It would be pundit-malpractice not to take a stab at why the elections turned out so well for Republicans and what lessons they should take from them. So here goes.
First, a disclaimer: politics is hardly an exact science, and post-election analysis, despite endless polling data available, is at best a series of educated guesses. I'll leave precise dissection of exit-polling minutiae to those better equipped to operate on that level.
Most seem to be in agreement about one important factor: Republicans turned out in higher numbers throughout the country. That's the "what," but how about the "why"? The "why" is what matters.
In a pre-election roundtable discussion on what would be the most crucial element affecting the outcome of the impending elections, one panelist responded, "turnout, turnout, turnout." The incomparable Michael Barone replied, "intensity." The gentlemen suggesting "turnout" was addressing the "what," while Barone was pointing to the "why."
Now that hindsight has disclosed the election results, we are better positioned to go further in examining the "why." What was driving Republican voter intensity around the nation?
I'd like to say it was a decidedly conservative agenda, brilliantly nationalized by President Bush, sufficient on balance to trump most local issues. From my unhidden conservative perspective that would be most satisfying and comforting. It would portend well for the advancement of conservative principles.
But in complete candor, I cannot attribute these results to a comprehensive validation of conservatism. Partial and significant, but not total. Yet the results are heartening, provided Republicans don't squander their opportunity.
To the extent the elections were about Iraq -- and that's quite a bit -- they were an affirmation of the Bush-Republican, as distinguished from the Daschle-Democrat approach (finger-in-the-wind, on-again, off-again support). Americans are exceedingly comfortable with George Bush as a wartime president. Sure, they like him, but this wasn't about a cult of personality. Voters trust President Bush, a trust he earned with his performance under crisis and his policies.
Americans approve of his leadership, his moral clarity (can you imagine Bill Clinton coherently articulating moral clarity?), his policies and his prudent wielding of American power. As to his exercise of power, it's not born of an arrogance that says to its allies and potential allies, "America will do what it darn well pleases." Rather, it's "America will lead this war against terrorists and their supporters, including Iraq, and we'd sure appreciate your valued support, but if you opt out, we're going ahead anyway -- you can bank on it." Moreover, it's certainly not, "we'll only act if European liberals approve."
And the war, I think, overshadowed economic issues. In the first place, voters understand that the economy isn't that bad. They also know Bush inherited a sluggish economy from Clinton that has been further stressed by the war.
So Bush's handling of the war drove voter intensity directly and helped to negate any counter-intensity on economic issues. But there was something else at play stoking Republican intensity and tilting Independents rightward. It was Republican revulsion to the Democrats' incivility and unmasked liberalism in Minnesota, their defiance of the rule of law in New Jersey, and their negativity and militancy in Florida and throughout the nation.
Democrats are fond of saying how mean-spirited Republicans were at the 1992 convention, which I believe was a bad rap, but Democrats set records for nastiness and tastelessness in 2002 under the direction of a conspicuous Bill Clinton and his marionette, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe. (Will you guys ever follow your own insincere advice and just "move on" -- from your perpetual grudge over the Republican's refusal to allow you to steal the 2000 election?)
But the Republican victory wasn't just about the war, the voters' trust in George Bush or a reaction to Democrat overreaching. Behind all of these things -- and this is important -- are conservative values and policies. Don't listen to the naysayers. This election also showed that conservatism works when it's tried and liberalism fails when it's exposed.
I must add a caveat. Republicans, as my brother Rush has often observed, are wonderful out of power (as they have been in the crucially important Senate). But they have to learn how to manage the prosperity of being in power -- discovering how to harness and sell conservatism.
The GOP's challenge is, in a spirit of humility, to capitalize on this historic opportunity, using the public's extraordinary trust in President Bush, to further conservative ideals, from constitutionalist judges to accelerating and making permanent the tax cuts. Let's roll.