The real reason why the Republicans lost Congress in last month's elections is very simple: they ran out of leaders. To illustrate, here is the list of Democratic Senate and House leaders (i.e. Presidents of the Senate, Presidents Pro Tempore
, Speakers of the House, Majority/Minority Leaders and Majority/Minority Whips) who left their Party's congressional Leadership during the 12 years of Republican control of the House:
- Al Gore lost the position of President of the Senate in 2001 when his Vice-Presidential term expired. He also left the Executive branch leadership when his 2000 Presidential campaign was defeated.
- Tom Daschle lost the position of Senate Majority/Minority leader when he was defeated for reelection in 2004.
- Wendell Ford lost the position of Senate Majority/Minority Whip when he retired from the Senate in 1999.
- Dick Gephardt resigned as House Minority Leader to run for President in 2002 and didn't run for reelection to the House in 2004.
- David Bonior did not run for reelection in 2002 after he was redistricted out of his House sear.
Contrast this with the Republican list:
- Strom Thurmond was no longer President Pro Tempore Emeritus of the Senate when he resigned from the Senate in 2002.
- Bob Dole lost the position of Senate Majority Leader when he resigned from the Senate to run unsuccessfully for President in 1996.
- Don Nickles decided not to contend for the position of Senate Majority Whip position after the Republicans won back the Senate 2002 and did not run for reelection in 2004
- Bill Frist lost the position of Senate Majority Leader when he decided not to run for reelection in 2006
- Newt Gingrich resigned as Speaker of the House and as Representative in 1998 after a revolt of the House Republicans against him due to the Republican's poor political performance against the President Clinton-led Democrats.
- Bob Livingston resigned as Speaker of the House elect in 1998 and from the House in 1999 after revelations of marital infidelity arose during the Clinton-impeachment debate.
- Dennis Hastert stepped down as Speaker after the Republicans lost the House in 2006.
- Dick Armey stepped down as House Majority Leader when he didn't run for reelection in 2002
- Tom DeLay was forced to step down as House Majority Leader in 2005 after being indicted and did not run for reelection in 2006
It's pretty easy to see what has been going on for the last 12 years. The nearly indestructible Democrats have taken 4 "political casulties" during the last 12 years, with all four coming in the early years of President Bush's first Presidential election and first term. The relatively more volatile Republicans, on the other hand, have taken 5 "political casulties" -- mostly in a running battle to defeat President Clinton starting with the 1996 elections -- with 4 leaders leaving Congress for other pursuits. It's easy to see that Republicans could have been at a competitive disadvantage against the Democrats when the original architects of the 1994 Republican revolution have mostly been replaced by their second and third-rank understudies by 2006.
The one Republican exception to the rule is the past Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who will return to the Senate as Minorty Whip in 2006. The fact that Trent Lott is a political surviver with the skill to make it back into the leadership ranks after getting nailed by the Democrats in 2002 gives me some hope that the Republicans might win back the Senate in 2008.
There are a few lessons to be taken from this list. The first is that the Founding Fathers intentionally made the President an especially powerful Chief Executive for the express purpose of making it very difficult for Congress to impeach or otherwise dominate him*. Newt Gingrich the Impeacher and Tom Daschle the Obstructionist learned that lesson the hard way! The second lesson is that the 1994-era reform of voluntary term limits for Senaters and Representatives will almost certainly weaken any Party that adheres to them by replacing experienced leaders with untested subordinates. The Republicans might still want to keep term limits in mind as a reform, but they should be expecting their future control of Congress to be cut short by another "2006" if they do.
*The Murray Convention for the third person singular pronoun -- that the pronoun corresponding to the author's sex be consistently used -- is adopted here.