Few know and love the political horserace like Jay Cost. We talked with him before Election Day, and we’re back with him now. Cost, a staff writer for The Weekly Standard, talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about yesterday’s results.LOPEZ
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What surprised you most about Tuesday night?
JAY COST: I was most surprised by Colorado, Illinois, and Nevada, where the polls turned out to be wrong. I was expecting to be surprised somewhere — paradox alert! — but I figured we’d be surprised in a way that favored the Republicans. But Bennet in Colorado, Quinn in Illinois, and Reid in Nevada all outperformed their polls.
: Are there big lessons learned here for Democrats?COST
: The liberals have had a two-year run at the government, and what was the result? The Pacific Coast is blue. New England is blue. Just about everything else is red. The political appeal of liberalism is geographically limited.
This is something that past liberals understood. Take Franklin Roosevelt. He built a broad liberal coalition that included not just the cities, but southern liberals, such as Claude Pepper, and old-time Bryan liberals from the mountain West, such as Burton Wheeler. Today, the South and the West want nothing to do with liberalism.
The Democrats have to figure out what to do about this — how do they translate their principles into policies that can appeal to a diverse cross-section of the country? But frankly, I don’t think they want to do this. Clinton’s strategy of triangulation worked politically, but it ultimately resulted in Ralph Nader playing spoiler. And liberals seem much happier to think that John Kerry lost because he was “swift-boated” rather than because he was a weak candidate. Similarly, today I think they are willing to think of their largest rebuke in 64 years as merely a function of the economic downturn.LOPEZ
: What are the big lessons for Republicans?COST
: Republicans have a version of the same problem. Last night, the GOP lost three Senate seats because of weak candidates. That’s just terrible. My basic feeling is that economic conservatism can be sold to the country without being watered down. It has happened many times before in the last 100 years. But you need candidates who can articulate the conservative case in a broad way, not a narrow way.
Conservatives are right to be worried about “establishment” Republicans (although the word “establishment” is not very descriptive). But they should also worry about anti-establishment candidates who are not going to get to half-plus-one. And actually, for conservatives really to get stuff done, they need more than half-plus-one. Would Ronald Reagan have gotten his tax cut through in 1981 if he had won by two points and had lost 20 states? I doubt it.