Magazine | November 29, 2010, Issue

From Defeat to Rout

They can’t say they weren’t warned. The polls showed independents beginning to turn away from President Obama in the spring of 2009. Town halls in the summer showed strong grassroots resistance to the Democrats’ health-care plan. In November 2009, Republicans won big in Virginia and New Jersey — both states Obama had carried the year before. A few months later, opposition to the health-care law helped Republican Scott Brown to win the Senate seat that Ted Kennedy had occupied for decades.

Democrats had plenty of time to change course. Instead, they decided that the public was easily confused and would come around. The weak economy and previous Democratic gains meant that Republicans would likely do well in this election, especially in the House. But it was this Democratic obstinacy that converted a defeat into a rout. Republicans took control of the House, defeated liberal heavyweights such as Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and picked up a slew of governorships and state legislatures. The House will now have more Republicans than in any year since the 1940s — and the most favorable climate for redistricting in living memory.

Key to this shift was a change of heart among independent voters. The parties turned out their voters in roughly the same proportions as in 2006, when the Democrats took the House. But while independents back then had grown weary after twelve years of a Republican Congress, this year they turned on Democrats after only four.

The Republicans deserve some credit for their own success. The early popularity of the president did not prevent them from opposing a bloated stimulus, and they rejected the superficial arguments for cooperating with the Democrats in extending government control of health care. They refused, in short, to acquiesce in their widely predicted extinction.

The Tea Partiers have much to be proud of. Portrayed as extremists and racists, they succeeded in forming a coalition that won a majority of the votes — and, incidentally, elected a record number of non-white Republicans. Like any political movement, and especially any new one, the Tea Partiers made mistakes, choosing a few subpar candidates and thus letting liberals retain some seats they could have been forced to relinquish.

But they saw an opportunity to change the country’s direction and had the fortitude to do it. They have been indispensable to electing several new conservative stars, including Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, and Ron Johnson. (All three of them come from states that supported Obama, in case anyone’s counting.) Many of the same pundits who after Obama’s election foresaw a Republican retreat to the South will now act as though they expected these results all along. They will move on to warning Republicans of doom next time around. As the Tea Partiers deepen their involvement in politics, they can again prove their critics wrong by learning from their early missteps.

The Democrats are still in denial. President Obama concedes no errors other than failing to talk slowly enough to a dull-witted electorate (we paraphrase). Nancy Pelosi is likely to remain the House Democrats’ leader and a symbol of unrepentant, top-down liberalism. Evidently the Democrats continue to assume that the public will come to its senses and the Republican resurgence of the last two years will prove to be an aberration. For the Republicans, that fact is a better portent for 2012 than any of the election returns.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

Tea in 2012

Amid all the recriminations about the electoral ineffectiveness of some Tea Party–backed candidates, it’s easy to lose sight of a central fact: It’s doubtful that, without a newly emboldened grassroots ...
Politics & Policy

Political Economy

On November 2, Democrats suffered one of the worst midterm beatings in American history. The 65 House seats that they are now set to surrender represent the largest net loss ...
Politics & Policy

What to Cut

If the 2010 election produced any conservative mandates, they are to create jobs and to rein in soaring spending and deficits. Republicans should begin implementing this agenda by extending the ...
Politics & Policy

Thus Does It Grow

The American people did not give power to congressional Republicans; they took it away from congressional Democrats. Republicans now have an opportunity to prove that they deserve majority status — ...
Politics & Policy

Tax Extension

The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are set to expire on December 31. In the months before the election, the White House pressed the case for permanently extending tax cuts ...
Politics & Policy

Four Governors

The 50 states may be “laboratories of democracy,” but sometimes their experiments go awry. Many of America’s newly elected governors will be inheriting severe budget deficits that demand root-canal fiscal ...
Politics & Policy

States Right

Voters obviously gave the president plenty to wince about on Election Day, so it is understandable that one particular irony escaped his notice: Barack Obama, whose most substantive political experience ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

For God and Man

In this book, George Weigel maintains the very high standard he has long achieved of presenting controversial Roman Catholic subjects with the sympathy and insight of a committed adherent and ...
Politics & Policy

Mad Scientists

The English philosopher C. D. Broad once noted that “the nonsense written by philosophers on scientific matters is exceeded only by the nonsense written by scientists on philosophy.” You might ...
Politics & Policy

A Religious Journey

V.S. Naipaul is a gifted writer whose diction, imagery, and insight on postcolonial societies from the Caribbean to South Asia have won his work, both novels and narrative non-fiction, great ...
City Desk

Whoa, Dude!

When Sony stopped production of the Walkman, it had long been superseded by more advanced technology, but in the early Eighties, when it first caught on, it was a revolutionary ...

Sections

The Bent Pin

Unbalanced

In baseball you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, but in political commentary you need a metaphor. As intellectually destitute as it was, the midterm campaign now blessedly drawn ...
The Long View

POTUS Communication Surveillance Transcript

National Security Agency POTUS Communication Surveillance Transcript BEGIN EXTRACT 12:03:55 [Static. Ringing.] UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE: Y’hello? POTUS: Bill? It’s Barack Obama. UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE: Hey! Greetings, Mr. President. POTUS: Did I call at a bad time? UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE: ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

TATTERS I see the garment of a grief and pain you no longer can feel, the sleeve of my own heart tugged at on this lost winter’s afternoon, cold and indecisive sun reflected in the eyes ...
Politics & Policy

From Defeat to Rout

They can’t say they weren’t warned. The polls showed independents beginning to turn away from President Obama in the spring of 2009. Town halls in the summer showed strong grassroots ...
Politics & Policy

Letters

U. Topia Up North Jonah Goldberg’s “U. Topia” (October 18) was a terrific piece, but his cheap shot at Canada — he says Canadians “think they’ve transcended international conflict when really ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Sixty-five and counting: Nancy Pelosi does turn out to be a job creator. ‐ Soon-to-be-former Speaker Pelosi wants to stay on as minority leader in the new year. For now, ...

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