Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why Republicans Lost

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.


Anonymous said...

The absolute most conservative Republicans all survived, which isn't surprising since they generally come from the absolute most conservative districts, but aside from that the losses came from across the spectrum of the Republican caucus. When you do the arithmetic, it turns out that the Republicans who kept their seats were slightly more conservative than those who lost their seats, and the end result is that the Republican caucus, which was already far more skewed to the right than the Democratic caucus was to the left, is now skewed even more to the right. But only slightly.

Anonymous said...

The Road to Republican Recovery
By Dave Jenkins, Government Affairs Director
Republicans for Environmental Protection
Tuesday's election debacle shows clearly that the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan has lost its way.

Party leaders have fallen prey to a toxic combination of shrill ideological extremism and venal pandering to special interests. To regain the electorate's trust and find a clear path to electoral success, the Republican Party must rediscover traditional conservative values and focus constructively on solving the pressing problems, especially energy and climate change, that have vast ramifications for America's security, economy, and quality of life

The foundation of recovery must be the party's rediscovery of true conservatism - the ideals articulated by conservative thinkers such as Edmund Burke, Michigan native Russell Kirk, and Richard Weaver. Conservation and environmental stewardship are central to conservatism and are based on fundamental conservative tenets - thrift, prudence, humility, restraint, piety towards creation, freedom with responsibility, and our moral obligation to leave a healthy inheritance to future generations.

The Right Diagnosis

Republicans lost because too many of the party’s elected leaders poisoned the well for them. The Republican Party was justifiably perceived as the party of excess and arrogance that pandered to greedy special interests, let cronyism and corruption cloud their judgment, failed to deal constructively with the nation's most pressing problems and trampled on traditional conservative values -- including the conservation ethic that is central to true conservatism.

Voters, especially independent-minded citizens, were fed up with the corruption, radical ideology, and grubby machine politics of our party leaders. They took out their dissatisfaction on all Republicans, even those incumbents who had records of integrity, had resisted poorly conceived legislation, and had conscientiously represented their constituents. This toxic political environment unfortunately cost some of our most conscientious, responsive, and conservation-minded Republican lawmakers their jobs.

Still, it is worth noting that Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) endorsed 28 incumbents for the House and Senate, and the incumbent Republican governor of California. Nineteen of the REP endorsed incumbents in Congress won, most without difficulty.

The Right Cure

The most spectacular win among REP-endorsed candidates was that of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who defied the "blue wave" and secured re-election in a landslide. His electoral triumph demonstrates for Republicans the right way to build trust with the electorate, broaden their political appeal, and govern effectively. Schwarzenegger impressed his constituents with a results-oriented performance that skillfully blended conservative principles and political pragmatism.

Schwarzenegger bargained constructively with the Democrat-controlled Legislature and compiled a breathtaking record of environmental achievement - for example, ocean protection, forest conservation, solar energy development, and the most sweeping policy in the United States to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are destabilizing the global climate. Schwarzenegger himself pointed to his record of putting performance above partisanship, including his environmental achievements, as the key to his wave-defying victory.

The broader lesson of Schwarzenegger's triumph for the Republican Party is that a return to traditional conservative values, including a strong conservation ethic, and a willingness to work constructively with Democrats on solving urgent national problems will appeal broadly to citizens who are increasingly worried about global warming, oil dependence, and the risks they pose to our nation's security, economy, and quality of life. By turning away from the corrupting influence of special interests and returning to a spirit of principled public service, the Republican Party will take the right lessons from 2006.

We know that the party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan can do better, much better than what citizens have seen in the last few years. REP wants to help our party find a clear path to renewed vigor, principled commitment, and electoral victory in 2008 and beyond.