Jennifer Marscio of AEI writes:
Mr. Obama ran on “change,” repeatedly associating Mr. McCain with Mr. Bush. In an Oct. 27 speech, for example, Mr. Obama said, “the biggest gamble we can take is to embrace the same old Bush-McCain policies that have failed us for the last eight years.”
Even more to the point, the congressional election results also cast doubt on the thesis that this year’s election, or that of 1980, signals a political realignment. Republicans picked up 33 seats in the House and control of the Senate in 1980. But two years later, Democrats picked up 26 seats in the House and regained control of the Senate in 1986.
She notes that “only” 19 House seats were lost by the GOP this time, in contrast to 2006 (when 31 seats were lost), and concludes:
Mr. Obama won by portraying the Bush presidency as a series of mistakes that need to be avoided in the future — essentially encouraging voters to think about the short-term past, not the long-term future.
Put another way, Mr. Obama got about 40,000 fewer votes in Ohio than John Kerry got four years ago. Mr. Obama carried the state when Mr. Kerry did not because Republicans stayed home. Nationally, the anticipated record turnout didn’t materialize. About the same percentage of registered voters came out this year as in 2004. And was that a realignment year?
In the same way that 1980 did not yield a generation-long period of Republican dominance, those on the right can take heart that 2008 does not represent the beginning of an era of Democratic supremacy.
So: Republicans should stop all the worrying and relax, waiting for the tide of history to wash back their way? I think not. Their demographic and geographic problems are acute. At the national level, they the are increasingly limited to a shrinking portion of the electorate (whites), and to one region (the South). So it is for good reason that Republicans are undergoing some soul searching.
That said, the Democrats–who looked pretty much on death’s door after 2000 and 2004–popped back in successive elections. They did so without reinventing their party. Instead, they ran arguably the most liberal candidate in a generation. They won by capitalizing on a hugely unpopular President and by finding a new charismatic leader.
It is unlikely that President Obama will provide as useful a foil to his opposition as his predecessor. But it would be a good idea for Republicans to keep an eye out for political talent. At the presidential level, it need not be someone already a household name, and it need not be someone with any national security experience. But it would be a good idea to have someone extremely adept at communicating, fluent on issues, likable, forward-looking, and capable of leading a first-class campaign organization. (Notice that John McCain, for all of his admirable qualities, was none of these things.) That’s the surest and most proven way for any party to recover the White House. And at the Congressional level, it is high time the Republicans follow the Rahm Emanuel gameplan — go find some very attractive candidates who are a good match for their districts.
None of this ensures a Republican recovery. But without decent personnel, it will be virtually impossible to do so.