The biggest loser of 2006 was, undoubtedly, the President. George W Bush had, as Presidents always do, a mixed year. An Iraqi court sentencing Saddam to death was an undoubted triumph, and in the long term may be seen as the most significant event of the year, but in terms of its immediate implications it was swamped by the Republican losses in November. It is a long time since a party has faced only losses in the mid-term elections. Republicans did not take a single governorship, House seat, or Senate seat that they did not hold the day before the election. It is not even clear that any American party has ever faced losses on this scale without any countervailing gains.
Days before the election Republicans hoped and Democrats feared that Karl Rove would pull off some miracle. It seems the days of his miracles have passed, and in hours he went from being universally revered to being blamed by his party for its defeat. He is already calling himself a former political consultant and promising to retire when he leaves the White House.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay lost his leadership role, resigned from the House, and saw his party lose his tailor-made district. It was a very bad year for him. And his protégé, Denny Hastert, lost the Speakership and resigned his leadership role too.
Donald Rumsfeld took the blame for things going awry in Iraq. This may seem desperately unfair, as it was State Department and CIA advice that backfired, not that of the Pentagon, but politics are never meant to be fair. Rumsfeld advocated installing an Iraqi civilian government made up of exiles almost immediately and rapidly withdrawing American troops, advice which all concerned may wish the President had taken. Instead, Rumsfeld now bears the blame for an occupation he never wanted.
Some Republicans have long hoped that, despite her denials, Condoleeza Rice will throw her hat into the ring for the 2008 primaries. As long as Iraq is a source of bad news, this is a temptation she will probably find eminently resistible.
George Allen fell from being a conservative frontrunner for the Presidency to an unemployed ex-Senator with a toxic reputation.
Hillary Clinton remains the favorite for the 2008 Democratic primaries. The rise of Barack Obama and John Edwards may concern her, but the withdrawal of former Virginia governor, Mark Warner must be a relief. Fellow Senator and former governor Evan Bayh is another potential rival who has withdrawn. She has a huge financial lead and star status on the stump.
Similarly, Republican Senator John McCain retains his favorite status. He is running harder than anyone else and has the best infrastructure in place. He has an agenda of cutting pork and blocking spending that ought to appeal to his party. Unfortunately for him, conservative activists still hate him.
McCain is bested in polls by only one man, Rudi Giuliani. He raised vast sums for beleaguered candidates, but if he wants to be President he needs to start campaigning. He will also need to tell Republicans what he believes, and they may not like what they hear.
The new RNC Chair is Florida Senator Mel Martinez. The role puts him front and center, and he has the confidence of the President. But this partisan role may rule him out as a future Supreme Court Justice.
Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.