Congressional Republicans left President Bush hanging when he courageously proposed and campaigned for Social Security reform in 2005. They passed a last-minute, totally inadequate immigration bill (700 miles of fence) this fall. They toyed with doing something serious about earmarks (spending measures tossed into appropriation bills by individual members of Congress), then did too little.
With a serious record of reform to boast about, Republicans surely would have done better. They would have minimized the tendency of voters, in the sixth year of the Bush presidency, to shy away from any candidate with a "R" by his or her name. Sure, they'd have lost the House. But I suspect the margin would have been considerably smaller. Perhaps Nancy Pelosi would have a numerical majority but not a working, governing majority.
What happens in a bad Republican year is that good Republican candidates lose. There were many of them: House challengers David McSweeney in Illinois and Van Taylor in Texas, lieutenant governor candidate Luther Strange in Alabama and Tom McClintock in California, and House incumbents Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania, Jim Ryun of Kansas, and Clay Shaw of Florida.
But you have to give Rahm Emanuel, the House Democratic campaign chief, credit for recruiting an impressive group of candidates, including a few non-liberals like Brad Ellsworth in Indiana and Heath Shuler in North Carolina. The media, however, is exaggerating the number of these unconventional Democrats. They are a handful, and the pattern of moderate and conservative Democrats when they get to Washington is to pipe down.
Or, as losing Republican Congressman Chris Chocola said of his victorious opponent Joe Donnelly, they become "Nancy Pelosi."
Conservatives won't want to hear this, but the Republican who maneuvered his way into the most impressive victory of the election was California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Okay, he's sui generis. But he won a landslide victory after moving to the center, while holding onto conservatives by not hiking taxes. Just think if he were eligible for the White House in 2008. Even (some) conservatives would be clamoring for him to run.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.