"This Week's Shellacking Was A Bit Lacking"

In USA Today, Jonah Goldberg places the midterms into perspective:

Now that the midterm elections are over, and the GOP has lost the House and possibly the Senate, the Republicans like the referendum spin after all. This was just a year to throw the bums out, they say, and a few scandal-plagued bad apples cost the barrel a whole bunch. Meanwhile, the Democrats insist that voters made a bold “choice for change,” whereas before, change merely meant “not Bush.”

Now change means whatever Pelosi, Reid, New York’s Sen. Charles Schumer and Co. want. This is a major bait and switch. If I tell my waiter, “I don’t want to eat this hamburger,” I’ve made a choice for change. That doesn’t mean I’ve automatically embraced whatever he brings me in its place. A moldering pottage of road-killed badger is no less change than a steak. But it’s not necessarily what most diners have in mind.

Republicans will have a tougher time winning the spin war, not because they have the worse argument, but because they have a worse environment to make it in. America has been moving to the right since at least 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan. Since then, the GOP has seen its power and popularity grow as a result, albeit not in perfect tandem. Bill Clinton beat the first George Bush largely because he ran as a centrist Democrat. When he wavered in his centrism, the increasingly conservative electorate punished him with the 1994 Republican takeover of both the House and the Senate, which lasted until this week (not counting the 2002 switch in the Senate caused by the defection of Vermont’s Sen. Jim Jeffords). And, of course, in 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush won back to back elections. In other words, the GOP was due for a shellacking, and any shellacking would seem like a sea change. But in a historical sense, this week’s shellacking was a bit lacking.

Since the direct election of senators (i.e. the past nine relevant midterm elections), the average losses in a president’s sixth year have been 34 House seats and seven Senate seats. By that standard, the Democrats came up just shy of average. Republican losses in the Senate in 1986 were worse, but few now remember those elections as a national repudiation of conservatism. Yet that’s how we’re supposed to interpret this week’s news. That’s hard to do if you look at the candidates who put the Democrats over the top.

Sen. Joe Lieberman’s win in Connecticut was hardly a victory for the progressive base.

If Sen. George Allen of Virginia loses, it will be partly because he contracted a terrible case of Dukakisitis



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