A Post-Mortem on Conservative Election Post-Mortems

Presidential Elections, US Elections

The election results from this past Tuesday provided some sobering news for Republicans: in addition to losing the White House, the GOP saw at least six senate seats and nineteen or more congressional seats switch to the Democratic Party.  Coupled with the five senate seats and 32 House seats lost in 2006, the Republican Party has seen a decisive public repudiation of its candidates and its philosophy over the past two years.  In short, that’s two thumpin’s in a row, something the Republicans haven’t suffered since the last Great Depression.

Out-of-work Republicans light out for the territories

Out-of-work Republicans light out for the territories

Not only have the office-holders lost their jobs, but their many aides, staffers, and personal hangers-on  will now have to try to find honest employment in a political environment that is no longer dominated by the GOP.  The massive exodus of unemployed Republicans after January 20 promises to be the most dolorous migration this country has witnessed since the Trail of Tears.  Despair not, I understand Walmart might be hiring.

Conservative media pundits, on the other hand, will still defy all logic by retaining their jobs.  That leaves them to explain how Barack Obama and the Democrats could have managed what would have been unthinkable, or at least unutterable, on November 3: an electoral victory that finds the opposition in charge of the presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994.  For most of these pundits, the natural reaction is one of complete disbelief. Karl Rove, former evil genius and now just evil, said: “It is a tribute to his skills that Mr. Obama, the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, won in a country that remains center-right.”  Peggy Noonan said pretty much the same thing: “Americans want change, and they just voted for it, but in times of high-stakes history they appreciate stability.”  And Christine Todd Whitman concurs: “When the dust settles, I don’t think we’ll find a liberally recalibrated nation on our hands.”

If America is a conservative country that craves stability, how can we explain the fact that 52 percent of the electorate voted for “the most liberal member of the US Senate?”  That is, after all, a rather strange way of demonstrating one’s innate conservatism.  Well, according to Rove, it’s because Obama ran as a conservative:

Mr. Obama understood this. He downplayed calls for retreat from Iraq, instead emphasizing toughness on Afghanistan, even threatening an ally, Pakistan, if it didn’t help more to exterminate al Qaeda. Mr. Obama campaigned on “a tax cut for 95% of Americans,” while attacking “government-run health care” as “extreme” and his opponent’s proposals as hidden tax increases.

Obviously, no liberal, not even the most liberal senator of them all, could actually beat a conservative.  So, ipso facto, Obama must be a conservative.  And Victor Davis Hanson agrees, which confirms that Rove’s thesis must be complete bullshit.  On the other hand, Ann Coulter thinks that McCain lost because he was too much like Obama.  That, I believe, completes the inside straight of crazy.

Then there are those who, after the election, came to the belated realization that no Republican candidate could have won the presidential race this year.  Byron York at NRO lamented:

Could any candidate have been elected to succeed a president of his own party whose job approval rating was 25 percent? Probably not. Could any candidate have been elected to continue his party’s stay in the White House when roughly 90 percent of Americans believed the country was on the wrong track? Probably not. Could any candidate from the governing party have been elected after the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 4,000 points before one could even turn around?  Probably not.

Well, Jesus maybe — he could have won.  Likewise, Charles Krauthammer blames the Wall Street collapse in September for the GOP’s sequel two months later.

In the excitement and decisiveness of Barack Obama’s victory, we forget that in the first weeks of September, John McCain was actually ahead. Then Lehman collapsed, and the financial system went off a cliff.

Pat Buchanan agrees, which suggests that a powerful Krauthammer-Buchanan vortex of wrong is forming somewhere over the South Atlantic right about now.  But this theory ignores the fact that Obama reached his lowest point in the polls a week before Lehman Bros. debacle and was already on the rebound when Wall Street went into a tailspin.  The financial crisis didn’t turn the election around, it merely hastened the end of McCain’s post-convention bounce and accelerated Obama’s return to the top of the polls.

Nevertheless, McCain got 46 percent of the popular vote, more than Bush the Elder in 1992 or Dole the Elderly in 1996.  “In other words,” says York, “McCain faced tougher challenges than his predecessors, yet somehow managed to win more votes. Just not enough.” So McCain isn’t the one to blame: it’s George W. Bush.  As Michael Reagan explains:

We need to understand that this was not a referendum on Reaganomics and Ronald Reagan. This was a referendum on George Bush, and Bush-ism, and Bush’s lack of leadership.

So the voters didn’t reject McCain or Reagan, they just rejected George W. Bush.  Of course, if McCain had actually distanced himself from Bush, instead of kissing up to him over the previous seven years, the voters may not have felt the need to take out their displeasure at Bush by spanking McCain at the ballot box.

To sum up, the conservative commentariat contends that Obama won because he was a conservative, elected by a conservative nation, who ran in an environment in which no conservative could win.  Really, it defies belief, let alone logical analysis.  The conservative pundits have all but stuck their fingers in their ears and yelled “la la la!” to drown out the chorus of facts that swirl about them.  Contra Rove et al., the voters didn’t elect Obama because he was more in line with their own conservatism but because he reflected their growing liberalism, and they didn’t reject McCain because he ran a bad campaign but because he represented the wrong message.  But then as long as the right-wing refuses to recognize this fact, the longer it will take for them to run a winning campaign.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. nimh  •  Nov 7, 2008 @6:18 pm

    Nevertheless, McCain got 46 percent of the popular vote, more than Bush the Elder in 1992 or Dole the Elderly in 1996. “In other words,” says York, “McCain faced tougher challenges than his predecessors, yet somehow managed to win more votes.”

    Not just more than Bush the Elder and Dole the Elderly (heh). McCain also got more votes than GWB did in 2000 – some 6.8 million of them. Unfortunately for him, Obama got 14.3 million more votes than Al Gore did. Call him a victim of the turnout.

    Hell, in North Carolina John McCain even got more votes than GWB did last time. And he still lost the state.