What if McCain Loses?

Jane’s Law: “The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.”Megan McArdle


It could happen, you know. By “it,” I mean the worst nightmare of any conservative. In fact, odds are that in 2009, we’re going to have President Barack Obama, Harry Reid with an almost filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi with a large majority in the House.

If that’s the case, it’ll be the end of an era in American politics: the Reagan Revolution will be over, replaced by radical socialists with a majority so large that they will be able to do just about anything they want for at least two years.

But if, God forbid, that tragic day were to come, what would the Right be doing?

First and foremost, conservatives would be too busy working (somebody has to pay for the massive wealth transfer programs Obama wants to implement) to go out in the streets with giant puppet heads and “ObamaHitler” signs.

Nor would we be inclined to threaten riots, unlike some liberals who have essentially promised Rodney King verdict-style bedlam in the streets if Barack Obama loses. Also, conservatives love our country too much to make empty threats about moving to Canada, which is essentially just a less free, more liberal version of Massachusetts anyway.

However, you can expect people to get a little nuttier. Yes, that means the black helicopter crowd will be back and their ranks will be thickened by the North American Union kooks who’ve gotten an early start on the “political crazy Olympics.” And let’s face it: if you thought the nuttiness surrounding Clinton was bad, wait until you get a load of the conspiracy theories that would be spawned by a president who “attended a madrassa as a child, went to an anti-white, anti-American church for 20 years, was once a member of a socialist party, and pals around with terrorists like Bill Ayers.”


You can also expect the traditional round of post-election-bloodbath finger-pointing that usually breaks down into two camps. The first group is the “we lost because we weren’t conservative enough” faction; the second is the “we lost because we were too conservative” squish posse.

This time around, however, because John McCain is pretty much the standard bearer for the squish camp, it’s crystal clear who’s going to lose that argument — which should entail a shift back to the right for the Republican Party.

Of course, it’s hard to say who’ll be leading that shift, because all the current “leaders” in the Republican Party (Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, John Boehner, Roy Blunt, Mike Duncan, John Ensign, and Tom Cole) will probably be drummed out of their leadership positions in disgrace after a second terrible election cycle in a row.

Whoever is leading the party will have a much easier job than Republicans today, however, because the GOP will be completely out of power. Thus, they will be able to do exactly what the Democrats have done for the last eight years: be grouchy, unhelpful backseat drivers who drag their feet and oppose anything that the party in power decides to do.

That can be good political strategy. Just ask the Democrats, who are still improbably acting like the opposition party despite the fact that they have been in charge of Congress for the last two years.


There also will have to be a retooling of the conservative agenda. Reagan’s principles are still sound, but the GOP will be waiting a long time to get back into power if we keep trying to run on the remnants of Reagan’s agenda.

The “Evil Empire” has splintered, crime and welfare no longer swing votes, and issues that were relatively unimportant in 1980, like immigration and health care, have become hot political potatoes.

If the GOP doesn’t want to spend decades in the wilderness, it will have to adapt to that new reality and use conservative principles to craft a more appealing agenda for the American middle class. Conservatives won’t be able to try the old “we’re the lesser of two evils” approach that seems destined to fail for the second straight election in 2008.

Last but not least, there’s one more key question that has to be asked: when will the lethargy that has gripped most conservatives since 2004 finally be replaced with the sort of fiery desire that has animated liberals over the last few years?

It will probably begin about the time Obama and company shove through the first bad piece of socialist-inspired legislation. Regrettably, that is likely to be the first moment this utter disaster for the country will become real to millions of conservatives.


Or maybe McCain will still win. In three weeks, we’ll know for sure. But unless something changes, the conservative movement and the country are going to have hell to pay for the feckless leadership we’ve had from the Republican Party over the last few years.


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