As I write this column, new poll results reflect a pre-election tightening in both the so-called generic ballot and in various races that might or might not mean Republican voters are preparing to pull their party back from the abyss and at least mitigate the electoral disaster it has brought upon itself.
I hope they do, of course, but worry that if the GOP dodges the bullet again, my fellow Republicans will once again learn all the wrong lessons from what they have gone through. GOP House leaders will blame their troubles on President Bush, Iraq, the media, Jack Abramoff and Mark Foley, but conclude that their leadership and spending styles saved the day.
The White House, meanwhile, will decide that the election was, after all, a referendum on Iraq and President Bush and that since GOP losses were held to abnormally low levels by historic standards, they won and would, indeed, have done even better but for the media, Jack Abramoff, Mark Foley and, oh yes, the bumblers running Congress.
Winners and losers alike tend almost without fail to misread the reasons voters vote for or against them. Winners come away believing the voters must agree with them on everything and voted for them to give them a mandate to pursue their own personal or ideological agenda, while losers blame everyone but themselves.
Thus, Bush haters in Congress will see a Democratic victory as a mandate to take the president’s administration apart through oversight and harassment. The word on the street is that the subpoenas have already been prepared and will be served as soon as the next Congress convenes and it’s a sure bet that Democratic staffers are preparing legislative proposals on every issue under the sun that reflects the new liberal mandate they expect today.
If the Republicans hang on in the House or lose by a narrow margin, they should realize for once that it wasn’t Bush or the Democrats who were their undoing. To the extent that voters tomorrow will be voting their approval or disapproval of the job Republicans have been doing, the GOP will lose big, but if that happens Democrats would be wise to avoid concluding voters are buying their act.
This is perhaps the most non-ideological election we’ve seen in some time, though ideologues will conclude differently. They do so at their own risk, because it has turned on questions of integrity, competence and management—questions that don’t elicit ideological answers. Those who try to recast the results in ideological terms are likely to run into trouble down the road.
David A. Keene is the chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington, D.C.-based governmental-affairs firm.
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