First the good things. Let's face it; six years of one-party rule from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other, has resulted in a inept governance from both Congress and the President. Republicans got used to being power and walked away from first principles. A party that preaches fiscal conservatism, has allowed the deficit to skyrocket; a party that preaches small government, has allowed the government to grow faster than it did under Democrat Bill Clinton. A party the preaches federalism has put its nose in state matters, such as the Oregon Physician Suicide law. A party the preached pragmatism in foreign policy, got involved in a war in a far away place it had no business being involved in. A party that preached equality, now openly castigates gays and immigrants.
A loss in 12 days might help the GOP see how far it has fallen. A Fortune Magazine article notes that losing an election might help a party reform itself, getting rid of the fat that comes from being in power so long. Cait Murphy notes:
Power may be corrupting, but it is also addictive. That's why no party likes to lose an election. But the truth is that sometimes a loss is just what is needed to regain a sense of purpose and energy. And that's why the Republicans need to lose in November.
In 1974, for example, Britain's Conservative Party lost. Disillusioned Tory voters failed to turn out and more than a few, tired of the tired Edward Heath, decided what the hell, and voted Labor.
In the aftermath, small groups of Tories, both in and out of government, sat down and thought. In think tanks, and party clubs, through pamphlets and speeches and arguments and chats over tea, they set out to define what it meant to be a Conservative. The answers - lower taxation, rolling back the state from the private economy, a reassertion of British confidence - brought the Tories four straight wins.
(hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.)
So, a loss could drive a lot of Republicans to start talking amongst themselves and figure out what kind of party they want to be. As Murphy says in her article, it has happened among the GOP before. In the aftermath of Watergate, the party's conservative wing began talking and deciding what it meant to be a Republican. The result was Ronald Reagan's win in 1980. This is also what happened to the Dems in the late 80s and early 90s after losing three presidential elections in a row. The result was a win by Bill Clinton in 1992.
Such a conversation is truly needed at this point. The fear is whether or not the GOP is ready for such frank talk. You see, a loss on November 7th could also make party leaders and rank and file believe that they weren't pure enough. If they were more purely "conservative" and were able to get the social conservatives out to the polls, they would have held on. This might only cement the relationship the GOP has with the far right. Remember that the lesson learned by the GOP from the closness of the 2000 election was not to make an appeal to the center as conventional wisdom would have taught us, but to bring out as many social conservatives to the polls with issues like gay marriage. We could very well see the party thinking it didn't connect with the Religious Right and that it needs to be more faithful.
I'm hoping we see the former. We need to face some hard truths about ourselves. But I'm enough of a pessimist to think we might choose the easy route, instead.
If conventional wisdom holds, we will find out on November 8th.