Second thoughts on the morning after the morning after are never as much fun as the champagne and caviar. Someone has to find the footnotes to the good news.
The Republicans took a shellacking in a couple of Democratic states on Tuesday, and some of the rest of us, who have been to some big towns and heard a lot of big talk, got a kick not from the champagne but from watching somebody else’s hangover. Not a nice thing to get kicks from, but sometimes hard to resist.
The results on Tuesday were not as dramatic as the election night in 1932 that catapulted Franklin D. Roosevelt to the throne he held until death did him depart, or as astonishing as Ronald Reagan’s 49-state sweep in 1984, as certain pols and pundits seemed to believe on election night.
But the Grumpy Old Party got a lesson for the ages, or at least for this election cycle, if only it pays attention.
The first lesson is that Republicans are in trouble in suburban swing districts, where the House, which looked so safely Republican only a month ago, will be won or lost next November. Screaming Nancy Pelosi at the top of their lungs won’t work. Neither will crying Maxine Waters. Neither of those two worthies are anybody’s pin-up queens, in or out of a bikini, but the voters have moved past Halloween.
The other lesson is that Donald Trump is nobody’s idea of a hunk, either. The president has done some good things, and would be recognized for the good things if not for his irresistible urge to boast, insult and cuddle his enormous ego. He saved the republic from Hillary Clinton and the greed and avarice that renders her as Cruella de Vil, who is the second-cruelest lady villain on the globe, but Mr. Trump has had all his victory laps. He’s becoming, even to his indulgent base, as the guest who won’t go home.
“Mr. Trump won’t change,” observes The Wall Street Journal, which tries to be friendly to Republicans, “so the only [Republican] antidote to a Democratic wave is legislative accomplishment. Democrats will be motivated to vote no matter what Congress does. But Republicans will stay home unless the House and Senate fulfill their campaign promises. This means passing a pro-growth tax reform that will accelerate expansion. Republicans should realize how much damage they have done to themselves by failing to repeal even a part of Obamacare.”
The Republican panic of the day is the disclosure, or allegation, that Roy Moore, the Republican candidate to replace Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate, molested a 14-year-old girl in Alabama when he was himself 32 nearly four decades ago. He was not only old enough to be her father, and then some, when he was an assistant prosecuting attorney. He stands accused at a very late date of abusing both the girl, now 51, and his oath of office. If true — and some people are not waiting to find out if true — Mr. Moore, a famous fan of the Ten Commandments, except for the one about adultery, will likely be dispatched to the dustbin of history. That would put a Democrat from Alabama in the world’s greatest deliberative body and leave Republicans to deliberate elsewhere.
But this scandal will soon be overtaken by other scandals, some more, some less serious. So many recovered memories of long-forgotten incidents of sexual misconduct are exploding into the media that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. America will soon replace France as the randy nation.
When attention returns to politics, which is inevitable, the second reading of Tuesday night’s tea leaves will have a lesson for Democrats, too. After losing a string of special congressional elections in the spring and early summer, they finally won an important gubernatorial election in Virginia (as well as an irrelevant one in New Jersey). Those earlier Republican victories were won on Republican turf, and the Democratic victories this week were largely on Democratic turf. There’s always a difference in playing at home or on the road.
“For that reason,” observes Nate Cohen, the oft-reliable elections guru of The New York Times, ” to take the House next November they might have to do even better than they did on Tuesday.”
If they keep the House and expand a margin in the Senate, Republicans in Congress will have to get over themselves. Rand Paul and John McCain and Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski will have to remember how to play for the team, recognizing that voters who gave the party everything last year with such great expectations are at the limits of their patience. Donald Trump will never get over himself, and it’s up to Congress do something, and soon.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.