By Warren Cole Smith
Evangelical News Press
November 26, 2008
The Republicans took a beating on Nov. 4. There can be no doubt about that. Barack Obama won the presidency, and the Democrats gained seats in both the House and the Senate.
But was the election a disaster? Hardly. As political strategist Karl Rove said, “In a year when all currents were running against Republicans and our campaign was lackluster and erratic, Barack Obama received only 3.1 points more than Al Gore in 2000 and only 4.6 more than John Kerry in 2004.”
Rove is right: this wasn’t a landslide. If you look at a map of the nation “colored in” by county, you’ll still see a lot more red than blue. And if you drill down, while Republicans might be wringing their hands, this social conservative finds much to like about this election. Here are a few lessons from the 2008 election that bode well for the future.
Culture Still Matters. Marriage amendments won California, Arizona, and Florida – and they won against overwhelming odds. California is the largest and one of the most liberal states in the nation, and the campaign against Proposition 8, the pro-marriage amendment, was extraordinarily well-funded. Yet it carried 52 percent of the vote, and 70 percent of African-Americans voted for it. Even Barack Obama is against gay marriage. This is a winning issue for social conservatives.
Moderate Republicans Were (Properly) Chastened. There has been some astonishment outside of North Carolina that “even Elizabeth Dole” got beat. But the truth is that she has been the very archetype of what has gone wrong with the Republican Party. Her departure may have cost the Republicans a seat in the Senate, but it is a welcome purging. And she is just one of many wishy-washy moderates among the Republican leadership who have been replaced by solid “movement conservatives” such as Indiana’s Mike Pence. Pence and his conservative friends know the Republicans can’t win by being faux-Democrats. Expect to see a clearly articulated and politically sophisticated conservatism come from them in the months and years ahead.
A Deep Bench Emerges. With “old line” candidates such as John McCain and Rudy Giuliani headed for the showers, a strong bench is headed for the field – and they’re all pro-family, pro-life, limited-government, pro-defense conservatives. Governors Sarah Palin (Alaska), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana), and Tim Pawlenty (Minnesota) have long been mentioned as possible candidates. But now a new name moves to the top tier. South Carolina’s Mark Sanford was elected chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, leapfrogging the aforementioned governors onto a highly visible platform. Sanford has long had the ideas; indeed, he may be the most intellectually vigorous politician in America today. He’s also got the best resume of the crowd: service in Congress, two terms as governor, and he’s a reserve officer in the U.S. Air Force. Look for him to be mentioned more and more as a possibility for president in the months ahead.
Are there still problems? As Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha.” Obama has promised to undo years of grass-roots legislative work on the life issue by signing the misnamed Freedom of Choice Act. It’s likely that he will have the chance to appoint at least two Supreme Court justices. The only good news there is that Obama appointments will likely replace liberals, thereby not changing the balance of the court. But judicial appointments at lower levels will likely have an impact on the judicial system of America for many years. And there are other concerns. Conservatives have to learn how to talk with African-Americans and Hispanics, who share many of our values, but who feel (sometimes justifiably, and sometimes not) they have been made scapegoats of Republican demagoguery.
But let me reiterate: things could be and have been much, much worse for conservatives in America. In fact, I would say that the “conservative” brand is in much better shape than either the “liberal” or “Republican” brand. So now is not the time to give up. It is the time to dig in. America’s and conservatism’s greatest victories are not behind us, but before us.
Warren Cole Smith is a North Carolina resident and the editor and publisher of Evangelical Press News Service.