How the GOP recovers: patience and virtue

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Republicans licking their wounds from Tuesday's loss could do worse than revisit the 2004 election and follow the example set by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer in its aftermath: Say what you will, what you must, but keep your eyes on the long run.

President George W. Bush had just won a second term, 51 to 48 percent over Democrat John Kerry, and Republicans had increased their Senate majority to 55-45. Mr. Schumer, D-N.Y., a Democratic exception who'd been re-elected by a huge margin, appeared on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to discuss the rest of his party's bad fortune.

If you imagine John Boehner in Mr. Schumer's place and substitute the words "Mitt Romney," "Democrats" and "Afghanistan" where appropriate, then you have an astonishingly parallel assessment of the Republicans' 2012 results:

"Yesterday we all thought that [Sen. John] Kerry was going to win, that turnout would put us over the top, but [the Republicans] did a better job," Mr. Schumer said.

"I've been on the phone all day commiserating with my colleagues," he continued. "We're all scratching our heads and saying, 'We better do some thinking here because we really thought we'd win this election.' And the amazing thing is -- people say the country's moving in the wrong direction, they think the Iraq War's a mess, the economy isn't good, and we still lose?"

To figure out why, Mr. Schumer and Mr. Stewart chewed over the "culture war," elitism, bipartisan cooperation and get-out-the-vote strategies. It actually sounded like the left would indeed engage in some "serious thinking" in the coming months.

If they did, their eventual decision was obviously to double down on leftist policy and simply craft a better ground game, because in the intervening eight years, the Democratic Party has certainly not moved an inch toward the center on either economic or cultural issues.

The only "Daily Show" soul-searching topic on which Democrats did apparently decide to emulate the Republicans was voter turnout. In 2008 and again in 2012, their ground game has stunned Republicans -- and it has been in the service of a man identified way back at the 2004 Democratic Convention as the up-and-coming Teflon candidate, Barack Obama.

The Democrats were patient, and they played a very long game. Republicans should do exactly the same: After they get the breast-beating, the where-did-we-go-wrong post-election recriminations out of their system, they should recommit themselves to their core principles, start thinking about a presidential candidate who can expand their base (think: young and Hispanic) and build the operation necessary to win.

And then wait.

The voters will eventually catch up, as the Democrats' changing fortunes from 2004 to 2006 demonstrate. Most of us don't respond to a dire partisan forecast until well after we see it beginning to come true.

As Mr. Schumer noted post-election, in 2004 the Iraq War was already disintegrating into chaos. But Mr. Kerry wasn't the right messenger. He was for the war before he was against it -- remember? Voters retained Mr. Bush in 2004, but by 2006 they were fed up. The Democrats swept the midterms and sailed to victory again in 2008.

And Mr. Romney, as good a man as has ever lost the presidency, was for mandatory health insurance before he was against it. The Republicans' message of continuing and increasing economic travail -- due to the soon-to-kick-in costs of Obamacare and the baby boomers' Social Security onslaught -- didn't motivate quite enough voters, or didn't draw them to the right's proposed solutions.

But it's very likely that, contrary to Mr. Obama's victory speech, the worst is yet to come. The "fiscal cliff" -- the double-whammy of expiring Bush tax cuts and mandatory deficit-reducing cuts in government spending that could send the U.S. economy into another downward spiral -- looms.

There are other losses to accept: For those who prefer limited government and individual liberty, the greatest ongoing negative of Mr. Obama's re-election is his opportunity to reshape the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal courts for years to come.

For those who value civility despite impassioned differences of opinion, the greatest negative is that the Democratic team was by far the less civil and less high-minded of the two tickets. It's distasteful to see their petty behavior rewarded.

But like the Schumer Democrats of 2004, fiscal conservatives must set aside their electoral loss and recommit themselves to doing what they believe is the right thing. If it is the right thing, then it will reap rewards in the long run.

John Maynard Keynes, revered economist of the left, famously quipped, "In the long run, we're all dead." As the less famous but much wiser retort goes: "The man who said that never had children."

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