Monday, March 12, 2012

For GOP, triumph is fleeting

While savoring his extra-innings victory, George W. Bush, baseballman, should remember the movie "Bull Durham." The young pitcher NukeLaLoosh, after a good inning, is deflated by his veteran catcher,Crash Davis:

Nuke: "I was good, eh?"

Crash: "Your fastball was up and your curveball was hanging. Inthe Show, they woulda ripped you."

Nuke: "Can't you let me enjoy the moment?"

Crash: "The moment's over."

Moments are awfully momentary. Consider this:

The other time a president's son ran for president, he finishedsecond, in a field of four, to a Tennessean. But because the leader,Andrew Jackson, did not get an electoral vote majority, the 1824election was settled in the House, when John Quincy Adams struck adeal with the fourth-place candidate, Henry Clay, who threw hissupport to Adams. Adams in turn made Clay secretary of state, thenconsidered a stepping-stone to the presidency. Jackson successfullycharacterized this as a "corrupt bargain," which helped doom Adams in1828 and put an end to Clay's presidential aspirations.

The inevitably untidy and bitter judicial ending of this electionmay taint Bush's presidency. However, sober people understand thatany ending favoring Al Gore would have tainted his presidency. Andliberals stigmatizing the Supreme Court as partisan are shortsighted,given their reliance on judicial prestige rather than democraticpersuasion to advance much of their agenda.

The Gore-Nader 51 percent of the vote should erase whateverremains of conservatives' triumphalism. But Gore got one-fifth of hisvote by winning 90 percent of African-American votes, a source ofsupport that is nearly tapped out. Two issues, abortion and guns,were not as important for Gore as they were expected to be. In thesix elections since abortion first became a presidential campaignissue in 1980, four have been won by candidates running on right-to-life platforms. And to carry Michigan and Pennsylvania, Gore mutedhis enthusiasm for gun control.

However, six of the 10 most populous states-California, New York,Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey-have voted Democratic inthree consecutive presidential elections, by an average margin of 13percentage points. If these states, with 165 electoral votes,constitute the Democrats' presidential base, a Democrat needs to findonly 105 votes from 44 states and the District of Columbia. Bush kepthis promise to spend in California the money he raised there, and hecampaigned there. After Gore's Los Angeles convention, he visitedCalifornia only once, and only to tape Jay Leno's show. Nevertheless,Gore beat Bush there as badly as Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole, whonever seriously contested California.

Perhaps the key datum of the election is that late-decidingvoters, who usually break against the candidate of the party holdingthe presidency, this time broke for Gore. This suggests that Goresucceeded in sowing doubts about Bush's competence. Which may explainBush's weakness in educated, metropolitan America.

The Weekly Standard's David Brooks notes that Gore beat Bush by 8points among people with advanced degrees-almost 10 percent of theelectorate-and by 22 points among women with advanced degrees.Affluent suburbs have been leaning Democratic for 20 years. Gore,Brooks writes, did better than Clinton in 1996 in 12 states(California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas,Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, RhodeIsland), and Bush did better than Dole did in 12 (Arkansas, Idaho,Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, SouthDakota, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming). Which dozen would you mostwant trending toward you?

Twenty Republican Senate seats and only 14 Democratic seats are upin 2002. And, historically, the party holding the White House losesHouse seats in off-year elections. But Roll Call, the newspaper ofCapitol Hill, says that pattern may presuppose something that did nothappen this year-many members elected on presidential coattails.Furthermore, a surge of House retirements-more than the post-WorldWar II high of 65 in 1992, a redistricting year-may result fromredistricting, Democratic disappointment about the failure to capturecontrol of the House, and term limits for Republican House committeechairmen.

In addition to the 65 retirees in 1992, 43 incumbents weredefeated, partly because of redistricting. Churning will continue inthe House, where, come January, 53 percent of Republicans will neverhave been in the minority and 44 percent of Democrats will never havebeen in the majority.

Democrats will benefit, on balance, from congressional gridlockbecause of the reactionary liberalism of key constituencies. Teachersunions want no school choice, trial lawyers want no tort reform,feminists want no limits on even partial-birth abortions, AfricanAmericans want no change in racial preferences, organized labor wantsno significant tax cuts and no partial privatization of SocialSecurity.

Memo from Crash Davis to the president-elect: The moment's almostover.

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