Last week, the voters fired the Republican Congress.
If we try to read the election any other way, we will reach the wrong conclusions.
We can't whitewash it or pretend that it didn't happen. If we don't figure out why it happened and make significant changes, it will take a very long time to recover.
On the other hand, the election was not a vote FOR the Democrats. They did not present a clear platform or communicate a direction for the country, so they can not claim any kind of a mandate for their agenda. This was purely a vote AGAINST Bush and the Republican Congress.
It is vital that Republican's correctly interpret the message we got from the voters and make the correct changes.
First of all, we should not mistake it as a push to become more liberal. Many of the Democrats who were elected were conservatives. There was not a liberal ideological move in the nation which brought about this change in the control of Congress. It would be more accurate to say that the Republican Party moved to the left of it's core supporters, the voters responsible for electing Reagan in 1980 and a Republican majority in 1994.
It is also wrong to dismiss the election as purely a statement against the war in Iraq or support for Murtha's plan to abandon Iraq. Joe Lieberman, a strong supporter of victory in Iraq, was elected by a wide margin, rejecting an anti-war Democrat alternative. Some voters were expressing their view that we should not have gone to war in Iraq. That is a valid view, and one which I expressed back in January of 2003. Today 20/20 hindsight is not very relevant, because we must deal with the reality that we are at war in Iraq. But I do think that the election was a demand for improved results in Iraq. We need a better strategy for victory in Iraq, not to redefine surrender as victory. I am eager to see Baker's recommendations, and I would embrace a plan which results in a stable, democratic ally in Iraq.
After studying the results of exit polls on the issues driving this election, it becomes clear that there are several things Republicans must do to regain momentum. When CNN asked voters what issues were most important, Iraq was forth on the list, behind corruption, terrorism, and the economy. Exit polling found that voters trusted Democrats more than Republicans on the issues of taxes and spending. Up until two years ago, this position would have been completely unjustified, but today it is quite understandable.
Corruption in the Republican Party is a serious issue which needs to be addressed. As taxpayers and citizens we should not put up with it. Democrats are certainly not immune from corruption, as evidenced by William Jefferson and his deep freeze full of cash. But the party in control is always going to more prone to corruption, because they have more influence. Democrats have created the perception that corruption is a Republican issue, and capitalized on that perception very successfully. As Republicans we need to do a much better job of keeping our house clean so that we will be above reproach and don’t give our opponents the opportunity to undermine our effort.
Terrorism ought to be a winning issue for Republicans. Democrats are pathetically weak in defending our nation and responding to terrorists actions. We saw Clinton’s way of dealing with terror, and there is a clear distinction in the decisive way that President Bush has responded. This is a case where we just need to stay on message and communicate the distinction without allowing Democrats to turn a positive into a negative.
Republicans won control of Congress in 1994 on a platform of limited government, controlled spending, and tax cuts. Newt Gingrich became the torch bearer for the Reagan Revolution. For six years they governed according to these principles, and the result was a large reduction in the deficit and a strong, growing economy. However, when George Bush became President, it broke the gridlock and resulted in an inexcusable spending binge. The principles on which the Reagan Revolution was built were quickly forgotten. On this blog, I have been hollering about fiscal responsibility and controlling spending, but no one, not even our representatives in Washington DC, is really listening.
In my view, the point where we lost was when we switched from being principle driven to politically driven. We need a leader who is more like Ronald Reagan or Newt Gingrich and less like Karl Rove. I am not yet ready to single out one person as that leader, but Mitt Romney or Newt would be candidates.
There was a clear message sent last Tuesday. We need to listen, respond, and move forward.