The loss of a few seats on the other side of the Mississippi River during the 2006 election cycle wasn't much of a trend in itself; it was simply the Western part of an electoral thumpin'. Republicans lost 30 seats. By my count, we lost nine in the Midwest, four in the South, 12 in the Northeast and six in the West. And even those six deserve something of an asterisk: One of them was in California, which is basically its own world rather than a part of a broader region in the traditional sense. Two of them were in Texas, which could just as easily be classified as part of the South rather than the West (and one of those was in Texas' 22nd, where the Republicans had no nominee and instead ran a write-in campaign).
So what you really have is five Western seats lost, including one that will in all likelihood be retaken by the GOP next time around. In the Senate, the only Democrat pickup was in Montana, where Republican incumbent Conrad Burns narrowly lost despite the awful national year for Republicans and Burns' trouble involving allegations of ethics violations.
This is hardly a trend. Does anyone really believe that, for instance, in the last two years the people of Montana decided that Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi better represent their interests than George W. Bush or Denny Hastert? That the voters of Texas' 22nd District turned pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-homosexual marriage, pro-tax-and-spend and anti-war overnight? To ask the question is to answer it.
But that doesn't mean the 2006 elections were not important. What they showed is that in politics, clarity, organization and unity win elections, while confusion, disorganization and disunity lose them. These are hardly groundbreaking observations, but they are much more relevant to the 2006 elections -- and, more importantly, the 2008 elections -- than are any yarns about Republicans losing ground on their traditional turf. Voters last November did not reject conservatism, they rejected Republicans. There is an enormous difference.
When Republicans run as conservatives -- applying the consistent principles of order, justice and freedom to the everyday concerns of the American people -- they win. When we try to be like Democrats, with a splintered collection of competing interest groups paid for by legislative and political payoffs, we lose. The American people are more instinctively conservative than they are liberal (except in the Northeast and California). They are not conservative ideologues, for the most part, but when faced with a problem, the conservative solution generally appeals more to common sense than the liberal one. This gives conservatives an advantage in elections that makes up for most of the liberal institutional control of the media. The media has been with the Democrats every election I can remember, but conservatives have won most of those elections. That should be the basis of Republican strategy for the 2008 elections and beyond.
To win back the seats they lost in 2006, Republicans have to become conservatives again. The greatest Democrat advantage in 2006 was the united coalition built up over the previous six years, united in its common dislike of President Bush. It's difficult to overstate the value of having a common enemy. (Again, it wasn't until we had Bill Clinton that we got a Republican congressional majority.) Unity is key, and unity breeds organization and coordination. When everyone wants the same thing, they're far more willing to work together for it.
This is how Republicans have fallen down on the job. We grew too accustomed to the perks of our majority status in Washington, and rather than build a national grass-roots political coalition, we relied too heavily on our ability to raise money for television commercials. Campaigns aren't won with ads; they're won with people. If Republicans return to their unifying conservative principles, clearly articulate those principles and use that clarity to organize a national grass-roots network of people committed to those principles, then two years from now they'll be writing columns about the growing trend of Democrats losing seats out West -- and everywhere else too.