Voters are angry with the refusal to secure the borders and fix our broken immigration system. Almost no Democrats in close races ran promoting amnesty, while many advocated securing the border. Polls and ballot initiatives have shown the voters' anger about this issue.
The Republican Party has lost its way. Republicans came to Washington to implement conservative policies, but too many of them became more interested in promoting themselves. On Tuesday, voters sent them back to the minority. Of course, a Democratic Congress won't provide more conservative policies (though gridlock may lead to less spending). But this may have been the only way to put Republicans back on track. If Republicans want to reclaim power, they will need to rediscover the values they forgot.