In the New Republic online, Reihan Salam (an early and appreciative correspondent to this blog) has a well-written two-part series on the scene in the loser's locker room Tuesday night and beyond -- that is, the fate of Karl Rove, Chuck Hagle, the neocons, Rumsfeld, etc if Bush loses, and of Howard Dean, John Edwards, moveon.org, George Soros and other Democratic players if Kerry loses.
No doubt, it will be ugly either way. But in reading the segment on the Republicans, there seemed to be something missing: who will be doing the punishing? If there are recriminations against a Rove or, as Salam suggests, against Hagel and Senator Lugar for allowing their mild dissents on Iraq to be used for Kerry's purposes, just who is going to dish those recriminations out? Tom DeLay, delivering orders to his henchmen on a phone handset across a Lexan wall? Dennis Hastert? Bill Frist? Dick Cheney? All will be implicated in the meltdown of what had been, if handled correctly, a rare opportunity to hold the presidency and both houses of Congress for almost a decade. There will surely be a period of chaos, and that means that if people like Lugar decide to cooperate with Kerry in a limited way, there may be no one to punish them.
This is one reason I don't fully agree with the widely held view that governance will be a mess either way and that "the climate will be more poisonous if Kerry is elected," as Sam Rosenfeld put it on Tapped, referring specifically to things I had written. (I'll try to comment more fully on Sunday.) In 1993, the Republican Party was firmly under the control of Dole and Gingrich. They could issue the order: give Clinton nothing, concede nothing even if you agree with him. In the wake of a Bush defeat, and with DeLay's legal troubles, I don't think there's anyone to issue that order who would be taken seriously. That leaves the Hagels, Lugars, Snowes Voinoviches, and McCains as free agents, able to be coopted by Kerry if he understands that he has to and understands how to.
On the other hand, even though it became apparent a year ago that there is no such thing as "the Democratic Party establishment," there is a core of leadership that clearly survives a Kerry loss: not Terry McAuliffe, but Pelosi, Daschle or Reid, the Clintons and their circle, the leadership of some of the new organizations, etc. There will be some chaos, and some recriminations, and I'm sure everyone will decide that Kerry was a terrible candidate. (Although show me another who would have made fewer mistakes and performed flawlessly for four and a half hours of high-wire debate.) But there will also be the unbelievable unity in opposition that the party has found -- there will be no DLC-led infighting -- and an understanding that it was never going to be easy to win an election against the incumbent who took us through 9/11 and Karl Rove's slime machine. A Republican loss will be the end of that party's current ascendancy; a Kerry loss will be no more than a severe setback on the Democrats'.