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Theories of the Fall


Over at Commentary, Abe Greenwald suggests that “Obama’s election was really about the charisma of one leader, who was able to convince a majority of Americans that he himself embodied all the change they’d ever need. . . . The GOP shouldn’t get too distracted with questions about how they need to rebuild or reinvent. They just came up against a truly extraordinary politician.” Then how to explain the Democrats’ down-ballot successes? Coattails? But Kay Hagan ran ahead of Obama in North Carolina, as did Mark Warner in Virginia. Some one-off factors surely contributed to the congressional losses in 2006 and 2008–the seeming failure of the Iraq war then, the economy now–but the vulnerability of the Republicans to these shocks surely has something to do with the unattractiveness of the party’s domestic program. What we have seen over the last two election cycles, it should be emphasized, was not the rejection of one or another faction of the Republican party, but of the party itself.

Democrats deluded themselves in the 1980s that Ronald Reagan’s success owed to some spell he had put on the electorate, and some Republicans thought the same thing about Bill Clinton. Political talent matters, but it is not everything.