The Cornell Republicans stared at a map of the United States in dismay. Gathered to watch the results from yesterday’s midterm elections, the Republican faithful had dutifully marked each of the country’s 435 Congressional districts with an appropriate color, blue for a Democrat and red for a Republican, according to the winner of that district’s seat in Congress. By the end of the night, the map showed more blue than the Republicans had hoped.
In an election shaped by controversy over the war in Iraq and scandal within the Republican party, Democrats won major victories in key House and Senate races and effectively took control of Congress. Although disheartened by the election results, Cornell Republicans like Nick Baldasaro M.Eng.’06 acknowledged that the GOP had done a lot to alienate American voters before the midterm election.
“This Republican Congress was elected in 1994 to limit spending,” Baldasaro said, “but the Bush administration has reversed [that policy].”
Baldasaro went on to characterize the actions of the Bush administration as a betrayal of Republican expectations, arguing that GOP voters wanted to see more limited government from a Republican-controlled political environment.
“I abstained [this year] because I see no hope for smaller government,” Baldasaro explained. “I’d rather have a split House [between Democrats and Republicans] than a bunch of Republicans talk like conservatives but walk like liberals. When I realized there was no spending bill [Bush] wouldn’t veto, I said, ‘Forget it.’”
Much of the increased government spending that Baldasaro highlighted can be linked to an increasingly costly war in Iraq, an issue that drew many voters to the Democratic ticket in this year’s election. The GOP has come under fire recently for its ostensible support of the war, and lost considerable ground last night to Democrats who opposed the now-unpopular conflict.
Although wary to lend their support to the war, some Cornell Republicans thought that much of the criticism endured by GOP candidates was unfair.
“I feel like it’s popular to hate … Republicans,” said Leif Ericksen ’09. “There’s a lot of negative energy toward the Republican party, and it takes a lot not to get swept away in all [the rhetoric].”
Ericksen continued to argue that negative attitudes toward the GOP are especially prevalent at Cornell and on other college campuses, where students traditionally align themselves with the more liberal political establishment.
“I’ll just be handing out quarter-cards on Ho Plaza, trying to explain our party’s position, and [students] don’t want to hear it,” Ericksen explained. “Either that, or they want to argue. They’ll say something like, ‘Oh, you’re a Republican, so you’re from the top 10 percent of the country’ or something like that.”
Ericksen was especially critical of liberals who point at the failures of the Republican-led government without offering a solution to the problem.
“I feel like Democrats aren’t concentrating on how to improve,” Ericksen argued. “They just want to nit-pick on our party. It’s unfortunate, because we always try to be positive, to be respectful of the Cornell [Democrats] and offer constructive policy ideas.”
Jordan Barry ’07, a fellow Cornell Republican, agreed with Ericksen’s assessment. In his time on the local campaign trail, Barry found it difficult to break down the anti-Republican wall many area voters had long since constructed.
“I think some of the criticism is just hippies,” Barry said. “The liberals of America attacking us just to attack.”
Especially in Ithaca, Barry continued, conservative ideas just don’t fly.
“If you wear a Bush shirt around here,” Barry explained, “it’s toxic. You’ll definitely get some looks.”
Like Americans across the country, area voters have turned from the Republican party in light of a lengthy war in Iraq and amid claims of scandal and corruption within the GOP ranks. For Baldasaro, the corruption comes as no surprise.
“One of the things that liberals miss is that the best way to corrupt government is through the expansion of government,” Ericksen said. “When you have all this tax money, the temptation to spend it on your own [personal interests] is huge.”
Indeed, claims of corruption and the low approval ratings of the Bush administration have given Democrats a chance to gain significant ground in both houses of Congress. Last night, Republican incumbents like Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) lost to their Democratic challengers, signaling the start of a big night for the Democratic party. On campus, Cornell Republicans ate pizza and watched the results with the knowledge that, in politics, you often have to take the good with the bad.
“This is part of the natural ebb and flow of politics,” Barry said. “I guess it’s just their time to come back.”