Both Democrats and Republicans are still busy figuring out what happened in the Nov. 7 elections. The former are trying to understand why they won so that they can repeat their performance in 2008. The latter need to know why they lost so that they can change and make a comeback.
This is mostly inside baseball and undoubtedly boring or even silly to those who don't eat, drink and sleep politics 24-7. Nevertheless, the results of this political autopsy are very important. Eventually, each side will decide for itself why it won or lost -- and this will shape their political strategy for at least the next two years.
Among Democrats, there is furious debate going on as to whether their success resulted from candidates who ran to the right. A number of newly elected congressmen and senators are definitely much more conservative than the vast bulk of Washington Democrats. They are against gun control and abortion, support property rights and balanced budgets, and would not have been elected if they held liberal views on such issues.
Many credit Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, who ran the Democrats' congressional election operation, with recruiting strong candidates in traditionally Republican districts. He was often criticized by liberals who thought this was futile and a waste of resources.
In fact, Emanuel's strategy mirrored that of Republican Newt Gingrich's in the 1980s. Gingrich recognized that the principal barrier to Republican control of Congress was conservative Democrats in the South, whom Republicans had not seriously challenged in decades. After putting up tough challengers to them, most either retired or switched parties. This was the key to the Republican victory of 1994.
Emanuel's supporters argue that you can't ignore local political conditions. If only a conservative can be elected in a district, then you find a conservative Democrat to run in that district. If elected, they may not always follow the party line, but they will at least provide that one crucial vote on the first day of a new Congress when party control is determined.
If conservative Democrats are needed to provide the margin that puts liberals like Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco in the speaker's chair and makes liberals like Henry Waxman of Los Angeles chairmen of powerful committees, then so be it.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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