When could-have-been veep John Edwards took the stage in Boston at about 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, face puckered, tired, and obviously angry, things did not look promising. Edwards reiterated the standard Kerry talking points that they would “fight for every vote” and that every last vote would be counted.
Given Bush’s commanding lead of well over a 100,000 votes in Ohio, I knew Kerry could not prevail. Looking at the same data, NBC and Fox had already called it for Bush, and anybody who knows anything about retail politics had seen the fat lady scribbling furiously on the wall.
It was done, over, finito, and here was Johnny One Note (“Two Americas!”) itching for a repeat of the 2000 debacle, with his candidate about 98,000 votes shy of grounds to contest anything.
But then, leaving the stage, Edwards did something that made me smile. In order to work the crowd, he tried Bill Clinton’s old finger pointing trick (where you point at the audience like you’re connecting with individuals) and added maybe a dozen of his trademark elevated thumbs-ups. He combined these gestures in an awkward display that my brother compared to the spasmodic dance moves of Seinfeld‘s Elaine Benes.
Somebody should save the tape to use as comic relief when the former North Carolina legislator makes a run at the White House in ’08.
BUT EVEN A SEASONED trial lawyer couldn’t argue his way out of this one. Bush’s close but serviceable victory in the Electoral College was sweetened by a pretty decent thrashing in the popular vote, and by gains his party chalked up in the House and Senate. Republicans are finally back to where they were in the 1920s, before the stock market tanked.
Early in the evening, I heard whispers that a few Democratic senators were lobbying for the job of minority leader in anticipation of Tom Daschle’s possible historic loss. The senator from South Dakota was denied a fourth term by the culturally conservative voters of his very red state.
The under-reported story here is the role Bishop Robert Carlson played in Daschle’s defeat. Last April, Joseph Bottum broke the news in the Weekly Standard that Carlson had sent Daschle a letter telling the pol to stop calling himself a Catholic. So score one for the Inquisition.
Daschle’s loss contributed to an election-night victory that had a lot of right-wingers giddy, and it spilled over into the next few days. The wag who writes the Evans-Novak Political Report said that Bush had “racked up the largest vote total of any politician in the history of the world.”
THE DEMOCRATS, HAVING BEEN absolutely hammered on values questions — from abortion to gay marriage — aren’t sure quite what to do. The term is soul-searching, if you go for that sort of thing.
After they lost in 2002, Democrats responded by becoming more shrill and more liberal. San Francisco’s pricklish Nancy Pelosi was installed as House minority leader, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean was for a time the party standard bearer, and they finally settled on nominating a senator from Massachusetts to run for president. Kerry then had to go about the unenviable task of convincing middle American voters that his bi-coastal party was right for them.
Obviously, that didn’t work, but where to go now? There’s an economically populist, socially conservative niche waiting to be filled, but that would require a complete rethink of how they do business. NOW would have to be moved to the back of the bus, if not left at the curb. The racial politics would have, at the very least, to be damped down.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada will throw himself into the running for leadership of the Senate Democrats. The problem: In deference to his Mormon faith, Reid has not yet gone the way of most Democratic pols by moving his votes from the pro-life column to something that NARAL would find acceptable. If the Dems go for Reid, it could be a sign of things to come.
IT WILL BE INTERESTING to watch Bush in the first hundred days or so of his new term. He has told many people that (a) he wants to be known as a reformist president and that (b) he’ll start “quacking like a duck” pretty fast.
There are a lot of reasons to worry about his administration and a few to be hopeful. He could reform Social Security, change the composition of the Supreme Court, and withdraw the U.S. from Iraq. Bush has built up enough crusader cred that he should be able to bluff his way into a few foreign policy victories without having to invade anybody. I dream here, but maybe he’ll even discover that he has a veto pen, and use it.