While a McCain victory would been a symbolic victory, it is hard to see what it would have accomplished. Both the Bushes who sat in the White House contended with Congresses run by the opposition party, and spent those years unable to push through agendas or get the American people to hold Congress accountable for their role in the nation's problems. It is hard to see how McCain's experience would have been much different had he won.
For McCain to win on Tuesday, he had to run against both the perception of the GOP as a party of corruption as much as he was running against the Democrats. It was a task which was far more than he - or anyone else - could have accomplished. Over the last two years, many Republicans have lost for the same reason, and until things change - and convincingly so - more will likely lose in the future.
There is now a certain simplicity as Republicans will no longer have to play political defense or try to convince voters to split the blame amongst a divided government. If the economy is slow, foreign conflicts drag out, deficits persist or tough cuts have to be made to stem the growth of the national debt, voters can only blame the Democrats. But if Republicans wish to settle to play the kind of "blame and wait" game which the Democrats played for the last eight years, it might be a long time before they'll return to majority status.
The last two times the GOP suffered staggering setbacks, in 1976 and 1992, Republicans recovered fairly quickly when they presented pro-active agendas - Reagan's campaign messages in 1980 and Gingrich's Contract with America in 1994 - which focused on a few very simple themes, including fiscal restraint, ethical reform and sound foreign policies. In light of this, Grover Norquist's advice to "politely step away from the Bush presidency and say we're going back to basics" seems wise counsel.
In our humble opinion, the downward slide began the day former House Speaker Dennis Hastert repealed term limits for House committee chairs - the first of many ethical and fiscal sell-outs by Hastert and company, who were soon running interference for a handful of outright crooks and helping themselves to pork earmarks and bridges to nowhere. Even many Republicans disagreed with this direction, like an absentee corporate board of directors, they allowed the company to be taken over by scoundrels, and over the last two years, have paid the price. To change course, they will first need to clean house from within, and then challenge the Democrats and offer voters positive visions of what can be.
There lies a long road ahead before Republicans can return to majority status, but perhaps now the path is finally clear for that process to begin. We agree with Dick Morris' take on the present situation:
The Republican Party's role is to rebuild in the shadow of the frustrations of the Obama presidency. Just as MoveOn.org built the massive grass-roots base that yesterday impelled the Democrats to victory, so Republicans must go down to their grass roots, get in touch with their base and rebuild an opportunity to win national elections.
Power has been bad for the GOP, sapping the party's soul and eroding its purity. But opposition, especially when a socialist like Obama wrestles with the practical problems of capitalism, will be a heady experience for the Republicans. The conservative movement can be reborn in opposition in a way they never could have been as the governing party.
Towards this end, we've been outspoken about the problems we've seen, as well as ideas that can offer positive solutions to problems. We intend to continue doing so, because we believe the future of our state and our country is too important for us to sit on the sidelines.
We hope you'll join us.