Off-Year Elections: Exit the Republicans?

Posted: Feb 13, 2006 12:39 PM

A further word about the much examined 2005 Virginia and New Jersey off-year elections. Democrats did well, no sense kidding about this. In Virginia, the Republican nominee, former Attorney General Jerry L. Kilgore, refused to take the no-tax pledge, would not clearly state his position on right-to-life and despite four requests would not fill out the questionnaire of Gun Owners of Virginia. He lost to Lieutenant Governor Timothy M. Kaine who said he was pro-life.

Lieutenant Governor-elect William T. Bolling was the most conservative State Senator. He took the no-tax pledge. He campaigned as a right-to-lifer. He was roundly endorsed by the gun folks. His opponent, former Congresswoman Leslie L. Byrne, was a down the line, no-exception liberal. So there was a clear contrast in that election. Bolling did not in any way modify or run from his conservative credentials. He was declared the winner early with a 30,000 vote margin.

The race for Attorney General pitted State Senator Robert F. McDonnell against his colleague, State Senator R. Creigh Deeds. Deeds was the more moderate of those Democrats. While McDonnell was okay on taxes and the right-to-life, he received an F from Gun Owners. The National Rifle Association (NRA) went so far as to endorse Deeds. As of 5:00 PM Monday, November 14, McDonnell was clinging to a 446-vote lead. A candidate may require a recount in Virginia in a race that close.

So the Republican candidate for Governor runs away from conservative issues and loses by a sizeable margin. The Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor sticks to his conservative principles and wins by only one percent less than Kaine won for Governor and the Republican candidate for Attorney General, bad on guns, may or may not end up as Attorney General. Doesn’t that suggest that rather than the Democratic Party triumph, touted in the media, we see a situation in which voters rewarded the one candidate who was a straight-up conservative while punishing those candidates who were partly or completely flakey on key issues? I think so.

The outcome in New Jersey is no surprise. Only the margin was. U.S. Senator Jon S. Corzine spent tens of millions of his own money in his race for the Senate five years ago and tens more on his race for Governor. He was opposed by another wealthy businessman, Douglas Forrester, who also spent millions of his own money in the race for Governor. Social-issue conservatives despise Forrester for, among other things, first claiming to be pro-life and then denying he had that position. It is doubtful many social conservatives even bothered to vote last Tuesday. It is also clear that even with social conservatives Corzine would have won anyway. The margin might have been closer but the outcome would have been the same. Since New Jersey already had a Democratic Governor there was no net change either there or in Virginia, which also replaced one Democrat with another.

In other races throughout the country Democrats did well, Republicans did poorly. Years ago the Reagan pollster Richard B. Wirthlin coined the term “the embarrassed Republican vote,” pointing to those Republicans who stayed home on election day. In 1974 Democrats had their greatest triumph in recent times. They never have done as well since that time. Wirthlin pointed out that the Democratic vote was exactly the same as it was in the previous off-year election in 1970. The difference was the enormous drop off of Republican voters who, by staying home, allowed the Democrats to win without actually pulling the Democratic lever themselves.

That is what I see coming out of this election as it relates to 2006. The lesson that far too many Republicans in Congress get from this election is that the Republican Party must move leftward to accommodate the shift to the left among the voters. As was demonstrated in Virginia there was no shift to the left. The ads which Ms. Byrne ran against State Senator Bolling constantly insisted that Bolling was too conservative for the voters of Virginia. Those voters didn’t agree with that view. For the one guy who was straight with the voter, who didn’t mince words or who didn’t try to cut corners by refusing to take a position on controversial issues, there was victory. No embarrassed Republican voters where Bill Bolling was concerned. The other two did have embarrassed Republican voters who failed to come out for the wimpier candidates.

It now seems clear that Republicans in Congress will be running away from their conservative base. They don’t want to cut government spending. They don’t want to secure the Border along the Southern boundary of our Nation. They don’t want to enact pro-life legislation. They don’t want to open up portions of the outer continental shelf for natural gas exploration despite record high heating costs this winter, and why? It might spoil the environment. Yes, the coast line is beautiful but it won’t look so good to the millions who will not be able to afford anything except paying their heating bill. Likewise with gasoline at the pump at record high costs, these Republicans don’t want to open up the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) despite the fact that millions of acres would not be touched and only an area the size of the runways at Washington Dulles Airport would be affected.

If Republicans had come out of these off-year elections understanding what really happened throughout the Nation they would insist upon acting on the above list and more. Instead they think the way to victory is to act like, as radio talk show host Sean Hannity has suggested, the Democratic-lite Party. Conservative voters won’t buy what the Democrats have to offer. They can’t. To do so would be a repudiation of everything in which they believe. No, it will be the embarrassed Republican vote which will stay at home. Just watch. The Democratic vote hardly will be higher than it was in the last off-year election of 2002. It will be the Republican vote which will drop off terribly and because of it Democrats will sweep the Nation. They will likely end up controlling the Senate. They might even control the House by a slim margin.

Conservatives are not necessarily the same as Republicans. Conservatives do not feel obligated to swallow everything the Republican Party wants to shove down our throats. Indeed, if the two major parties had not conspired to fix the rules to the point that it is next to impossible to start a new political party many conservatives would walk out of the Republican Party and start a real conservative party. To do so would take the resources of a billionaire such as George Soros. Instead, Soros is busy funding and a host of liberal groups which will be out there pounding the pavement against Republicans.

I have defended the White House and the GOP Leadership in Congress far longer than I should have. Yes, I know they accomplish some good. Yes, I understand that on the second time around, the President got it right with Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr. Let’s hope Senate Republicans get this one right as well. And yes, Republicans are, by and large, supporting missile defense. Beyond that it is hard to find much good they are doing. Congress doesn’t seem to want to make tax cuts permanent. Congress doesn’t seem to want to take extraordinary measures to assure that we develop new sources of energy beyond the outer continental shelf and ANWR. Too many Members of Congress just want to stay in power. And while the President has three more years in office, he needs to be aggressive as he was during the campaign of 2004. He should get a new team in the White House but not by canning Karl C. Rove but rather by canning those so-called moderates who want the President to move left.

Mark my word. You heard it first here. Unless Republicans make an abrupt U-turn and begin to act like Republicans we would be looking at a Democratic sweep next year. The sweep would develop because conservatives would not vote. Republicans would have deserved to lose. Go ahead. Revert to your old ways, you stupid Republicans, when you were a minority party for four decades. Get into practice because you soon may be a minority party once again.