Thursday, November 09, 2006

I hereby nominate the '06 winners and losers

As we continue to sift through the ’06 Republican wreckage, here are some of the people who wound up looking good, and came off looking bad:


1. George H. W. Bush, the former president...I can best explain this one by sharing a garden-variety anecdote from my own youth. When I was 19, I took the family car for a wild midnight spin on a back road. Being 19, I decided to exit the road itself and tear across an open field. But it was literally a dark and stormy night, so naturally the car got stuck in mud and I couldn’t dislodge it. So I hiked a mile to the nearest house, phoned my dad, woke him up, and he came to my rescue with a AAA tow truck.

Similarly, the 60-year-old in the White House is now so stuck in the mud that he needs his dad to bail him out. Dad wrote in his memoirs nearly a decade ago that a U.S. occupation of Iraq would be a strategic disaster abroad and a political disaster at home, and dad’s friends repeatedly echoed this warning before the occupation commenced in 2003. Now dad and his friends have been proven correct, so the next step is to call AAA.

Which is why Robert Gates is going to the Pentagon, replacing Donald Rumsfeld. A member in good standing of the senior Bush team, Gates is from the Republican “realist” school of foreign policy, as opposed to the neocon ideology school; he’s also a key player on the Iraq study commission that is co-helmed by another of dad’s players, James Baker. Translation: Even though dad is still parachuting out of planes well into his eighties, he still has enough leftover moxie to mop up for his kid.

2. Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer...JFK once said that “victory has a thousand fathers,” but Emanuel and Schumer probably deserve the most credit for the ’06 Democratic triumph – Emanuel for his recruitment of House candidates, and Schumer for working the Senate side. They broadened the appeal of the Democratic party by finding moderate and conservative candidates to run in moderate and conservative states and districts, thereby undercutting the party’s liberal stereotype. Liberals were slow to appreciate some of these efforts – in Pennsylvania, they resented Schumer for tapping the socially conservative Bob Casey Jr. to run against Rick Santorum, but in the wake of Casey’s solid victory, I hear no complaints today.

(By the way, on the subject of victory having a thousand fathers, here’s one of the Democrats who’s trying to claim patrimony this week. I will simply quote from the headline on his Wednesday email: “John Kerry’s Commitment Helps Bring Democrats to Victory.”)

3. Joe Lieberman...Last August, President Bush’s favorite Democrat refused to accept the verdict of antiwar Connecticut Democrats when they denied him the ’06 party nomination for another Senate term. He stuck around anyway, essentially created the Joe Lieberman party, and won re-election anyway as an independent. And soon he will be at the fulcrum of power in the Senate; in ’07, he will caucus with the Democrats as they take over that chamber.

In a sense, he owes the Democrats nothing. And now he becomes the crucial 51st vote as they organize their majority. In a closely divided chamber, he will have clout. He can stick with the Dems on some issues, defect to the GOP on others, and, perhaps most often, work across party lines with the GOP moderates. His season of humiliation has passed; as the voters made clear the other day, bipartisan centrism is in. And he has the liberal bloggers over a barrel: they really can't afford to keep harassing him for his past fealty to Bush on the war, because they need him now within the Democratic ranks.

4. John McCain...It was noteworthy, during the ’06 campaign, that he was in far greater demand than Bush. Few candidates wanted the president anywhere near them, whereas they panted after McCain. He earned a slew of IOUs from these candidates, and he can arguably cash them in during an ’08 presidential run. And he can plausibly argue that the GOP’s ’06 debacle was caused by the party’s profligate special-interest spending on Capitol Hill – the pork-barrel earmarks, for instance. McCain has been inveighing against those practices for years, as no doubt he will remind fiscally conservative voters as he stumps for himself in the runup to ’08.

5. Joe Biden...Yes, the Democratic senator from Delaware is sometimes terminally voluble, but the fact is that he will soon become the party’s most visible player in the Iraq debate. The Democratic takeover of the Senate puts Biden in the chair at the Foreign Relations Committee, a national platform. His idea about how to clean up Bush’s mess in Iraq is not universally popular – he wants to create a “federalist” system, with separate regional governments for the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis – but, unlike most Democrats, at least he has something specific to talk about. And talk about.


1. Dick Cheney....The man who insisted 18 months ago that the Iraqi insurgency was in its “last throes”; who predicted at the outset that we would be “greeted as liberators”; who insisted, long after conclusive evidence to the contrary, that Saddam Hussein agents had met personally with 9/11 suicide killer Mohammed Atta, now appears to be outflanked in the retooled Bush White House. Rumsfeld, who once predicted that the Iraq war would probably not last six months, was Cheney’s kind of guy; Gates, a longtime resident of the reality-based community, clearly is not.

2. George Allen....Only last spring, he was widely viewed as a serious contender for the ’08 GOP presidential nomination; fawning magazine profiles talked about his sunny Reaganesque machismo. But today, having apparently blown his re-election race in pivotal Virginia, the lame duck senator is widely viewed as a joke, and jokes don’t get elected to the White House. Calling a dark-skinned Virginia native “macaca” was bad enough; assailing his opponent for writing fictional material in fictional books was worse (especially since the books are taught in military academies).

Will Allen run for president, anyway? It’s hard to imagine that GOP voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will warm to the man who is perhaps most responsible for ushering in the new Democratic Senate majority.

3. Dennis Hastert....When last seen by photographers, a week or two ago, the House Speaker was slipping into a hearing room to answer for his role in the Mark Foley scandal. (For Republican candidates, that visual was probably as helpful as a video of Bush in his flight suit on Mission Accomplished day.) But now, with the GOP headed for minority status, Hastert says he just wants to return to his first love, representing the people of his Illinois district, and being just one of the backbench boys.

4. Tom DeLay....He’s certainly not acting like a loser this week, because he’s popping up every night on the cable TV gabfests. But the fact remains that, a mere two years ago, he had a nice house on the perimeter of a golf course in Sugarland, Texas, plus a nice job whipping the House Republicans into a disciplined team. Today, he has the nice house in Sugarland, plus lots of free time to sit there with his lawyers and figure out how might be able to beat his indictment for election fraud. Long before Mark Foley became the face of GOP corruption in Washington, DeLay owned that particular title, and starting in January his deeply-red district will be represented in Washington by a Democrat.

It should also be remembered that the revolt of the suburban moderates against the GOP picked up steam in 2005, thanks to DeLay’s vocal insistence that the Republican Congress should intrude into the private life of the Schiavo family.

5. Karl Rove....Well, duh. I won’t dwell too long on the obvious. Suffice it to say that his alleged genius, extolled by many members of the Beltway political press, was nowhere in evidence on election night. Nor was it evidenced during the campaign, either, because Rove somehow kept believing that if Bush showed up to campaign for a candidate, it would be good for that candidate. Tell that to Missouri’s Jim Talent, who will soon be packing up his Senate office. Nor was his genius evidenced last year, when, after guiding his boss to the narrowest re-election victory of any president since Woodrow Wilson in 1916, he somehow believed that privatizing Social Security would be a political winner.

Rove’s aura was essentially based on the idea that swing voters don’t matter anymore, and that you win by merely nurturing and expanding your base. Here is ABC’s Mark Halperin, making the case for Rove last month in a New York Times op-ed column; in his view, Rove magic could well work again in the '06 elections:

“Two years of controversy over the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, and the perils of high gasoline prices and low poll numbers, have led many Americans to believe that the Republican Party's strategy of fighting from the base has worn out its welcome. Therefore, this view holds, a campaign that appeals to moderates, one waged from the center, is the only way for the party to maintain control of the Congress. Interesting theory, but it probably won't work. If the Republicans want to keep their majorities in the midterm elections, their best chance is to stick with the old, base-driven electoral strategy followed by President George W. Bush and his chief political adviser, Karl Rove….Bush's opponents may be imprudently lulled by the current storyline and broad national polls, both of which miss the power and consequence of a Republican base that may have one more victory to give.”

I saw the national exit poll this morning. The independents broke for the Democrats on Tuesday night, by 59 percent to 41 percent, and so went the election. And so went the “power and consequence” of Karl Rove.