Thursday, November 07, 2002

Off The Blog

I'll be off the blog for the remainder of the week. Ellisblog will resume posting on Monday. In the meantime, click here to read James Q. Wilson's excellent essay on "the reform Islam needs."

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

The Day After

The scope of the GOP's triumph is now clear. There are, it seems to me, three questions regarding what happened. (1) What enabled it? (2) What's the downside risk for the GOP? (3) What's the upside for the Democratic Party?

1. National Security is a Huge Issue. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the "salience" of national security issues dropped dramatically, enabling an inexperienced and largely clueless Arkansas Governor to defeat an incumbent president with an extraordinary record on national security issues. After September 11th, national security regained its salience as a voting issue. Incredibly, Democrats avoided the issue, instead of addressing it directly. They said nothing of value with regards to chemical and biological warfare. They whined about alleged "unilateralism." They embraced the UN. In short, they reinforced every stereotype of Democratic fecklessness on national security issues and, in so doing, alienated huge swaths of the electorate.

The almost perfect metaphor for this came on Monday, when news broke that a Predator-delivered missile had killed a key Al Qaeda operative and his posse. At roughly the same time, Walter Mondale was on television debating Norm Coleman. Mondale whined about US unilateralism and fretted about war with Iraq destabilizing the War on Terror. In the video translation, one party was waging war on terror, the other was second-guessing and back-pedaling and basically acting bothered that it was a "bad" political issue. Mondale thought he won the debate with Coleman on Monday. The next day, he lost the election.

Here's the thing. If voters feel that the Democrats will be every bit as relentless as President Bush has been in pursuing a global war against terror, then the other "big" issues (the economy and the culture) will be decisive in determining election outcomes. But if voters feel that the Democrats aren't with the program, well then, they're not going to be trusted with national governance. It's as simple as that.

2. Mandates and Hubris. The 2002 result is a strong vote of confidence for the Bush Administration. It is not a mandate. The great danger that now looms for the GOP is that it will mistake the vote of confidence for a mandate. This over-reach happened in 1994, leading directly to the re-election of President Clinton in 1996. It is very important that the GOP this time view the results dispassionately and that they keep their key constituencies in check. The feeding at the trough that occurred in 1995 overshadowed everything else (thanks, in no small measure, to the news media). Republicans can ill-afford a repeat of that.

3. Think. The coming Democratic purge will be helpful. Getting rid of Terry Mac and Gephardt and eventually Daschle would, in an ideal Democratic scenario, happen sooner rather than later. More important, 2002 ends the whole 2000-we-won-even-though-we-lost dementia. Last night, the country essentially ratified Bush's victory in 2000.

The upside of being completely out of power in Washington is that it requires Democrats to think much more imaginatively about the most important issues facing the country. They've been cast out into the wilderness. The wilderness is where parties are reinvented, reimagined and reengineered. Standing for nothing except political advantage leads, inevitably, to defeat. Standing for something is the road back.

Winners and Losers

It's about three in the morning here and one thing is very clear: there was indeed a GOP surge at the end. Those likely voter screens collected the electorate that voted. Kudos to the CBS/NYT, Gallup and other polling operations that caught the wave. They were among the night's winners.

But the big winners were obviously President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who virtually ran the table. Another big winner was former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose help mattered a lot to GOP candidates all across the country. CNN's Decision Desk operation had a big night. No wrong calls and first on virtually every call that mattered. And the newly named Governor of Florida. They call him "Landslide" now.

The losers were: Democratic leaders and VNS. I suspect Gephardt will step down as Minority Leader. Former Majority Leader Tom Daschle is now damaged goods. The Macker is finished. The Democratic Committees are all broke. Now that they are out of power, I suspect the 2-1 hard money advantage that the Republicans enjoy will increase to 3-1.

Point of Clarification: A couple of people called to ask why I had slighted the Fox News Decision Desk team, which I once led. Was this some double secret message I was sending to my old colleagues? That would be a "no." I spent the evening at CNBC's Fort Lee, NJ studios and in my little work area only had access to CNN and MSNBC video feeds. CNN outperformed MSNBC, to say the least. Today, I spoke with my friend and former Fox News Decision Desk colleague Arnon Mishkin, who informed me that they were competitive with CNN all night long. So hats off to my old mates.

That said, the service I was most impressed with election night was CNN's website. It was spectacular.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

CNBC Tonight

Those interested in hearing my take on the election results are urged to tune to CNBC from 11:30pm through 2am tonight. I'll be talking with Jim Cramer and Larry Kudlow during that part of CNBC's election coverage special broadcast.

Sunday, November 03, 2002

A Confidence Level of 95 Percent

In 19 out of 20 cases, the New York Times/CBS News Poll will be accurate, within a margin of error of whatever the margin of error might be. This means that every so often (5 percent of the time), the NYT/CBS poll will be useless. Sadly for them, the 1-in-20 shot appears to have materialized this weekend and on the front page.

Mickey Kaus opines that the NYT is burying the lede by downplaying the generic ballot question results (GOP 47%/Dem 40%). What The Times is really doing is saving money.

We know from all the other polling that the generic ballot question is statistically and literally tied. There is no 7 point GOP margin. The New York Times knows this. But rather than come to the journalistically correct conclusion (we've got ourselves a bum poll here, better throw it away), the paper tries to salvage its expenditure by deep-sixing the lede (GOP Up 7) they know not to be true and highlighting other alleged "news" from the poll.

Here's the deal: It's a bad poll. It happens. Throw it away.

What I Meant To Say: An amazingly accurate poll! Why did the NYT bury the lede?