Core val­ues still valid, GOP says in elec­tion post-mortem

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Don­ald Lam­bro

Vot­ers did not re­ject core Repub­li­can prin­ci­ples of lower taxes, smaller gov­ern­ment and fam­ily val­ues when they put the Democrats in charge of Congress, Repub­li­can of­fi­cials across the coun­try said in their post-mortems on the midterm elec­tions.

Ifany­thing,the­se­of­fi­cial­stoldThe Wash­ing­ton Times, Repub­li­cans blun­dered­bya­ban­doningorde-em­pha­siz­ing sig­na­ture is­sues that had fu­eledthep­arty’sme­te­ori­crisesince the1990s.Thep­ar­ty­mustcham­pion th­ese is­sues again if it hopes to win back the vot­ers’ trust in the 2008 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the of­fi­cials said.

“In the tight races where we had can­di­dates who ar­tic­u­lated the core is­sues like low taxes, less gov­ern­men­tand­strong­fam­i­ly­val­ues,those are the can­di­dates that pre­vailed in our com­pet­i­tive races,” Min­nesota Repub­li­can Chair­man Ron Carey said. “They did bet­ter than can­di­dates that didn’t stand firm on those con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can is­sues.”

As an ex­am­ple, Mr. Carey cited Repub­li­can Michele Bach­mann, who ran as a staunch con­ser­va­tive with strong evan­gel­i­cal sup­port in Min­nesota’s open 6th Dis­trict race, eas­ily de­feat­ing Patty Wet­ter­ling, a lib­eral Demo­crat, 50 per­cent to 42 per­cent.

“The can­di­dates who tried to fi­nesse the GOP’s po­si­tions fared poorly,” Mr. Carey said. “Those who ran on core Repub­li­can is­sues were able to bet­ter with­stand the Demo­cratic on­slaught.”

An ex­am­ple, some Repub­li­can strate­gists said, was Rep. Gil Gutknecht of Min­nesota, who lost his 1st Dis­trict seat to Demo­crat Tim Walz, a teacher and Na­tional Guard vet­eran, 53 per­cent to 47 per­cent.

But Repub­li­can crit­ics strongly re­jected the premise of th­ese Repub­li­can post-mortems, say­ing taxes were vir­tu­ally nonex­is­tent as an elec­tion is­sue, as was lim­ited gov­ern­ment.

“The fact of the mat­ter is that th­ese were non-is­sues,” said poll­ster and de­mo­graphic an­a­lyst David Bosi­tis of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Po­lit­i­cal and Eco­nomic Stud­ies.

“And how could Repub­li­cans run on smaller gov­ern­ment? They’ve been­in­charge­forthe­last­fiveyears, and gov­ern­ment spend­ing has ex­ploded. They can’t claim the Democrats are re­spon­si­ble for that,” he said.

Mr. Carey ar­gued that vot­ers re­main just as con­ser­va­tive as they were in ear­lier elec­tions when Repub­li­cans won in­creas­ing ma­jori­ties in Congress. But Repub­li­cans failed to sharpen the dif­fer­ences be­tween them­selves and Democrats, many of whom por­trayed them­selves as cen­trists de­spite their lib­eral views and vot­ing records, other Repub­li­cans said in a sur­vey of state party lead­ers by The Times.

“Ithinkpeo­plestil­la­gree­with­Repub­li­cans on low­er­ing taxes, on fis­calpol­i­cyandtry­ing­to­keepthe­gov­ern­ment in check. I don’t buy the ar­gu­ment that ev­ery­body has be­come a lib­eral,” Kansas Repub­li­can Chair­man Tim Shal­len­burger said.

He and other state party of­fi­cials said they had no doubt the Iraq war and con­gres­sional scan­dals were the over­rid­ing is­sues that pro­duced a wave of Demo­cratic vic­to­ries in more than 30 Repub­li­can con­gres­sional dis­tricts and a half­dozen Se­nate races.

Exit sur­veys of 13,208 vot­ers by the As­so­ci­ated Press and the ma­jor television news net­works found that more than half of the vot­ers sur­veyed, 55 per­cent, op­posed the war in Iraq and said that op­po­si­tion would­makethem­more­like­ly­tovote for Demo­cratic House can­di­dates.

The­ex­it­poll­sal­soshowedthat­six in­10re­ject­edPres­i­den­tBush’schief jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the war: to make Amer­ica more se­cure at home. No­tably, seven out of 10 in­de­pen­dents —apiv­otalvot­ing­bloc­tha­tled­toRepub­li­can losses — felt that way.

Some party chair­men said that with­out the Iraq war, a num­ber of Repub­li­cans would have won.

“It would have been a com­pletely dif­fer­ent out­come,” Michi­gan Repub­li­canChair­manSaulAnuzis­said. “TheIraqwar­was­cle­ar­ly­one­ofthe ma­jor rea­sons for Bush’s un­pop­u­lar­ity,”whichDemocrat­sturned­into a ref­er­en­dum on his pres­i­dency.

There was also a be­lief among many party of­fi­cials that the war — when com­bined with a num­ber of other is­sues, such as ex­ces­sive spend­ing and the lob­by­ing and con­gres­sional-page scan­dals — pro­duceda“crit­i­cal­mass”thatan­gered and­frus­trat­edRepub­li­cansand­hurt turnouta­mong­par­tymem­bers.Exit polls showed that nearly 30 per­cent of vot­ers were “an­gry” with Mr. Bush.

But it was the Repub­li­can Party’s aban­don­ment of its core prin­ci­ples on­spendin­gan­dlim­it­ed­gov­ern­ment that th­ese and other Repub­li­cans out­side the Belt­way said was the biggest­com­plain­ta­mongth­ep­arty’s grass roots. They blamed Repub­li­can lead­ers and mem­bers of Congress who, as one party chair­man said, “for­got why we sent them there.”

“I heard a lot of Repub­li­cans say, ‘We gave you a chance, and you spent more money than be­fore. Why should we send you back to Wash­ing­ton?’ ” Mr. Carey said.

“Some said we be­came the peo­ple we ran against in 1994. Whether it is true or not, that was the per­cep­tion in our party. It was in the minds of many vot­ers [on Nov. 7],” he said. “We need to get back to our ba­sic core prin­ci­ples and talk about the is­sues that draw a sharp dis­tinc­tion be­tween Repub­li­cans and Democrats.”

Th­ese com­plaints af­ter the elec­tion were picked up by some Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls, in­clud­ing Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney and Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona, who saw them as an op­por­tu­nity to make the party strong again.

“Amer­i­can­shavenot­be­come­less con­ser­va­tive, but they be­lieve some Repub­li­cans have. As a party, we need to re­mem­ber who we are and the prin­ci­ples that have al­ways led our party and our coun­try to suc­cess,” Mr. Rom­ney said af­ter the elec­tion.

“We must re­turn to the com­mon­sense Rea­gan Repub­li­can ideals of fight­ing for hard-work­ing Amer­i­cans, low­er­ing taxes, shrink­ing gov­ern­ment, curb­ing out-of-con­trol spend­ing,” he said.

Mr. McCain called for a re­turn to the con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples he said make up the foun­da­tions of the Repub­li­can Party.

“We came to Wash­ing­ton to change gov­ern­ment, and gov­ern­ment changed us,” he said. “We de­parted rather trag­i­cally from our con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples.”

Though Demo­cratic lead­ers re­peat­edly de­nounced Mr. Bush’s across-the-board tax cuts as “tax cuts for the wealthy,” polls showed that most Amer­i­cans sided with Mr. Bush and the Repub­li­cans on this core is­sue. A Gallup poll late last month showed that 74 per­cent were against Demo­cratic pro­pos­als to raise fed­eral in­come taxes.

ThoughMr.BushandRep.Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, who is in line to be­come the next House speaker, have buried the hatchet for now, some Repub­li­cans ques­tion whether­par­tymem­ber­scanoreven should­com­pro­mise­with­Democrats on taxes and spend­ing.

“I think there is go­ing to be a split in Repub­li­can cir­cles be­tween the fac­tion that says let’s com­pro­mise and try to get along and an­other fac­tion that says we need to get back to our core prin­ci­ples and be­liefs,” Mr. Carey said.

Repub­li­cansarenot­theon­ly­ones who are di­vided over post­elec­tion strate­gies.The­elec­tion­sal­so­havere­opened old ide­o­log­i­cal di­vi­sions be­tween­theDemo­crat­icParty’slib­eral and cen­trist wings. Cen­trists fear the mid­dle-of-the-road vot­ers who re­turned them to power will be turned off if the party’s left wing de­signs the leg­isla­tive agenda for next year.

“This is a vic­tory for the vi­tal cen­ter of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics over the ex­tremes,” said Al From, the founder of the cen­trist Demo­cratic Lead­er­ship Coun­cil (DLC), “and, while Democrats­ben­e­fit­ed­fro­manen­er­gized party base, the key to the vic­tory was in the con­tested cen­ter of the elec­torate, among moder­ates.”

Mr. From said his point “was un­der­scoredby[Sen.]JoeLieber­man’s re-elec­tion vic­tory in Con­necti­cut.”

Mr. Lieber­man, a hero among DLC mem­bers, was de­feated in the pri­mary by the party’s lib­eral, anti-war ac­tivists be­cause of his sup­port for the Iraq war. He won re-elec­tion as an in­de­pen­dent, largely with Repub­li­can votes.

In­di­ana Sen. Evan Bayh, a po­ten­tial­pres­i­den­tial­can­di­date­an­daDLC leader,sim­i­lar­ly­warned­his­par­tyin an­in­ter­viewwith­USATo­daythat“if we serve up a highly par­ti­san, ide­o­log­i­cally ex­treme, Demo­cratic ver­sion of what they just voted against, we’re not go­ing to do very well.”

But that view was flatly re­jected by party lib­er­als who op­pose the DLC’s cen­trist approach on do­mes­tic and na­tional-se­cu­rity pol­icy is­sues.

“If Democrats had cam­paigned like Lieber­man on the war, they might have won in Con­necti­cut, but they would have lost in most places,” said Roger Hickey, co-di­rec­tor of the lib­eral Cam­paign for Amer­ica’s Fu­ture. “This elec­tion was a ref­er­en­dum on the war, and the Democrats were smart to re­ject the DLC po­si­tion on the war.”

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