It Could Have Been Worse

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The electoral college was a blowout, but it looks like I came pretty close calling a 52-47 split in the popular vote. Turnout wasn't all that much higher than in 2004, which means the Democrats did not suddenly discover a vast new untapped source of votes that will change American politics for a generation. If Gordon Smith, Norm Coleman, Saxby Chambliss and Ted Stevens (oy) hold on, then the Republicans will have come out of this better, perhaps, than could have been reasonably expected.

Is this cause for conservative encouragement? Well, maybe. "They won't have another chance quite like this one for a long time," David Freddoso writes of the Democrats. That's probably true. But a lot depends, as I suggested a month ago, on whether this year ends up for Republicans like the Democrats' 1980, or the Democrats' 2004. And if it's like 1980, which I suspect it is, then it's very easy to imagine the Republicans telling themselves "hey, things could have been worse" all the way to a Mondale-style drubbing four years from now. (It's pretty easy to see that scenario shaping up, for instance, in some of the Palin-in-2012 playbooks currently circulating.) Events, and the effectiveness of Obama's Presidency, will shape the GOP's future, but so will the choices made by figures like Palin and Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Bobby Jindal - and they should choose with the lessons of the Eighties Democratic Party uppermost in their mind.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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