Regardless of the actual vote tallies from Tuesday's elections, the big story is that the Democrats are a party in serious disarray.
Just look at how the odds are stacked against Republicans going into these elections. Consider:
-- Historically, the president's opposition party has made major gains in midterm congressional elections.
-- Republicans hold 20 of the 34 Senate seats at issue, so they'll have to win 59 percent of these races just to stay where they are today.
-- Four sure-fire winner Republican incumbents chose not to pursue re-election (Phil Gramm -- Texas, Fred Thompson -- Tennessee, Jesse Helms -- North Carolina, and Strom Thurmond -- South Carolina).
-- Until quite recently, the economy has been lethargic at best and the stock market disastrous.
Indeed, not long ago, Democrats were smug about solidifying control of both the House and Senate in 2002. But even if they retain control of the Senate, which is by no means guaranteed, few seriously believe they'll take back the House. To complete our perspective here, don't forget that before his tragic death, Senator Paul Wellstone was having some trouble in the polls in Minnesota. And had New Jersey Democrats not thwarted the rule of law to allow Frank Lautenberg to replace the corruption-stained Robert Torricelli, Democrats would surely have lost a Senate seat in New Jersey.
So what accounts for the Democrats' implosion? The most obvious explanation is that the nation rallies around its president during times of war (at least before things go negative, a la Vietnam and L.B.J.). George Bush got a double boost from the war because it also afforded him the opportunity to show his presidential mettle.
Before Sept. 12, Democrats and the liberal punditocracy wore out the word "gravitas" in their ceaseless observations that Dubya didn't have any. He couldn't have proven them more wrong -- and he did it by being himself, not by protesting for recognition and respect in the spirit of his narcissistic predecessor. He not only demonstrated his presidential fitness but also earned the people's trust. Competence is one thing, but competence coupled with trust is killer. On a subtler level, people also appreciate that in the process Bush restored dignity to the office.
But the Democrats' problems transcend President Bush's manifest statesmanship. After all, polls reveal that Iraq and terrorism aren't the voters' only concerns. Why haven't Democrats been able to capitalize on the woes of Wall Street, the relatively sluggish economy and the "return" of budget deficits when it appeared we had turned the corner and were headed for surpluses?
The short answer is that Americans know that President Bush isn't responsible for our economic problems. The recession had already begun during the last year of Clinton-Gore, and many believe the bursting of the tech bubble was inevitable to cap the "irrational exuberance" that dominated the preceding years. More importantly, they understand that the terrorist attacks seriously damaged our economy and that the resulting war against terrorism is burdening our budget.
But there is an even more devastating factor weighing against Democrats. They are bankrupt of ideas on the major issues. We don't expect them to be strong on defense, so it's not surprising they had to be dragged kicking and screaming into supporting the Iraq resolution. But what about "the economy, stupid?"
While Democrats point with nostalgia toward the phenomenal growth of the Clinton years, they have no plan to recapture economic expansion today. They brag about Clintonomics, but in the present climate they wouldn't dare try it again. Even most of them know you can't tax yourself into economic growth, especially without a Gingrichian Congress simultaneously restraining federal spending.
But neither do they offer tax cuts, except those skewed so much against the major producers they would result only in socialist redistribution of wealth and no appreciable growth. When they finally surrendered on the president's tax plan, it was only after diluting its best pro-growth features and affixing to it a 10-year expiration date.
Sure, they also clamor about balancing the budget, yet they never explain how their proposals for increases in spending across the board, save defense, could possibly result in fiscal balance. Besides, despite the virtues of balanced budgets, they don't, by themselves, stimulate growth.
The bottom line is that Democrats have no solutions for economic stagnation, unbalanced budgets and threats to our national security, so they're reduced to obstruction and negativity, and the public smells it, which will have major consequences in the elections.