Messages and Messengers

One of the happy consequences of last night’s Republican sweep is that several obnoxious themes on which Democrats have relied will now, presumably, be put out to pasture. These include the moronic “war on women,” which ostensibly worked in 2012 but fell on its face this year. Someone forgot to tell Joni Ernst, Elise Stefanik, Mia Love, and countless other Republican women who stuck it to the Democrats.

A second discredited Democratic theme was their incessant, crazed attacks on Charles and David Koch. Never before in American history has one of its major parties launched such a vicious campaign against private citizens, merely for exercising their constitutional rights. Harry Reid was the main proponent of the Koch brothers strategy; most observers thought it wouldn’t work, and it didn’t. Reid will have a few years, at least, in the minority to come up with something new. I don’t think we will be hearing much about the Koch brothers in future campaigns.

The Democrats’ race-baiting also fell flat, as African-American voters, feeling first-hand the pain of Democratic economic policies, weren’t dumb enough to succumb to crude references to lynchings and the KKK. With Tim Scott elected in a landslide as the first black Senator from the South since Reconstruction–and from South Carolina, no less–the Democrats’ race-baiting will be a harder sell than ever.

Global warming is in a little different category. Democrats genuinely believe it is an issue and not just a demagogic distraction, but voters don’t agree. Environmental groups spent a fortune this cycle–I wonder how Tom Steyer is feeling this morning!–and got nothing for it.

But this is the important point: the Democrats haven’t been running on silly themes like the wars on women and African-Americans, the Koch brothers, and so on because that was their first choice. Rather, they were forced to retreat to such faux “issues” because their policies had demonstrably failed. Democrats wanted to run on the economy, but they couldn’t. A large majority of Americans think the economy is weak, and they are right. Democrats wanted to run on Obamacare, but they couldn’t. A clear majority of Americans think Obamacare hurts them, and they are right, too. Democrats wanted to run on the Obama administration’s foreign policy successes–it seems a long time ago when, during his first term, Obama scored his highest ratings on foreign policy–but they couldn’t. The administration’s foreign policy is in tatters, and Americans feel under threat. Democrats wanted to run on open borders, amnesty and drastically increased levels of immigration, but they couldn’t. A large majority of Americans perceive–correctly, once again–that these measures hurt them.

So the Democrats are in real trouble. Harry Reid’s chief of staff tried to spin the Democrats’ predicament in the Washington Post: “It doesn’t mean that the message was bad, but sometimes the messenger [Barack Obama] isn’t good.” But he was blowing smoke. The truth is that the Democrats are out of messages, and need to go back to square one. That’s what happens when a party has the opportunity to implement its policies, and they fail.

Which is not to say that messengers are unimportant. The Republicans won last night because they came up with a set of excellent candidates, most of them fresh faces–Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst, Dan Sullivan and Cory Gardner to name just a few. The midterm election carried with it the sense of a turning of the page. Voters are obviously over their infatuation with President Obama, but it isn’t just that. They are looking for new leadership. Many have commented on how ineffective Bill and Hillary Clinton were on the campaign trail. Did they campaign for anyone who won his or her race? I don’t think so. [Update: There was one, Jeanne Shaheen, narrowly.] Bill is looking more cadaverous with every day that goes by, and Hillary will be nearing 70 when she cranks up her presidential campaign next year. I don’t think the voters who pulled the lever for new-generation Republicans last night (along with, to be fair, old-timers like Roberts, McConnell et al, as no significant Republican incumbent lost) will be in a back-to-the-90s mood in 2016.

Republicans not only have won the issue war, at least for the time being, they are also well-stocked with a new generation of leaders. Whom can the Democrats, an increasingly geriatric party, stack up against Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, John Kasich, John Thune, Ted Cruz, and many more?

So for the next two years, Republicans need to show that they can govern. They need to turn the free market, limited government principles that voters instinctively embraced this year into effective public policy. If they can do that, they could be poised for an era of dominance over a Democratic Party whose ideological bankruptcy has been laid bare.