(Originally published as part of “Letters From Rod – November 9, 2014”.)
by Rod D. Martin
November 9, 2015
People wondered if Republicans would win the Senate this time. In fact, they won everything that wasn’t nailed down.
Take Arkansas. 37 year old Republican Tom Cotton didn’t just defeat incumbent Mark Pryor: he slaughtered him, 57%-39%. Pryor is the scion of one of the state’s foremost dynasties: his father David was a Congressman, Governor and Senator before Bill Clinton was Governor, and remained Senator long after. Cotton fought hard in what was considered a tight race right up to the end. Defeat was shocking enough; coming in under 40% was a humiliation.
But the Cotton-Pryor race was not a fluke (oh, and did you see that Sandra Fluke lost her bid to be a state senator? How will she afford her condoms now?). In a state where, for most of my lifetime, Republicans held only one federal office, the GOP now holds both U.S. Senate seats, every U.S. House seat, and every state constitutional office. And in a state where the ever-popular Mike Huckabee never held even 1/3 of either house of his state legislature, Republicans took 64 of 100 state house seats and 24 of 35 state senate seats.
This rout was a microcosm of the national scene. Democrats lost governorships in deep blue Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and even Obama’s Illinois. With 31 governors, Republicans are at a high water mark in the modern era; and Democrats now control outright only 7 state legislatures, Republicans 24 (the rest divided). The GOP held territory — like Rick Scott’s Florida governor’s mansion — it was expected to lose, and gained back territory — like Colorado, from the U.S. Senate to the state senate — it had supposedly lost forever.
And on and on and on. So much as to give President Obama a very ugly headache.
Plenty of people will point to the cyclical nature of politics, and will suggest that this seems a lot like 2006, and 1994, and will likely reverse again. And of course, in a sense, that’s true.
But there’s something much bigger in this, at least if Republicans don’t screw it up.
Republicans were elected to change things in 1994. They faced a determined, capable opponent in Bill Clinton, but they persevered, reforming the House, remaking welfare, and putting the federal budget in surplus. For bigger things, they needed a President. But George W. Bush was not Ronald Reagan, 9/11 derailed his domestic agenda in any case, and after Newt Gingrich’s departure, GOP Congressional leaders believed they could keep Congress for generations the way the Democrats had: larding up the pork barrel.
All this came unstuck in 2006. The Republican base’s frustration with its leaders turned riotous after Hurricane Katrina with the Harriet Miers debacle; the Mark Foley scandal put it over the top. Rank-and-file Republicans’ refusal to work for the party or turn out to vote coincided with a surge in Democrat’s (and their premier grassroots group, MoveOn.org’s) fortunes, producing the eight year Harry Reid Senate (and the four year Pelosi House). Two years later, John McCain fumbled on the fifteen yard line and the same wave pushed Barack Obama easily into the end zone on a promise of “hope and change.”
This seemed like realignment. But while Republicans may yet again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, it wasn’t, or at least it needn’t be. In 2006 and 2008, Democrats simply seized the opportunity provided by previous GOP failures; and Republicans paid the price of those failures, which turned out to be eight years in the wilderness and all the dire policy reversals that go with such squandering.
Look at the demographics. Much has been made of Republicans’ historic gains among Hispanics last week — even while they openly blocked the ballyhooed McCain-Obama immigration “reform” — but few have noted that George and Jeb Bush did as well or better a decade ago (or that Ted Cruz did as well or better in 2012). In a year when many Democrats ran single-issue “War on Women” campaigns, the gender gap virtually disappeared: Democrats won them by a mere five points, and many individual Republicans (like Tom Cotton) won them handily. Most importantly, the Democrat advantage among young voters has dropped, in Michael Barone’s words, “to the vanishing point.”
All of which serves to illustrate my bigger point. The socialist impulse is a function of the Industrial Age, an outgrowth of a time when society organized itself first into giant factories, then into giant unions, then into giant governments, and remade every institution in that image. When the hive mentality which necessarily accompanies that became overly stifling in the Carter years, Ronald Reagan was elected to unleash an entrepreneurial revolution. The Gingrich Republicans continued that until they lost their way.
It didn’t die. Technology ensured that. A world in which anyone can build a factory in their spare bedroom with a 3D printer — not far removed from a Star Trek replicator — is inherently libertarian (small “l”): it increasingly must see government as a hindrance rather than a help. At PayPal alone, we enabled the creation of several million small businesses. None of them needs or wants a union.
In 2006 and 2008, some Democrats wanted the full-blown “revolution”; but most just wanted rid of the Republicans. They got an experiment in European socialism, and a very discouraging one at that: the never-ending Great Recession, HealthCare.gov, Obamacare itself, an IRS run amok, a Reid-led Senate that refused to pass anything for four long years, and ever greater regulation with an ever-increasing penchant for rule by diktat. The change came, and while it took years, it destroyed whatever hope came with it.
A Republican majority — and a Republican President — who understand this greater motif, this technological liberation which leads even Berkeley-trained dot-communists to maximize profits and unapologetically promote entrepreneurship, could upend a government built to serve 19th and 20th century-era perceived needs.
But it must be bold. That is not just the lesson of Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney, but of 2006 and 2014 as well. Republicans lost because they lost the confidence of their coalition, who began believing there was “not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties.” Eight years later few would say that, but they’ll say it again if Republicans don’t prove it false, convincingly.
One last point: in 2014, Republicans were characterized by brilliant, highly-educated, youthful candidates like (need I remind you) 37 year old Tom Cotton and 44 year old Joni Ernst. These made for a stark contrast with 74 year olds Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, just as (for two examples) 43 year olds Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio might against 67 year old Hillary Clinton. With the youth vote coming back to Republicans, it might be the time for Republicans to meet them where they are.
If they do, we could well have that realignment, one like unto only 1932, or 1864.