Republicans will face doom in 2008. Rove’s “governing majority” will disappear for a generation. Bush will bleed to death from a thousand Congressional cuts. War funding will be stripped, the minimum wage will hit twenty dollars an hour, and illegal immigrants will hold elective office.
It’s a Nightmare on K Street, and it’s not going to happen.
This election — despite every indication to the contrary — doesn’t matter. Sure, it might eventually cause something significant to happen — the way a butterfly flapping its wings in China causes a souffle to go flat in Muncie. But none of the three possible outcomes — Republican edge, Democratic edge, and Democratic sweep — will result in a future much different from the others. Do not go off the deep end this Halloween season. Do not dress up as an undead Perot voter. Don’t fear the Reaper.
THERE ARE FOUR REASONS WHY. First, the Republican majority in Congress is already slim and discredited. There is no possible way this lead will grow. Weak candidates will be winnowed out. A weak leadership will likely follow. These are things thoughtful Republican voters might want to happen anyway.
Second, Democratic gains will not quite mean liberal gains. Democrats — particularly in the Senate — have had to put up candidates like Harold Ford and Jim Webb who seem more conservative than several high-profile Republicans. To get competitive, some challengers running in GOP-held districts have lurched right on immigration. The tenor of the times — despite Iraq — is such that they have little choice. All the big opportunities to score against the ruling party in competitive districts are conservative talking points: bloated budget, profligate government, new entitlements, porous borders, dissatisfying war.
Third, a new Democratic majority — even a significant one — will be dead on arrival. A veto-proof majority is unthinkable; a veto-happy President faced with legislation he hates is certain. Bush’s willingness to embrace any bill to come out of the Republican Congress has been woeful; if a change in this attitude follows a change in party, conservatives in and out of Congress will cheer. Dems in charge of committees, with old axes to grind, will find themselves able only to grind Republican plans to a halt. And halting the junk machine in Washington appears to be the best anyone can hope for on any grounds — at least until ’08.
Fourth, 2008 will be the sort of watershed election that comes along once every 100 years. The election of 1858 has long been forgotten. So has the election of 1978. Both party establishments are running on fumes, and profound ideological reckonings are waiting in the wings. Like it or not, the Hispanic vote will be huge. Like it or not, Iraq will be huge. Like it or not, the major issues of the day will not be resolved and will probably be worse. Iran and North Korea are long-term problems beyond the political power of any single administration. A border fence is only a first step in confronting the immigration crisis. A new drug entitlement is not even that regarding the looming Social Security crisis. Not only are these reckonings major, they call — given present policies — for a fight over the soul of both parties. Democrats are starting to understand this, because they have the most to gain in the short term from tackling their incoherence. Republicans, too, are now well aware that a conversation about honesty toward first principles is mandatory before 2008.
This is the natural result of how Bush has governed — that is, not as a conservative. If Republicans lose this time around by a little, the conversation will ratchet up, as it should anyway. If Republicans lose by a lot, the conversation will get serious fast — as it should anyway.
THE MESSAGE, THEN, isn’t don’t worry, be happy. Do worry — but not over this election. Go about your regular business: if you like your local candidate, vote for your local candidate. If you don’t, don’t. If your conscience demands a protest vote, or a protest non-vote, rest assured that your action or inaction will not derail the course of history. The table is set on a suitably monumental scale that what happens this November is extraordinarily unlikely to change any of the bedrock realities of political life in this decade.
This should come as a relief on more than a personal level. Republicans and conservatives have the luxury of blowing an election. The moment should be seized as an opportunity. The clock is ticking. The issues are profound. There are international crises to spare. Consistent, coherent, and compelling political positions must be staked out now in order to be well defended later.
In this moment, when the prospect of culling the national majority is upon the GOP, everything about the Republican Party and, indeed, the federal government ought to be leaner and meaner. With a little foresight, the majority party can head off a future that’s all skin and bones.