Alex Massie

A Republican Resurgence?

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So, tomorrow's off-off-year elections looks as though they will provide encouraging news for the Republican party. The special election in upstate New York may have been chaotic - it's not often that GOP bigwigs endorse the Conservative challenger to the GOP candidate, nor that often that the Republican candidate drops out and endorses the Democratic candidate - but it looks as though Doug Hoffman, the Conservative "insurgent" in the 23rd Congressional District may well prevail. Add this to the likely GOP triumph in Virginia's gubernatorial contest and the possibility of defeating Governor Corzine in New Jersey and you can see how you could construct a pretty decent The GOP is Back Baby! narrative.

If this happens, then the official line will be that conservatives win when they remember to act and campaign as Conservatives. Furthermore, these results are a reminder that this is a centre-right nation in which conservatives heavily outnumber liberals. Maybe.

The USA may well remain a centre-right nation but it's elected only one truly conservative President in the last 75 years. That is, Ronald Reagan is about the only Republican president who hasn't been written out the movement. And yet even Reagan was impossibly liberal on some subjects - immigration for instance  - for today's party. (George W Bush may have been the Conservative option in the GOP primaries in 2000, but he won the general election by running to the centre: emphasising the compassionate side of his conservatism, his proposals for a greater federal role in education and his openness to immigration reform as proof that he was a different, more modern, kinder sort of conservative.)

So,

tempting

compulsory as it is to view three good results as a trend, one should be a little wary of doing so. Better to win than lose, of course, but these races may not tell us very much. NY-23 is an unusual seat. That it elects a conservative doesn't mean conservatives can do well in the north-east. To the extent, then, that Hoffman's victory encourages the GOP to tilt still further away from nominating moderate Republicans in the north-east it may even prove a Pyrrhic triumph. 

Retaking the governor's mansion in Virginia is clearly a good result and a reminder that Obama's triumph didn't necessarily come with very long coat-tails. The President continues to be more popular than his party. But the key, it seems to me, to Virginia is that the state has moved from being one in which, all things being equal, the Republican candidate was more likely to win than not, to a state in which each election is essentially a toss-up. That's a significant step forward for the Democratic party. It doesn't mean Republicans can't or won't win in Virginia, it's that the trend is for Democrats to be more competitive. (The same might be said of parts of North Carolina).  Oher swing states, such as Pennsylvania for instance, have similarly moved from toss-up status to "more often Democrat than not". That doesn't mean that a Republican can't win in the Keystone state, merely that the underlying conditions in PA are more favourable to the Democrats now than was once the case. The same might be said, less importantly, of New Hampshire.

There's also some reason to suppose that this slow drift from red to blue will continue as, for the time being anyway, demographic changes continue to favour the Democratic party. White men remain a massively important part of the electorate and they are still the GOP's stronghold. But they're not quite as important a part of the electoral coalition as once they were and their relative importance will continue to decline. In other words, Republicans will have to work a little harder just to stand still.

Now current trends are always liable to change. So this is not set in stone. Nonetheless, the long-term picture looks better for Democrats than Republicans.

Unless, of course and as is certainly possible, Democrats overplay their hand. A mad rush to the left is not what the country wants either. Still, the combination of intractable and less-popular-than-they-were wars, economic uncertainty, rising unemployment and a general sense that the game is rigged against the ordinary Working Joe creates fertile land for the opposition. After all, what has the Obama administration - to say nothing of the Democratic Congress - actually achieved so far? The GOP kind of has to win back some lost ground at the mid-terms next year. Perhaps as many as 20 seats in the House.

But, again, no-one thinks it impossible for the GOP to win. The argument in conservative circles is what kind of conservatism is needed to give conservatism the best chance of winning on a regular basis. That is, what kind of conservatism is best-placed to counter some of the structural advantages that, right now and for the foreseeable future, will run in the Democratic party's favour?

It may be that the conservatism of Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity and all the rest of them is the best bet for a conservative revival. I'm unconvinced by that, to put it mildly. Republicans need to be broader, not just deeper. Conservatives will have their victories but they may also have fewer of them to celebrate than need be the case the longer they insist that the old tunes, played more loudly, are all that's needed.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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