The conservative press grapples with a very bad week
For Democratic partisans, the pleasure of watching Republicans lose their shirts in last week’s midterm elections was matched only by the joy of watching Republicans admit defeat. To hear George W. Bush, possibly the planet’s most cocksure human, say Democrats gave the GOP a “thumpin’”? Now that’s satisfying. (Don Rumsfeld getting thrown under the bus wasn’t bad, either.)
COMING TO TERMS: In the months ahead, the right is going to have to choose between the adolescent triumphalism of Jonah Goldberg (pictured) and the searching introspection of William F. Buckley Jr. Both men are affiliated with the National Review.
Not everyone on the right has been so accommodating, however. Reactions to the recent Republican setbacks have varied sharply among the conservative journalistic brain trust, ranging from the chagrined (we got our asses kicked, and rightly so) to the flippant (what, us worry?). And among those conservatives who are taking the outcome hard, there’s disagreement about what exactly went wrong. Here’s how the discussion is breaking down — and what it portends for the future of the GOP.
Woe is us
One of the more sober post-election assessments came from Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes. “This one is pretty easy to explain,” Barnes wrote. “Republicans lost the House and probably the Senate because of Iraq, corruption, and a record of taking up big issues and doing nothing about them.” Such as? Immigration (Barnes is pro-amnesty), Social Security reform, earmark abuse. Notably, Barnes’s wrath is directly squarely at Congress: while he pegs Iraq as “by far the biggest factor” in the midterm elections, he’s got zilch to say about the president’s handling of the war. (In fact, he even praises Bush for “courageously propos[ing] and campaign[ing] for Social Security reform in 2005.”) Why the soft touch? I’m guessing it’s because Barnes’s hymn to Bush — Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush — recently went paperback. But that’s just a theory.
Barnes also gives Democrats a modicum of credit, praising Rahm Emanuel — the Illinois congressman who ran the party’s congressional campaign — for recruiting a good slate of candidates. Finally, and most important, Barnes warns that the midterms bode poorly for the GOP’s long-term prospects. Not only are the Democrats getting stronger in the Northeast, he observes; they’ve also turned Colorado, Arizona, and Virginia into battleground states that will be up for grabs in the 2008 presidential race. His bottom line: “The defeat for Republicans was short of devastating — but only a little short.”
Conservative titan William F. Buckley Jr. is less gloomy than Barnes, but not by much. After lamenting, in characteristically lyrical manner, the conservative casualties of ’06 (“tenacity and right mindedness, in the case of Rick Santorum. Geniality of intellect and an aura of idealism-in-hand, in the case of Jim Talent”), Buckley briefly finds momentary consolation in the rhythms of history. In the sixth year of most presidencies, he observes, the president’s party tends to take a major hit. (Like most conservative commentators, Buckley fails to note that this didn’t happen to Bill Clinton.)
: Media -- Dont Quote Me
, Jim Webb, George Will, William F. Buckley, Jr., More