Election postmortems lead all around. In the aftermath of the first midterm election since 1934 in which the president’s party gained House seats, the headlines stress Republican disarray. The Los Angeles Times top says the Republican party “Takes Stock of Losses.” USA Today’s header says a “GOP Shake-Up is Possible”–right next to a big picture of a befuddled-looking Newt juxtaposed with the caption, “Will Gingrich Survive?” The New York Times big type says, “GOP in Scramble Over Blame,” and the Washington Post sums things up similarly: “Shaken Republicans Count Losses, Debate Blame.” (Question to the WP’s photo editor: Was it really necessary at this very satisfying moment for Bill Clinton, to run a picture of him that suggests he’s having cramps? Didn’t he smile at least once yesterday?)
According to the papers, the single biggest lesson learned from Tuesday’s vote is, in the words of the Wall Street Journal front-page wash-up, “Impeachment isn’t a winning agenda.” And the problem, at least in the eyes of some of the more stalwart movement conservatives quoted in the coverage, was that, on the GOP side, there wasn’t enough of any other agenda. The WP quotes Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council complaining, “We just ran one of the least ideological campaigns we’ve run in years….” and a similar complaint from Randy Tate, executive director of the Christian Coalition. But the NYT points out the dilemma the Republicans face if they respond by simply ideologically souping up, with this quote from a conservative Florida congressman: “We’ve got to reach out and have more than Southern white males running the Washington Republican Party.”
The NYT and WP pass along a classic non-concession concession from Newt Gingrich. The Times version: “I mean, I totally underestimated the degree to which people would just get sick of 24-hour-a-day talk television and talk radio and then the degree to which this whole scandal became just sort of disgusting by sheer repetition.” In other words, explains the Post’s Howard Kurtz, in a “Style” section piece, it was the media’s fault. Kurtz goes on to resurrect a Gingrich quote from earlier this year in which he said he would never again as long as he was Speaker make a speech without commenting on the scandal. And then for good measure, he quotes conservative muckety-muck Bill Kristol’s assessment of Gingrich’s analysis: “mind-boggling.” It’s that sort of chagrin that’s behind the rumblings of a House coup all the papers report.
The papers also say that an immediate consequence of the vote is at least a drastically scaled-down impeachment inquiry. They all report that Henry Hyde is now leaning towards having his Judiciary Committee call only one witness–Kenneth Starr. (The WP runs a separate article about this as its off-lead.) The WSJ says look for a quick negotiated resolution of the Lewinsky scandal between the Hill and the White House. And the NYT flatly asserts that the Republican majority is now so slim that “there is little chance the 218 votes required for impeachment can be assembled.”
The other big political story of the day is the election in the Minnesota governor’s race of former pro wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura. The political upstart garners front-pagers at the LAT and NYT and an inside piece at the WP. Ventura’s out-of-the-blue arrival on the scene is energizing the media in ways not seen since the early days of Ross Perot’s first candidacy. The LAT notes that Ventura, who will now become the highest office-holder in Perot’s Reform party, asked Perot for campaign money, but was turned down. The WP reports that Ventura’s ad campaign was managed by William Hillsman, who did the ads for the previous title-holder for Most Shocking Minnesota Campaign By A Former Wrestler–Paul Wellstone’s upset 1991 win of a U.S. Senate seat. (A previous pre-election Post story on ex-Navy Seal Ventura barely mentioned that there has been some controversy about his military service. This would be a fine time to elaborate.)
The NYT’s Ventura effort is accompanied by a color picture of the governor-elect trouncing a previous opponent–in 1985, by stomping him into the ropes. The Times piece also includes the sounds-pretty-right assessment of that astute political commentator, Hulk Hogan: “Jesse’s victory proves that people want a real man in power to lead, not a play plastic puppet like other politicians.”