by Joel VanDixhorn | Reports of Republican Party's death overblown.
On November 5, college students around the nation were lamenting, or perhaps more likely rejoicing the supposed demise of the Republican Party. More than just college students joined the fray as news stations and columnists across the world debated the question, “Is the Republican Party dead?” While many observers answered in the affirmative, they were simply projecting their own desires and biases into this ridiculous discussion. This current incarnation of the Republican Party will evolve over the next four years, but to suggest that the party will cease to be a player in national politics is foolish.
If nothing else, a look back at previous elections will provide solace for Republicans. History shows that a devastating defeat in the presidential election has not encumbered either party from remaining nationally viable. In 1972 Nixon won all but one state and over 60 percent of the popular vote but Democrats inhabited the White House only four years later. A strong showing by George H.W. Bush in 1988, winning 40 states, was not enough to prevent a Democratic victory in 1992. The example that most closely mirrors this year’s results was the 1992 election. In January of 1993, Democrats controlled the White House, 57 seats in the Senate, and 60 percent of the House. However, in eight years any semblance of Democratic dominance was completely erased. It seems neither party does well with large amounts of power and there is no reason to believe history will not be repeated over the next four years.
Another reason for Republicans to resist pulling the fire alarm is a seemingly unnoticed reality: the results were not that bad. McCain received 46 percent of the popular vote: hardly a small amount, and a result befitting any respectable presidential candidate. While the Electoral College was more of a runaway, the final tally is a tad misleading. McCain lost Florida by only two percent of the vote and both North Carolina and Indiana by one percent. Some aspects of these thin Obama victories in key swing states can be attributed to his massive fundraising success, an advantage that will not necessarily be around in four years.
Republicans were certainly disappointed with national election results but the success of numerous state ballot initiatives confirmed that conservative ideas as a whole are hardly extinguished from America’s political conscience. Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage, received 52 percent of the vote, receiving the most attention nationally. Florida and Arizona approved similar measures, but the Golden State’s proposition was by far the most disappointing result for gay activists due to California’s general liberal trends. Also, the ballot initiative wiped out a May 2008 state Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. Another initiative that confirmed conservative ideals was a Nebraska initiative to end affirmative action, which received 58 percent of the vote. Nebraska is now prohibited from using race or gender to influence public employment, public education, or public contracting. Nebraska followed in the footsteps of California, Washington, and Michigan when removing affirmative action from government decisions.
Ballot initiatives, the popular vote, and even opinion polls leading up to and after the election are encouraging for Republicans. In a Pew Research Center poll conducted on November 1, 39 percent of respondents said that going into Iraq was the right decision and 50 percent believed the opposite. While not a stunning endorsement of President Bush or McCain’s foreign policy the result is far from expected, especially for anyone who heard commentators repeatedly trash the war in Iraq and Republican foreign policy in general. Another promising poll result is that McCain was favored over Obama when it comes to gun rights and homeland security, by 12 and 10 percent respectively. The issue that hurt McCain more than any other was the economy, an issue for which a vast majority of voters preferred Obama. Given the set of challenges the economy presented, perhaps Republicans put forth the wrong candidate as opposed to the wrong policies. The GOP needed a candidate to clearly enunciate the value of the free-market as opposed to arbitrary regulation, something McCain was unable to do.
All in all, November 2008 will not go down as the year that destroyed the Republican Party. Conservative values were not holistically repudiated by Americans, implying that the real aim of the party should be to refine its message and return to its core issues. Issues such as school choice, small government, low taxes, and national defense should be building blocks upon which future stars of the Republican Party can unite.
Mr. VanDixhorn is a senior majoring in Economics and Political Science.