A history of improbability
The narrative for Election 2006 is neatly in place: The Republican Party lost because it lost its way and became what it had opposed. Rush Limbaugh made this clear with his post-election confession that he would no longer need to “carry the water for people who I don't think deserve having their water carried.” His admission of hypocrisy aside (not surprising), Limbaugh's declaration made it clear that the GOP had fallen into error.
It's very sad, of course, to think that it took the Republican-led House of Representatives only twelve years to fall into the sink of corruption and hubris that took the Democrats forty years of hegemony and complacency to achieve. Of course, it takes time to break some promises. For example, there was no way Republican George Nethercutt could violate his pledge to serve only three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives until almost six years had gone by, after which he declared his candidacy for a fourth term (and later a fifth).
I would argue, however, that dishonesty is natural to the Republican Party, it being one of their defining characteristics. While the Democrats have their own sins to expiate (timidity being one; a disgracefully long dalliance with racism in their Solid South days being another), I claim that the GOP's history of dishonesty is bred in the bone, permeating root and branch. But that's okay, you see, because when you're the good guys, you are allowed to do whatever it takes to win. The “good guys” must win. Got it. Deus lo volt!
Have you ever noticed that the Republican Party is immune to the laws of probability? One might expect, all things being equal, that Lady Luck would bestow her largesse impartially on our two national political parties, but this has never been the case. When it comes down to actual cases, fluke after fluke favors the GOP. The catch, naturally, is “all things being equal,” which they never are. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell are examples of why the equal playing field is difficult to come by. As chief election officers for their respective states, both Harris and Blackwell worked tirelessly to maximize the Republican vote and disenfranchise as many potential Democratic voters as possible. (Both have finally paid for their sins in landslide defeats for statewide office.)
Oh, but these are just special cases, right? I mean, what about old Mayor Daley and the Chicago machine that helped deliver Illinois to JFK in 1960? What about Lyndon Johnson's improbable primary victory over Coke Stevenson in Texas in 1948? It would not be difficult to add to this list. Nevertheless, the Democrats have nothing to compare with the GOP's absolutely phenomenal ability to steal the White House from rightful Democratic victors. I've already alluded to Harris's role in frustrating the vote count in Florida so as to secure its electoral votes (and the presidency) for George W. Bush, even while Al Gore held a nationwide plurality of the popular vote and (quite likely) a narrow plurality of the Florida ballots. That was merely the latest example of the Republicans' penchant for stealing the presidency. Their grand tradition goes way back.
There have been three elections since the Republican Party came into existence in which the winner of the popular vote for president was not sworn into office. In every single case, the Republican candidate took the White House. Quite a remarkable sweep. But, you say, what about the Electoral College? After all, presidential elections in this country are not based on a direct vote of the people. While this is unfortunately true, the evidence of fraud and political manipulation is strong in all three contests.
I've already cited the fiasco of 2000, from which the nation continues to suffer. Let's look at the other two instances.
The manner of the election of Rutherford B. Hayes to the presidency resulted in his being popularly known as “Rutherfraud” Hayes or even “His Fraudulency.” To believe in the legitimacy of his election, you need merely accept the proposition that three southern states voted for a Republican less than a dozen years after the conclusion of the Civil War. Of course, it helped that U.S. troops still occupied much of the South.
Although Samuel J. Tilden, governor of New York and Democratic nominee for president, amassed a national vote total of 4,285,992 in contrast to the 4,033,768 votes received by Hayes, Republican office holders and political operatives immediately filed protests over the results in Florida (yes, good old Florida), South Carolina, Louisiana, and Oregon. After strenuous politicking and deal-making, a supposedly neutral commission set up to handle the disputes awarded all of the challenged electoral votes to Hayes, permitting him to eke out a one-vote majority in the Electoral College. Each vote in the commission was 8 to 7 in favor of Hayes, who thereby also picked up the unaffectionate nickname “Old 8 to 7.”
Only Franklin D. Roosevelt won more presidential popular elections than Grover Cleveland. Roosevelt won four terms, while Cleveland topped the balloting in three consecutive elections. As students of history know, however, he was sworn in only twice, for non-consecutive terms that make him the only man to figure twice in the presidential roster: Cleveland is both No. 22 and No. 24.
As for No. 23, that's Benjamin Harrison. In the election of 1888, Harrison pulled in only 5,440,216 votes to Cleveland's 5,538,233. In the Electoral College, however, Harrison garnered 233 to Cleveland's 168 and walked away with the presidency.
One key to Harrison's victory was New York state, which he carried by a narrow margin despite the fact that Cleveland was himself a New Yorker. Another was the redoubtable Matthew Quay, chair of the Republican National Committee. Harrison reportedly told Quay that he discerned the hand of Providence in his close-run election victory. This did not please Quay, who let off some steam later in the presence of reporters. Said Quay, “Think of the man! He ought to know that Providence hadn't a damn thing to do with it.” So who did have a damn thing to do with it? Apparently quite a few behind-the-scenes operators. Quay said that the president-elect would “never know how many Republicans were compelled to approach the gates of the penitentiary to make him president.”