Feature

The Democrats

Can they capitalize on GOP mistakes?

The Republican Party better hear its 'œwake-up call,' said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Last week's off-year election produced a bona fide Democratic 'œrout,' with the election of Democratic governors in New Jersey and Virginia, and the defeat of every Republican ballot initiative in California. The GOP is losing its credibility as the party of small government, while the Democrats are figuring out that they can win elections if they stop nominating 'œcultural kamikazes like Howard Dean.' Virginia's governor-elect, Tim Kaine, is a centrist and an openly devout Catholic. With the Republicans already reeling from President Bush's deep decline in the polls, heartened Democrats are talking about recapturing Congress in 2006, and then the White House in 2008.

No need for Republicans to panic yet, said John Podhoretz in the New York Post. 'œIt's hardly a 'rout' when Democrats retain two governorships they already held.' As for California's failed initiatives, let's not forget that it's the bluest of blue states, with a strong Democratic majority. On most issues, Republicans still stand with the majority of Americans, said James Pinkerton in Newsday. Iraq is admittedly a sore spot, but on tax cuts, abortion restrictions, and gay marriage, the country remains more red than blue. In politics, a year is an eternity; the GOP has plenty of time to regroup before the next election.

But instead of regrouping, said Alan Ehrenhalt in The New York Times, the GOP is falling apart. Deep fissures have opened in the party's uneasy coalition of libertarians, 'œChristian moralists,' and small-business owners. In the 1980s, that coalition was held together by the external threats of communism; more recently, terrorism served that purpose. But terrorism has receded as the dominant issue, and libertarians have figured out that they 'œhave very little to say' to evangelicals, and traditional small-government conservatives are no longer on speaking terms with empire-building neocons. If the Democrats are smart, they can do what Kaine did in Virginia, or Bill Clinton did in the 1990s—and position themselves to exploit the divisions in Republican ranks.

That's a big 'œif,' said John Heilemann in New York magazine. After years of flip-flopping and pandering, Democrats badly need a coherent message. So far, they don't have one. Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who's leading the attempt to win back the House in '06, believes the solution is a Democratic version of the 'œContract With America'—the agenda that won Republicans control of Congress in 1994. The negative half of the Democratic 'œcontract' is obvious enough: a pledge to undo Republican budget deficits, cronyism, and corruption. But Emanuel and his colleagues still can't say what the party stands for. With President Bush and the GOP fumbling the ball, Democrats better figure out which way to run soon.

David Broder

The Washington Post

Niall Ferguson

Los Angeles Times

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