Politics & Policy

Nancy’s End, Marco’s Rise

Winners and losers, post-election edition.

National Review Online asked politicos and commentators a series of questions about their top picks and low points from the midterm elections of 2010.

Who was the biggest winner of Election Day 2010?

Who was the biggest loser?

Who was your hero of the midterm election cycle?

What was the most important lesson?

Who do you have the highest hopes for? 

Gary Andres

Biggest Winner(s): This has to go to Boehner/Sessions and the whole NRCC political team. They broadened the playing field, which created an opportunity to exploit a very positive political environment. They recruited top-flight candidates. They raised money early in a Washington culture that — until the last couple of months — was pretty hostile to and skeptical of the minority party. They also moved the chess pieces around pretty well at the end, effectively exploiting opportunities and taking away resources in areas that didn’t make sense politically.

Biggest Loser: Nancy Pelosi. She sacrificed her colleagues on the altar of her extreme liberal agenda. It was more important for her to expand government and take over the health-care system than to honor the political vulnerabilities of some in her caucus. By indulging her extreme instincts, she lost her majority and she will lose her leadership position.


Hero: Marco Rubio. He was in a tough three-way race. He didn’t sacrifice principle. He ran as a solid conservative. Now as a newly elected senator from a large swing state, he can help the GOP grow its appeal to Hispanic voters nationally. He is the future of the Republican party.

Most Important Lesson: Two lessons. America is a center-right country. Talk of a lurch toward liberalism following the 2008 election was the progressives’ pipe dream. Second, Americans reacted more against this misunderstanding on the part of the Democrats than they embraced the Republican brand. As Rubio said, Republicans now have a second chance to brand themselves as the party that embraces and best represents this center-right coalition.

My highest hopes are for John Boehner. He says he wants to run the House differently from the way both the Democrats and the Republicans have done in the past. I believe him. He can do it. He has the experience and commitment to deliver on this promise. And if he succeeds, it will represent real Hope and Change in Washington.

— Gary Andres is vice chairman of research for Dutko Worldwide.

Brian Brown

Winner: I’ll go out on a limb and guess that no one else will pick this one: Paul LePage, the new governor of Maine. Great life story of overcoming adversity, great conservative. Who would have thought a year ago that a pro-traditional-marriage, pro-life Republican would win the governorship in Maine and Republicans would take both houses? Last time Republicans had the governorship and legislature in Maine: 1962.

Losers: Iowa supreme court judges Ternus, Baker, and Streit. Historic and unprecedented victory for judicial accountability. Big loss for activist judges. Highlights how wrong the Left is when it claims that voters don’t care about same-sex marriage.

Hero: Marco Rubio. Young, bold, and inspiring.

Lesson: Social issues matter. Not only were the supreme court judges in Iowa defeated, but in key races throughout the country social conservatives won. The notion that Tea Partiers don’t care about social issues is just wrong, but we’ll hear a lot about it today as the progressives try to “frame” this election. The simple fact is that the newly elected Congress will be the most socially conservative Congress in decades.

Highest hopes: It’s important that state candidate after state candidate supporting traditional marriage won, and won big. In New Hampshire, Maine, Minnesota, and Iowa, the state legislatures have dramatically been reshaped with new batches of conservatives. This is the untold story of this election. And Marco Rubio again.

— Brian Brown is president of the National Organization for Marriage.

Kenneth Blackwell

1. Constitutional conservatives were the big winners. The framers of the Constitution erected it as a wall to stop any president from fundamentally transforming our country. The message of Tuesday from a free people was music to our ears. Let’s hope President Obama is not politically hard of hearing.

2. President Obama is ontologically incapable of saying that the voters have rejected his agenda and collectivist worldview. He is too much the liberal ideologue to pull off a Clinton-like triangulation. Like Jimmy Carter, he will be a one-term president.

3. Sen. Jim DeMint. He is a principled warrior!

4. The conservative movement is back to fighting form and ready for the next round: 2012.

5. Marco Rubio.

— Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow at the American Civil Rights Union.

Teri Christoph

Who was the biggest winner of Election Day 2010? Marco Rubio, for rising above the fray in Florida.

Who was the biggest loser? Nancy Pelosi, hands down. (And hand over the gavel!)

Who was your hero of the midterm election cycle? Renee Ellmers, who beat Bob Etheridge in North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district. A true grassroots success story.

What was the most important lesson? The grassroots, when pushed, can successfully work around the traditional party structure.

Who do you have the highest hopes for? The conservative women of the freshman class, who are keenly aware of what’s at stake if they don’t succeed in reining in the federal government.

— Teri Christoph is co-founder of Smart Girl Politics

David Kahane


Biggest Winner: the Midwest. Now we know where your patriots are. The grownups, too: Mitch Daniels is suddenly looking very good for 2012. Imagine what he would do to BO2 in the debates without Barry’s teleprompter.

Biggest Loser: California. The fast-tarnishing Golden State now gets to call the diminutive Babs Boxer “senator” for six more long years, and has raced headlong back to the future to re-install Jerry Brown as governor, in order to party like it’s 1974. Woo-hoo! Watch for another recall election in the next two years, right after Hollywood decides to relocate en masse to Deadwood, S.D. First runner-up: Connecticut.

Hero: Does Michael Steele get any credit for this? Time to stop slapping him around, if results count, and it’s hard to argue they don’t. Show the man some respect.

Lesson: A unified front, and a willingness to just say no to us, can work wonders.

Next Lesson: Stop accepting any of our ridiculous premises, especially those that have a “moral” component. Make “Principles, not Programs” your rallying cry. Show us lefties the same respect we’ve shown you, which is none. And stop being afraid of a bunch of pot-bellied schoolyard bullies who wear bow ties, for crying out loud . . .

High Hopes For: America. The “bonds of illusion,” as Mephisto calls them in Faust, have finally fallen from the eyes of at least half the country, and we stalwarts of the Left are on the run back to our coastal hidey holes. Now we’ll commence our usual whining about “bipartisanship” and “working together,” but don’t believe us for a moment. Now is not the time for negotiation — it’s time to demand and get our unconditional surrender by Election Day 2012. Otherwise, we’ll be back at your throats before you know it. We are nothing if not relentless.

— David Kahane is the author of Rules for Radical Conservatives.

Kathryn Jean Lopez

The biggest winner Tuesday night was human dignity. The health-care debate and legislation were an affront to human life and dignity, individual responsibility, and truth — a manipulative mess of a debate and dangerous reality. Republicans took the House Tuesday night having promised to pass a universal, permanent Hyde Amendment — an across-the-board prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion. (This is a plan you don’t have to want to overturn Roe v. Wade to get behind.) Thank John Boehner for that. Thank co-sponsors Chris Smith and Democrat Dan Lipinski for that. It was a big win for life, and one that defies the idea that social issues are irrelevant. Congratulations, too, to groups like the Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, and the National Right to Life Committee for holding “pro-life” congressmen who voted for the health-care legislation accountable.

The biggest loser was the old nonsense female politics. Not all women are liberal — and increasingly we see that in how women vote, and in what motivates them to be civically engaged.

My heroes are all of the people — those who won, those who lost, those whose names were on ballots, and those who were working for the ones whose names were on ballots — who made sacrifices, who were maligned and mistreated, who invested time and energy and money and heart and soul, in truth and justice and the future of the United States our Founders envisioned. The most important lesson may be that truth finds a way to the surface. I think of John Boehner being the only one mentioning abortion funding at the White House health-care summit at Blair House. I think of those who were concerned about the betrayal of conscience, but were drowned out by some liberal women religious and a trade association. And now I look at “pro-life Democrats” like Steve Driehaus of Ohio — who went so far as to make the Susan B. Anthony List go to court to put up a political billboard — and Kathy Dahlkemper and Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania, all now being forced into retirement, and, well, I see hope and change!

My highest political hopes are for everyone faced with new challenges post-election day, in statehouses and on Capitol Hill. My highest hope is for those newly engaged this cycle — that they stay civically aware and active. And that they pray for Speaker Boehner and the rest, that they may stay true to their principles and be prudent and humble as they serve in a profession that isn’t always known to be a cradle of integrity.

– Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of NRO.

Henry Olsen

Biggest winner: Haley Barbour. As head of the Republican Governors Association, he spearheaded an unprecedented election effort that raised tens of millions of dollars and gained at least eight seats. With fundraising and political contacts in every state, he is well positioned to test the waters for a 2012 presidential bid.

Biggest loser: In political terms, Nancy Pelosi. She could have pulled her caucus back from the electoral precipice many times, but instead chose to rally them “once more, unto the breach.” She may be proud of her policy accomplishments, but politically she is a dead parrot.

My hero: Paul Ryan. Paul did what no other conservative was willing to do: start to define the contours of a governing platform for a new majority. He’ll need many more to come on board, but necessity is the mother of invention, and the Republicans need a set of palatable yet aggressive ideas if they want to compete for leadership.

Most important lesson: Principle kills, and absolute principle kills absolutely. The Republicans would not have won such a majority had they not resisted the Beltway siren songs of bipartisanship; principle killed the Pelosi speakership. But conservatives who stood out for their unswerving, and often impolitic, devotion to principle, like Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Jesse Kelly in Arizona’s 8th district, showed that even in wave years independents are willing to follow conservatives only so far in one leap. Paul Ryan is an example of how you can be true to yourself and true to politics simultaneously.

Highest hopes for: A tie between Nikki Haley, Allen West, and Susana Martinez. Non-whites in America are rapidly growing as a share of the electorate, yet conservatives have trouble reaching these voters, who, as people desirous of moving up into the mainstream of American life, should be most supportive of a robust, free-enterprise system. Each person has the opportunity to prove him- or herself on the national stage and, if successful, can dispel many of the stereotypes about conservatives that hinder our support among non-white voters.

— Henry Olsen is vice president of the American Enterprise Institute and director of its National Research Initiative.

James Pethokoukis

Who was the biggest winner of Election Day 2010? Sarah Louise Palin. She bestrode the political stage and backed winners in key primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. 

Who was the biggest loser? Scott Rasmussen, whose automated polling will be under renewed fire from liberals. Oh, and Pres. Barack Obama, since the electoral shellacking compelled him to do a post-election press conference where he again displayed his mistaken belief that his troubles stem mostly from poor messaging and optics. 

Who was your hero of the midterm election cycle? Candidates like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Pat Toomey, who should all be persuasive voices for pro-growth economics and entitlement restructuring. Hopefully, there will be more awakened Democrats joining them.

What was the most important lesson? The 2008 financial crisis only momentarily turned Americans into Frenchmen. Two years later, they are more distrustful of government power than ever. It’s still a center-right nation, people.

Who do you have the highest hopes for? Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has tremendous natural political skills and real-world experience sorely lacking in Washington, D.C.

— James Pethokoukis is Money & Politics Columnist for Reuters Breakingviews.

James P. Pinkerton 

Biggest winner: John Boehner.

Biggest loser: Nancy Pelosi.

Hero of the cycle: The tea partiers, as a group. 

Unsung heroes: Pete Sessions, chairman of the NRCC, and Haley Barbour, chairman of the RGA. 

Most important lesson: It’s a center-right country, so one can’t govern from the left.

Highest hopes for: Tim Scott, Allen West, two black Republicans in Congress; Nikki Haley and Susana Martinez, two new faces for the GOP.

— James P. Pinkerton, a former domestic-policy aide in the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, is a Fox News contributor.

John J. Pitney Jr.

The biggest winner is the late Paula Nowakowski, chief of staff to John Boehner until her untimely death earlier this year. Chad Pergram recalls Boehner’s words at her funeral: “‘Our team this year is going to dedicate our year to Paula,’ Boehner said, choking back tears. ‘You all know how badly she likes to win. And she wants us to win this year.’” She got her wish.

The biggest loser is Rep. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.). His brief tenure in the House was a war on civility: Among other things, he accused Republicans of wanting old people to die. He’s a capital-L Loser whose disgraceful behavior cost him his seat, undercut his party, and damaged the House. Good riddance.

A GOP hero of the cycle is Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, who chaired the Republican National Committee during the 1994 Republican surge and chaired the Republican Governors Association this time. Both times, he supplied his party with logistical support, wise advice, and good humor.

An obvious choice for the “high hopes” trophy is Marco Rubio. Unless he turns out to have a secret life as a cat burglar, he’s on the short list for the vice-presidential nomination in 2012.

And the most important lesson comes from California’s GOP senatorial primary: Beware demon sheep!

– John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.

Doug Schoen

Winner is John Boehner.

Loser is a tie between President Obama and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

My hero is Joe Manchin.

Lesson is that big government is dead — once again and with feeling!

I have highest hopes for bipartisan cooperation of the type President Obama outlined during his Wednesday press conference. And my great fear is that it will simply not happen given the anger in our society and the polarization in our politics.

— Doug Schoen is co-author of Mad As Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System.

Kristen Soltis

Who was the biggest winner? John Boehner. The strength of the GOP’s performance in House races compared with the Senate underscored how the message being driven by Boehner for over a year — “where are the jobs?” — was the key, driving question. It was very clear what House Republican candidates wanted to do — stop spending, stop government expansion, and, most important, get America working again. Not only will Boehner get the speaker’s gavel, but I believe this election makes a solid case for viewing him as de facto leader of the GOP until a 2012 nominee emerges.

Who was the biggest loser? Charlie Crist. If you look at the exit polls, he badly underperformed even among independent voters. Other folks who lost last night may live to fight another day or will retire into the sunset, but last night I believe marked an end to Crist’s political career in Florida.

Who was your hero of the midterm election cycle? Marco Rubio. He proved that “electability” and principled conservatism are not mutually exclusive in a purple state like Florida if you can run on a positive message and articulate a message that unites the right with the middle.

What was the most important lesson? This isn’t a mandate or even a strong vote of confidence — it’s a second chance. I believe that you’ve seen leadership folks like Boehner and Cantor clearly acknowledge that the GOP’s brand is not great and that we need to re-earn the trust of voters.

Who do you have the highest hopes for? Nikki Haley in South Carolina. I have a soft spot in my heart for strong conservative women who take on the establishment, who win on the ability to stick to their convictions and convince voters to agree. I can only hope we see a lot more of her in the coming years. 

– Kristen Soltis is the director of policy research at the Winston Group, a strategy and polling firm in Washington, D.C.

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