THE REPUBLICAN MELTDOWN…. It looks like a Democratic gain of 30 or more seats in the House and either 5 or 6 seats in the Senate. That’s huge, despite the predictable spin from Republicans that this is just garden variety sixth-year blues. So what caused the Republican meltdown? This is just off the top of my head, but here are my guesses:

  • Iraq, of course. There’s not much to add to the conventional wisdom here. As Kenneth Adelman said, George Bush’s national security crew “turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era.” The voters pretty clearly agree.

  • Terri Schiavo and Katrina. This is sort of a gut feeling on my part, but I think it was the combination of these two things within a couple of months of each other that really hurt Republicans last year, not either one alone. The contrast was deadly: the Republican Party (and George Bush) showed that they were capable of generating a tremendous amount of action very quickly when the issue was something important to the most extreme elements of the Christian right, but were palpably bored and indifferent when the issue was the destruction of an American city. It’s hard to think of any two successive issues painting a clearer and less flattering picture of just what’s wrong with the Republican Party leadership these days.

  • The economy. The media is so focused on GDP and gasoline prices as economic bellwethers that I think they’ve badly missed the real story of the past six years: the deteriorating fortunes of the working and middle classes. This is more than just Democratic spin, and in this dismal atmosphere Democrats won a lot of support by holding the line against Social Security privatization, supporting increases in the minimum wage, and fighting for lower prescription drug prices. These aren’t explicitly economic issues as much as they are values issues, and Republicans were on the wrong side.

  • Sleazy campaigning. This might be wishful thinking on my part, but I wonder if this year’s campaign finally got a little too negative? Is it possible that the Lee Atwater-ization of the Republican Party has reached its limit, turning off more voters than it attracts?

  • Extremism. Did Republicans lose because they weren’t conservative enough? With all due respect to folks like Andrew Sullivan and Bruce Bartlett, I doubt it. The American public has shown over and over that it’s operationally moderate, and I suspect that George Bush has actually pushed conservatism about as far as it can go. If you take a look at the exit polls, Republicans lost because they lost the center, not because they lost their base.

    On a similar note, this idea that the Democratic Party is getting “more conservative” because it backed several center-rightish candidates in red states is just weird. Both parties compromise where they have to, and Dems have run plenty of moderates before. They just haven’t won. This year some of them did, but their actual numbers were pretty small and I doubt they’re going to have much of a concrete effect on anything. (On the other hand, the Republican Party did lose a bunch of its moderates, and it didn’t have many to lose. It looks even more extreme today than it did yesterday, which doesn’t bode well for its future.)

Feel free to add your own guesses in comments.

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