Does Losing Focus the Attention?

One of the key points I meant to address but failed to in my earlier response to Steve Bainbridge is this:

Mason Colley quipped that “Victory brings obliviousness; defeat, attentiveness.” […] Just as the Israelis had to be punished for listening to the 10 fearful spies, the GOP needs to be punished for having been seduced by Bush and DeLay. Just as the Israelis came back stronger and fitter for the tasks ahead, so might a chastened GOP.

Aside from the obvious retort that four years of Hillary Clinton is a hell of a price to pay to teach the Republicans a lesson about fiscal responsibility, I seriously doubt that the GOP’s “attentiveness” would lead in the direction Steve desires.

With incredibly rare exception, a losing party invariably learns the wrong lesson: We weren’t true to ourselves! If only we’d been more liberal/conservative, we’d have won!

If John McCain or Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani is the nominee, the lesson will be “That’s what you get for nominating a RINO!” Party organizers will work to recruit more religiously doctrinaire candidates who spend more time thumping the table about gays, abortion, God, guts, and guns.

If Mike Huckabee is the nominee, the lesson will be “If only he weren’t so liberal on the social issues!” Party organizers will look to find a Huckabee who’s less apt to support social programs aimed at helping the poor.

Maybe there’ll be some more lip service to fiscal restraint, ending earmarks, and all that sort of thing. We had it among the Congressional back benchers after the 2006 humiliation. But the caucus soon put the same folks back in charge and made rather minor changes in policy. They have only been saved, to the extent they have been, by having Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as opponents.

Few Republican leaders will take the lesson be that the party was wrong on the war, wrong on torture, wrong on immigration, or wrong on other controversial issues. Or that name calling really isn’t leadership on bread-and-butter issues like health care, jobs, and energy.

For that matter, they’re unlikely to come away thinking it just wasn’t our year. George H.W. Bush lost in 1992 despite having presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union and success in the Gulf War, mostly because he was unlucky on the economy.* The Iraq War may turn out to be a great success too late for McCain to get any credit for it; conversely, Huckabee, Romney, or Giuliani might get blamed for it and Clinton benefit from it even though she was much more responsible than they for getting us into it.

Certainly, few will come away with the lesson, “If only we’d nominated Fred Thompson!”

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*There were a host of contributing factors, of course, including the fact that Bill Clinton was a singularly outstanding opponent and Bush was a campaigner on par with Fred Thompson.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.