EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the December 31, 2004, issue of National Review.
Ever since the election, Democrats have been consoling themselves with the thought that they lost by only 2.5 points nationally, and by only 119,000 votes in Ohio. Forty-eight percent of voters picked John Kerry. It would take only a little bit more support, they tell themselves, to regain power. And this is true. But there’s another way of looking at the same facts: It means that the Democrats still have a long way to fall.
It is understandable that Democrats would concentrate on which bits of red territory they could raid: on how they could win over voters in Colorado or Nevada, in the exurbs or the churches. But it’s not as though Republicans are going to stand in place while the Democrats maneuver. Republicans could gain votes in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, among Catholics and Hispanics. And maybe the most hopeful sign for the Republicans since the election has been the parade of dubious Democratic theories about how to make a comeback.
Leading this parade is the view that the Democrats simply nominated a weak, uncharismatic candidate this time around, and will succeed if they choose better next time. No reasonable observer would deny that there is an element of truth to this explanation. But what were the alternatives? Howard Dean would hardly have improved the Democrats’ standing on national-security or cultural issues. Dick Gephardt looked like a strong candidate on paper, but was unable to ride the labor unions to victory even in the caucuses of his nextdoor neighbor Iowa. Joe Lieberman, if nominated, would have generated a 10 percent vote for Ralph Nader. A realistic Democrat has to look behind Kerry to ask why his party was unable to come up with strong candidates for 2004…
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