The Oracle spent election night in Beantown, but has no interesting election stories to send back to the Music City, as everything that happened in this region was fairly predictable. While the loss of Lincoln Chafee in nearby Rhode Island may help cost Republicans control of the Senate, it will make no discernible difference in how actual votes turn out, since Chafee rarely voted with his party anyway. In fact, Chafee's loss may eliminate a potential complication for Republicans, as the ultimate RINO would have possessed enormous clout if a 50/50 split had induced Democrats to offer considerable rewards for Chafee to jump over to the dark side.
Nonetheless, the loss of the House of Representatives and the probable loss of the Senate
will result in an onslaught of fingerpointing within the Republican Party. A certain amount of this will be overwrought, as this year's results were, in fact, fairly typical of midterm elections, which almost always turn out badly for the party of the President. It is easy to forget that 2002 was the only midterm election since World War II in which the President's party gained seats, and, in part, this year served as a correction to that historical anomaly.
Even so, critics will variously blame the war in Iraq, Washington scandals, the loss of Republican principles of limited government, and the prominence of social conservatives in the party for the defeat. In part, they will all be right, as all of those factors have contributed to Republican losses. However, at least one of these maladies may be misdiagnosed, and, if so, that misunderstanding will result in greater divisiveness than really needs to occur.
The problem with social conservatives is NOT that there is a large block of voters within the Republican Party that hold to views supportive of the rights of unborn children and of traditional views of marriage. The difficulty comes from the way that Republican leaders have gone about pandering to those voters.
Those in leadership roles for the groups of people now called social conservatives and once called the religious right tend to be overly inflexible and somewhat naive politically. For that reason, it is unfortunate that a significant part of the Republican strategy has been to cater to those leaders in order to excite their "base" so that they get to the polls. In order to do this, Republicans in Congress this past year have brought several pieces of legislation on marriage and abortion issues, even though they had no thought of actually passing the bills. As Republicans noted at the time, the only purpose was to get Democrats "on the record" as opposing the measures.
While this sort of activity cheered the hearts of conservative Christian activist leaders, it did not fool the supposed followers, much less other voting blocks, who tend to be smarter. Only political insiders care about votes to put people "on the record." Most ordinary people care about what is actually being accomplished, and the current congressional leadership did very little of substance while spending all of their time trying to reassure their own re-elections through such pandering. The purpose of election to Congress is to participate in the governance of the country, and Republican leadership did very little to actually govern.
Before throwing social conservatives under the bus (though much of their leadership deserves it), other groups within the Republican Party should realize that many of the Democratic gains did not come from new candidates spouting the MoveOn.org lines. It came from people who ran as conservative Democrats. It will be interesting to see how their constituents will respond if they do not vote as they ran.
To the extent that this election holds a message for Republicans, it should be this: regardless of the type of Republican subset that you represent, you will not retain power if you lose your soul. Through overconfidence in the power of government (both at home and abroad), excessive expansion of the role and spending of government, corruption in the halls of government, and failures to actually do the work of government, Republicans appeared to many voters to have lost their souls.