Spin the Tale on the Donkey
When you lose an election, change course—but only if you're a Democrat.
When FNS host Chris Wallace pointed out that voters had shifted from an even partisan split in the 2004 exit poll to a seven-point preference for Democrats in 2008, Cantor used the same empathy dodge for which he now chastises Obama. "We have to demonstrate, number one, that we understand what people are going through," the congressman pleaded.
Two weeks later, Boehner went on the same program and was asked why he should remain in charge of the House GOP after his party "lost more than 50 seats in the last two elections." He replied:
If I thought that I was to blame for those losses, I wouldn't have run for this job. And I can tell you my colleagues would not have reelected me. We've got a long way to go. The American people have issues. They've got concerns. We need solutions, solutions to the issues that the American people care about that are built on our principles.
McConnell took the same steadfast view. In his speech this week, he explained his party's thinking:
While the media was still groping to define the 2008 election, Republicans were taking stock. We knew the principles that had made our party great were the same principles that had made America great, and that if we were going to solve the problems of the day, we would have to embrace and explain those principles, not discard or conceal them. So we renewed our commitment to our core principles—win, lose, or draw. If we had not done this, the administration would never suffer the consequences for pushing policies Americans opposed, and Americans wouldn't have a clear alternative. And that is why this, in my view, was the single most important thing Republicans in Congress did to prepare the ground for Tuesday's election. By sticking together in principled opposition to policies we viewed as harmful, we made it perfectly clear to the American people where we stood. And we gave voters a real choice on Election Day.
That's how the GOP interpreted and addressed its shellacking in 2008. The election wasn't about more or less government; it was about "a government that works." The losing party didn't need to change course; it just needed to convey empathy, devise solutions, and do a better job of explaining its principles. This stalwart response wasn't just the right thing to do; it was also good politics. It offered voters a clear contrast in the next election.
So there's your choice, Democrats. You can listen to the Republicans or learn from them. You can do as they say or do as they did. It's pretty clear from McConnell's speech what's going on. Republicans think they beat you in 2010 by refusing to bend after 2008. Now they're trying to con you into doing the opposite. It's a clever sales job. But I wouldn't buy the product.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Jon Kyl by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.