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Catching the Wave

William Kristol

By William Kristol

Published Nov. 11, 2014

 Catching the Wave
Back before incoming senators Tom Cotton and Cory Gardner and Joni Ernst and Dan Sullivan were born, before new House members Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin and Mia Love were a gleam in their parents' eyes, the Beach Boys said it best: "Catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world."

And so the Republican party sits—if not quite on top of the world, at least on top of the political scene. The headlines of the same New York papers that told us it wasn't going to be a wave election blared the wavy news on Wednesday. "Riding Wave of Discontent, GOP Takes Senate," announced the New York Times. "Republicans ride wave of anger against Democrats to recapture Senate," confirmed the Daily News.

Needless to say, when Democrats rode to power nearly a decade ago, at a time when voters were even more discontented with the state of the country and the winning party even angrier at the sitting president, it wasn't described by the media as a wave of discontent and anger. It was a wave of hope and change. If liberal anger was acknowledged, it was righteous anger; if progressive discontent was noted, it was healthy discontent.

Of course, there's no reason for Republicans to accept the media characterization of their victory. Indeed, there's every reason to mock it. As one Republican tweeted Wednesday, "Who knew 'riding a wave of anger' could be so much fun?" And the crowds at GOP candidates' headquarters on election night didn't look discontented or angry. Their mien was cheerful, their mood buoyant, their expressions hopeful.

Republicans are now the party of hope and change. Two weeks ago, we asked in this space, "Supposing Republicans win a big victory on November 4. What then?" Our answer: Celebration. "Because the result—assuming it's as strong as it looks 12 days out—will be worth celebrating."

So we write this in an upbeat mood, enjoying the thrill of victory. And part of that enjoyment for those of us in the curmudgeonly caucus admittedly involves relishing the despair of Democrats, mocking the plight of progressives, and delighting in the shock of the media. Schadenfreude is some of the best freude. But always we hear, in the back of our mind, the cautionary voice of the slave who rode next to the emperor in his triumphal procession, reminding him that this, too, shall pass.

And so, as we also wrote in that editorial two weeks ago, "the celebratory mood, though heartfelt, will be brief." We know that "this sixth-year election, like its predecessors, was mostly a negative and backward-looking referendum on the incumbent," and that its results "are probably of limited utility in indicating what will happen next in the drama of American politics."

What will happen next? That's not easy to predict, or easy to control. The new congressional majorities, we presume, will try to mitigate the damage President Obama can do, amass some real accomplishments, and develop a conservative governing agenda. Then comes 2016.

History suggests there are reasons for optimism. Parties rarely hold the White House for a third term. There is almost always a considerable dropoff from a president's reelection vote to the vote for the nominee of his party four years later—enough of a dropoff to send President Obama's Democratic successor to defeat. The Republicans have the attractive younger candidates; the Democrats look as if they'll be nominating yesterday's person, someone who tried and failed before, the next in line.

On the other hand, recent polls have Hillary Clinton running ahead of various Republicans. The exit polls Tuesday night had 43 percent of voters saying Clinton would make a good president, but only 29 percent for Jeb Bush, with Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and Rick Perry trailing a bit behind.

Yet when Hillary Clinton was matched up with an unnamed Republican, she trailed 39 to 34, with 24 percent saying it depended on who the Republican was. Even if one adjusts for the likely 2016 electorate, the base Republican vote is as great as the base Hillary vote. The right Republican can win in 2016.

Is that right Republican one of the names tested in the exit polls? Perhaps not. Perhaps a Paul Ryan-Marco Rubio ticket—the ticket we suggested in January 2011 for 2012—would fit the bill this time? Perhaps a ticket of governors—Scott Walker and Susana Martinez?—is the way to go. Or senators—Ted Cruz and Kelly Ayotte? Or maybe it's time to go bold, go young, and go Army, with a Class of 2014 pairing of Tom Cotton and Joni Ernst? Who knows? We don't.

Republican primary voters will decide. The Beach Boys were also prescient about GOP dreams for 2016:

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true

Baby, then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do.

But thinking and wishing and hoping and even praying won't be enough. Hard work animated by enlightened patriotism will be needed to ride another wave in 2016.

Wouldn't it be nice?

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William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard, which, together with Fred Barnes and John Podhoretz, he founded in 1995. Kristol regularly appears on Fox News Sunday and on the Fox News Channel.

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