Last night was a good night for the GOP, but perhaps not in ways that are immediately obvious. McDonnell's win in Virginia and Christie's win in New Jersey proved that conservatism can win if it moderates itself (if only in rhetoric). Perhaps more important, the seeds of a conservative revival will be found not in the ideological purity of the tea parties or candidates like Hoffman but in the application of conservative principles to actual governance -- this is particularly true for the GOP candidates who were elected last night, one in a blue state, the other in a state that is trending blue. Of course, if McDonnell and Christie are successful governors, and the conservative base retains its paranoid and conspiratorial tone, they may ultimately find themselves tagged as RINOs for the compromises they will surely have to make.
The biggest disappointment for liberals last night wasn't the outcome of races in Virginia or New Jersey but of the marriage-equality referendum in Maine. It never ceases to amaze me how conservatives manage to erect political-cultural barriers that seem only to apply to liberals -- conservatives have argued that any path to marriage equality that goes through the courts is illegitimate, "judicial activism" so to speak, even as gun-rights advocates fight for the incorporation of Second Amendment rights into the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The path to freedom through the courts is fine for the NRA, just not for people looking for the right to marry the person they love.
Marriage quality is ultimately inevitable -- but these referendums, which put up what should be individuals' inalienable rights up to a majority vote -- nevertheless mean a great deal, as they needlessly prolong an era of inequality which this country will someday look back upon in shame. Maine relaxed prohibitions on medical marijuana last night while voting down marriage equality -- it may be time to put a picture of the state in the Balloon Juice Lexicon under "glibertarian."
As for the biggest loser last night, I'd say the president, but not because these elections are a "referendum" on his agenda. That happened in 2008. Christie and McDonnell went easy on Obama -- and discontent with the president doesn't seem to have been a factor in their wins. Meanwhile, Hoffman, who was the protest candidate of the Obama haters, went down in flames in a reliably conservative district.
No, Obama is a loser for backing two losing Democratic gubernatorial candidates while staying relatively silent on Maine's referendum. Just as this country will one day look back in shame at discrimination against same-sex couples, so should President Obama feel regret, wondering if things could have been different had he intervened and put the full force of his office behind those fighting for their rights, rather than simply looking out for his party.
-- A. Serwer