George Will

After the 1936 election, when the Republican nominee against FDR, Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, carried only two states, both in New England (hence the jest, "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont"), there were 29 congressional seats in New England and Republicans still held 15. With Tuesday's defeat of Connecticut Republican Chris Shays, Democrats hold all 22 New England seats. As recently as 1996, when New York had 31 congressional seats, Republicans held 14; after Tuesday, they have just three of 29. With the loss of the seat on Staten Island, Republicans will hold at most one urban seat.

Since John Kennedy was elected from Massachusetts in 1960, all of the elected presidents (leaving aside Gerald Ford), before Tuesday, came from Georgia, Arkansas, Texas and Southern California. In 1960, there were no Republican senators from the South. (In 1961, John Tower of Texas became the first since Reconstruction.) But when the next Congress convenes, 19 of the probable 44 Republican senators -- 43 percent of them -- will be from the South, understood as including Oklahoma and Kentucky. The South is beginning to look less like the firm foundation of a national party than the embattled redoubt of a regional one.

Still, the Republican Party retains a remarkably strong pulse, considering that McCain's often chaotic campaign earned 46 percent of the popular vote while tacking into terrible winds. Conservatives can take some solace from the fact that four years after Goldwater won just 38.5 percent of the popular vote, a Republican president was elected.

The conservative ascendancy that was achieved in 1980 reflected a broad consensus favoring government more robust abroad and less ambitious at home -- roughly the reverse of Tuesday's consensus. But conservatives should note what their current condition demonstrates: Opinion is shiftable sand. It can be shifted, as Goldwater understood, by ideas, and by the other party overreaching, which the heavily Democratic Congress elected in 1964 promptly did.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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