Give credit where credit’s due: Rove engineered an awe-inspiring flurry of local activity. Between the calculated risk of sending the above-the-fray President out to stump for Republicans and the remarkable upsets brewing in states like Alabama (say what you will about their attacks on Cleland: to lob a “weak on defense” attack at a man who lost three limbs in Viet Nam – and to have it stick – well, it would Machiavelli blush), the Republican strategy appears to have worked.
But the lesson from this election should not be the endorsement of Bush. While the Bush White House can properly claim a mandate from this election (at least they have one now), this election should be seen as a thorough indictment of the Democratic “leadership”. If the Democrats lose the Senate, I don’t think Gore can realistically run again. He tried to rally the troops, but I don’t see where he had much impact. If there was any simmering anger from the 2000 election, where was it tonight? Gore was silent for too long, he failed to speak up for the voters who tried (succeeded?) to elect him two years ago. He belatedly jumped into the fray to try and get some Democrats elected, but it’s entirely possible that the Republicans will have all three branches of government.
The sad reality is that Bill Clinton remains the only compelling national Democratic figure. (I said compelling, not likable!) Not Gore, not Daschle, not Lieberman, not Hillary. There has been no voice, no message, no focus. Bush, in the words of one commentator tonight, “swept through towns in the last week like Caesar – without a single Democrat appearing to contradict, dispute, or debate anything that was said.”
The dim silver lining from tonight: the Republicans have all three branches of government. The Democrats have a leadership vacuum that must be filled.
I’ll tell you what – if I’m Howard Dean, I think my chances in ’04 just perked up ever so slightly tonight. If only he was taller.