What cost the GOP its majorities in Congress and statehouses? Nancy Pelosi and her wing of the Democrats are running around as though the elections validated their hard left view of the war and the world, but according to James Carville’s Democracy Corps, this election did no such thing.
What cost the GOP its power? Iraq? Foley? Look at page 6 of Democracy Corps’ post-election report. The GOP’s fortunes fatally cratered in the Fall of 2005, and were recovering ever since minus a couple of blips this year. What happened in the Fall of ’05?
Katrina. That storm turned out to be the hurricane that changed history.
The Bush administration felt the brunt of what turned out to be a perfect storm of horrendous weather, major disaster, bad luck, and more than the usual amount of dishonesty in Democrat politics, and media reporting that played up made-up tales of horror in New Orleans. Recall, first, that the Katrina disaster zone was the size of, roughly, England. That’s a civilization-level disaster that no bureaucracy in any administration would have handled very well. Combine 9-11 and Katrina, and the Bush administration has had to deal with two of the worst disasters in American history, one brought on by foreign aggression that was years in the making, and one the wrath of nature. Recall, second, that the levees shouldn’t have broken, but did. If they hadn’t, New Orleans would have been spared and there would never have been tales of rapes and murder in the Superdome, and there would have been no video of refugees on American soil. Recall, third, that though the levees were run by a corrupt local board far outside federal control and were constructed long before Bush came into office, like everything that’s happened since he came into office, Bush bore the brunt when the levees broke because Democrats blame him for everything and the media plays along. Recall, fourth, that NOLA is still run by the same incompetent mayor and Louisiana has the same indecisive governor, and when New Orleans had the chance to replace Nagin, they chose not to. So accountability for that disaster only goes one way–to Bush. The Democrats managed to turn all of the blame for Katrina back on Bush and he and his party never recovered from that. Recall, fifth, that FEMA’s own regulations specify a 72-hour period during which local jurisdictions experiencing disaster are told to fend for themselves until help arrives, and that Gov. Blanco in particular actually kept aid out of New Orleans before politicizing the lack of aid in the city during the 72-hour period (and that politicization actually started before the storm hit–that’s the main reason Clintonistas started showing up in Louisiana before landfall. They were working up a media plan to hit Bush hard if the storm struck powerfully, which it did). But recall, sixth, the narrative that came out of the Katrina zone even before the storm hit–that troops that might be needed to help out were then in Iraq. Katrina was, in a very real way, God’s gift to the Democrats. And they put it to use.
Put all of that together, combine it with the politicization of the storm by Democrats and aided by a very pliant press along with several real missteps by the Bush administration, and you have the end of the public’s confidence in Republicans. Running a black candidate for the Senate in Maryland just can’t overcome “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
There’s a lesson in all of this, that’s an old one but an important one to remember: Demagoguery wins, and more so when it comes in the middle of a horrific disaster. Also, lies do indeed travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on. By the time the story of New Orleans buses surfaced (only to be buried by the AP and ignored by the national media), the disaster had been framed as a Bush failure and the damage was already done. The media’s later mea culpa did nothing to change the basic narrative that already had a life of its own.
Democracy Corps’ polling doesn’t pick this up, but I suspect that the Democrats have one additional figure to thank for their newfound power. They can thank Katrina, and they can thank Ronnie Earle. Earle is the Democrat prosecutor in Travis County, TX, who drummed up charges against Rep. Tom DeLay last year, just in time to take DeLay off the 2006 playing field. Thanks to a rule in the Republican caucus that demands indicted officials step down from positions of leadership (the Democrats operate under no such rule and have no plans, even under Pelosi’s promised reign over the most ethical Congress ever, to adopt one), DeLay had to step down as House Majority Leader once Earle secured an indictment against him. DeLay may have been a lot of things, but one thing he was was an efficient leader and fundraiser. Without him in the fight, the Republicans were without one of their most effective strategists.
The actual case against DeLay is based on a law that didn’t exist when DeLay was supposed to have committed his crime. Earle’s case against DeLay therefore has an ex post facto problem and isn’t likely to result in a conviction of DeLay. Earle’s case is so weak, in fact, that he grand jury shopped until he got his indictment, and barely even got one before the clock ran out on his case. They say a DA can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich; DeLay was one tough ham sandwich to indict. In the elections of this this year the Republicans ended up losing DeLay’s own seat, and probably several others that he might have helped save by fundraising and helping shape their strategies. Given the fact that Earle ran a nakedly political prosecution of Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison shortly after she was first elected Senator, it’s probable that indicting DeLay was Earle’s way of helping his Democrat brethren take the House. And it worked.
Combine all of this with 2006 being a 6th-year mid-term and the historic pattern of the party in power losing seats, the war in Iraq being unpopular, the one-sided corruption narrative taking hold, and you have a disaster. Apparently Karl Rove’s vaunted 72-hour ground game failed to take any of the election’s actual issues and dynamics into account. People and ideas do matter. Turnout, it seems, will only get you so far if you’ve lost real ground on real issues. Voters do change their minds if their preferred party doesn’t seem to represent their interests anymore. The Republicans pass themselves off as the party of competence, law and order, strength and responsibility. The narrative that emerged from Katrina wrecked all of that, and opened up doubts that the GOP could handle the next disaster whether it turned out to be natural or man-made.
Inconveniently for Ryan Sager, you can’t blame any of this on the so-called religious right. Inconveniently for Nancy Pelosi, there is no mandate for San Francisco liberalism in any of this, either. There’s no mandate for anything at all, but she’s going to push as though she has one anyway. The Blue Dogs who rode to power on Katrina’s winds and Earle’s shenanigans are very likely to push back.
Inconveniently for Republicans, you’re out of power and showing no sign that you’ve learned a thing from your defeat. Inconveniently for the country, we’re still at war and may be led by the worst collection of dishonest demagogues Congress has ever seen.
(h/t Ali Bubba and Chris R.)