The slide continued with the Democrats’ 2010 midterm “shellacking,” as Obama called it. With high unemployment, massive discontent — three-fourths of Americans saying we’re on “the wrong track”–and a flailing presidency, Republicans have been flirting with Carvillian straight-line projections. A one-term presidency, exults Michele Bachmann: “The cake is baked.”
Hardly. Tuesday showed that the powerful Republican tailwind of 2010 (I prefer non-culinary metaphors) is now becalmed. Between now and November 2012, things can break either way.
They have already been breaking every which way. In this year’s congressional special elections resulting from the resignation of scandal-embroiled incumbents, NY-26, traditionally conservative, went Democratic; NY-9, forever Democratic, went Republican. Add now the four evenly split gubernatorial races and Ohio’s split decision on its two highly ideological initiatives — and you approach equipoise.
Nothing is written. Contrary to the condescending conventional wisdom, the American electorate is no angry herd, prepared to stampede on the command of today’s most demagogic populist. Mississippi provided an exemplary case of popular sophistication — it defeated a state constitutional amendment declaring that personhood begins at fertilization. Voters were concerned about the measure’s ambiguity (which would grossly empower unelected judges) and its myriad unintended consequences (regarding, for example, infertility treatment and life-threatening ectopic pregnancies). Remarkably, this rejection was carried out by an electorate decidedly pro-life.
And smart. So too across the nation, as we saw Tuesday. This is no disoriented, easily led citizenry. On the contrary. It is thoughtful and discriminating. For Republicans, this means there is no coasting to victory, 9 percent unemployment or not. They need substance. They need an articulate candidate with an agenda and command of the issues who is light on slogans and lighter still on baggage.
—Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010, The Washington Post Writers Group.