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Early Obituary | The Nation

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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Early Obituary

Call me traditional, but I think it is still a little early to write a death notice for Republican prospects in Tuesday's elections. The polls and trends favor the Democrats, but surveys of many of the key races find candidates of both parties stuck within margins of error. So it seems to me that a measure of caution is appropriate before nailing shut the GOP's coffin.

Not so the editors of National Review Online, the usually savvy website of the conservative National Review magazine. Their featured article this afternoon is teased with a photo of former President Ronald Reagan and the supposedly soothing reminder that: "He Took Losses Too."

The article, by reliably Republican columnist Charles Krauthammer, anticipates significant Republican losses -- with the House going Democratic and possibly the Senate -- but tells Grand Old Partiers not to take it too hard.

"In his sixth year, the now-sainted Ronald Reagan lost eight Senate seats that gave the chamber back to Democratic control," chirps Krauthammer. "That election was swayed by no wars, no weekly casualty figures, no major scandals. The first inkling of the Iran-Contra scandal broke on the morning after the election."

So, you see, Republican losses this year were inevitable.

If only Krauthammer could have gotten the message to the Republican National Committee and the party's House and Senate campaign committees, not to mention GOP candidates around the country. They could have saved a fortune by simply accepting their destiny.

Instead, they have fought the 2OO6 campaign to win, and predicted all along that they would do just that. Even now, with the voting just hours away, Republican operatives are all over the airwaves talking about a GOP "surge" coming -- and in some battleground states, such as Tennessee and Rhode Island, they could be right.

The National Review's ready-for-the-worst commentary may well offer the best confirmation that the obituary writers should be sharpening their pencils. But those who would bury the Republicans would be well advised to avoid taking any notes from Mr. Krauthammer, whose primary purpose appears to be to suggest that no one should be surprised or impressed by Democratic advances.

In fact, the history of this year's campaign points to an entirely different assessment. After blowing every previous opportunity to hold the Bush White House to account, and after mounting a predictably tepid campaign, the Democrats went into the fall campaign as nothing more than cautiously-hopeful contenders, while the Republicans went in with pretty much the same bravado they displayed in 2OO2 and 2OO4. The story of this campaign has been written this fall -- with the mishandling of the Mark Foley scandal by the Republican leadership, the collapse of home values, the record casualty figures from Iraq and the willingness of a growing number of Democratic challengers to scrap their party's playbooks and run genuinely aggressive campaigns -- and it is unique to this year.

How it plays out has yet to be seen, although the willingness of the National Review's editors to slap an "RIP" tag on the Republicans offers one more indication that an opera singer may be clearing her pipes.

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