Evil twins never die, they just plot their political comeback.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Losers Walk: By the time the polls closed in Georgia last Tuesday, I had come to terms with either possible outcome. If my evil twin Ralph Reed lost the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, I would lead the national sigh of relief, from Democrats as well as thoughtful conservatives alarmed at the moral drift of the Republican Party. If he won, I would await the results of the general election before deciding whether to colonize another planet.
Naturally, I was hoping to remain on Earth and take my chances with global warming. Yet leaving had its own logic. I had always assumed that Ralph and I looked alike so people could make jokes at our expense, the way Brian Williams did by suggesting that we both had necks so skinny, he worried our heads would fall off. But perhaps our resemblance revealed a larger truth. Since the two political parties often appear to exist in parallel realities, it seemed possible that Ralph and I could be the first glimpse behind the curtain of the political universe. Maybe every person in a blue state has an identical red twin, and Ralph and I are just the first to realize it.
Happily, the voters of Georgia spared me from having to lead the exodus to a blue planet. In fact, Ralph's stinging defeat was a rare triumph for both parties. Democrats need no longer fear the Republican spin that scandal means only having to say you're sorry. Republicans can take heart that even in conservative strongholds, the tide may have turned against the soulless hardball that empowered Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, and Ralph Reed to doom all three terms of the two Bush presidencies.
Despite my overwhelming sense of relief, I couldn't enjoy the spectacle of Ralph's defeat as much as I'd hoped. Watching the public political death of my mirror image, I felt like a character being given a glimpse of his alternative destiny—a dire warning from the Ghost of Christmas Future: There, but for the ground game of God, go I.
So far, I have avoided Capitol Hill, for fear of the averted glances, hushed whispers, and mad Republican rush to cross the street to avoid awkward encounters with a loser. At first, I flinched at headlines that blared, "Reed Beaten." Luckily, none of the election analyses singled out looks as the reason for Ralph's defeat.
He's Back: But after a week of coming to terms with the loss of the twin I never wanted, I now live in perpetual fear of the one scenario I wasn't prepared for—Ralph Reed's political comeback.
By any objective standard, Ralph should be a dead man walking. Despite a national following, years of political chits, and a lifetime spent building a machine of evangelical voters, he lost in a landslide to a state senator you've never heard of. Casey Cagle won nine of the 10 largest counties in Georgia and two-thirds of the counties overall. The head of the Georgia Right to Life PAC told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "We haven't seen this much conservative disaffection in—well, I would say this is a new experience."
Yet the Reed squad scarcely let three days pass before setting out to resurrect Ralph's political career. "Friends say it is too soon to write off Mr. Reed," David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times reported Saturday in a piece menacingly called, "What Next for Ralph Reed?" Kirkpatrick pointed out that while Ralph had promised in his concession speech that he was "not focused on being a candidate in the future," he hinted otherwise in an interview. "First bids for elected office are always tough, and I am not the first to lose a first campaign," he said, citing Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich as Comeback Kids.
According to the Associated Press, Ralph may be "simply too young and talented to stay off the ballot for long." The chair of the Christian Coalition urged him to "come back to fight again another day" because "he is far too bright and has far too much promise to count him out." Stephen Hess of Brookings told AP, "You never count out anybody who has got politics in their DNA. And certainly Ralph Reed does."
Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at email@example.com. Read his disclosure here.
Photograph of George Bush on the Slate home page by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.