GOP’s demise offers lesson

Things sure changed in the last four years.

The 2004 elections were heady times for conservatives, a time when Tom DeLay could still say things like, “If 1994 was the year we stopped thinking like a permanent minority, 2004 is the year we start thinking like a permanent majority: unified, aggressive, rightfully confident of victory.” And it sure felt that way. Democrats were meek and defensive, on the retreat. We party activists, having reluctantly swallowed John Kerry’s candidacy, were crushed at his loss, and erupted in open rebellion as the party looked for new leadership in early 2005.

Writing in The Washington Monthly, conservative icon Grover Norquist delivered the party line (and D.C. conventional wisdom) of what a George Bush reelection meant:

“Redistricting in Texas and throughout the country ensures that Republicans will continue to control the House through 2012. Over time, the Senate — thanks to those wonderful square states out west — will trend toward 60 Republicans as the 30 red states elect Republicans and the 20 blue states elect Democrats. The anomaly of four Democratic senators hailing from Republican North and South Dakota will come to an end, as will the Republican-held Senate seat in Rhode Island,” he wrote.

As if he hadn’t stepped out on a long enough limb, Norquist kept going, “A Bush-Cheney win will lead to Republican governors from Colorado, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York to compete to be the most Reaganite governor — a positive result no matter who wins. And a Bush-Cheney win in 2004 will leave Terry McAuliffe and Bill and Hillary in complete and unchallenged control of the Democratic Party at least through 2008. This is good for the Republicans, if not the republic.”

It’s easy to pick on Norquist, given his predictions turned out to be hilariously wrong (well, except for that Rhode Island Senate seat), but this was truly Beltway thinking, further fueled with the election of Howard Dean as Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman. “Too far left” and “beholden to bloggers and activists,” they laughed as we upstarts took over our party. Round and round they reinforced their flawed conventional wisdom until 2006 smacked them right in the face.

Republicans lost seats in Texas. Rather than hold the House through 2012, Republicans now face the prospect of a triple-digit deficit. In the Senate, red (and blue) state Democrats fared just fine as they march toward a 60-seat supermajority. Colorado, Massachusetts and New York now have Democratic governors. As for Hillary Clinton and Terry McAuliffe? They were felled by the same ridiculed forces who took over the DNC in a wave of small-dollar contributions and dedicated on-the-ground activism. But at least Clinton held her own in the primary. John McCain is poised to suffer an even more crushing, humiliating defeat at their hands.

If you can’t tell, given that I’m writing this a week before the election, we’re pretty confident as well. We’re certainly unified, aggressive and rightfully confident of victory, like our political foes were four years ago. But there’s a key difference:

We maintain a key awareness that political winds are rarely static, and can shift at any time. Republicans forgot the dramatic forces that propelled them to victory in 1994 and believed they were immune from suffering the same fate. That is called hubris, and it led to the GOP becoming complacent, corrupt and out-of-touch with the people they were supposed to serve. It’s a lesson Republicans have had to relearn in 2006 and 2008, but we are also taking note.

Now that it’s our party’s turn in power, we won’t be so quick to forget.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos.