Many Republicans, fearing that the presidential election may be over and that Obama will be in the White House no matter, may become demoralized and stay home. This would be a terrible mistake. Whatever feelings you may have for John McCain (and many of us feel that he has run the most inept campaign since Bob Dole in 1996 or George H. Bush in 1992), there are powerful reasons to be enthusiastic and to go to the polls and vote in November.
If Obama wins, the size of his victory will largely determine what he will feel that he can do. Clinton, twice, failed to get a majority of the popular vote. Obama continues to hover around the fifty percent mark in most polls. If Obama wins, but he fails to get a majority of the vote (like every Democrat nominee in the last thirty-two years), then he cannot claim to command the loyalty of most Americans. That can and should be a rhetorical and psychological tool at every politically critical juncture over the next four years.
If Obama wins, but has only a small majority of the vote, conservatives can claim that he has pretty much the same "mandate" that George W. Bush had after the 2004 election. The percentage of the vote Obama gets will be a permanent reminder of how much America wanted him to be president. This is very important for conservatives in states which are already "decided" - like New York or Texas - to understand: They should vote in the presidential race, because that national percentage will have great political importance for years.
If too many conservatives get too demoralized, then Obama will win a comfortable victory, he will begin to claim that he speaks for the overwhelming majority of Americans, and Obama and his party will be a steamroller which could change America forever. The examples bandied about today are FDR and JFK, but the last time a Democrat had a huge majority in the House of Representatives and a filibuster proof majority in the Senate was after the 1976 election under Jimmy Carter. That dreadful president muddled foreign policy terribly, but he was unable to really change America. Why? Largely because he won an extremely close election: He had no mandate to do anything. Four years later, when Americans had only one political party to blame for their misery, Reagan and the Republicans came back thunderously and, learning the lessons of Ford, did big and good stuff.
Conservative votes count in congressional elections as well. If Republicans can hold their Senate losses to four or five seats, then they will be about in the same position as Senate Democrats were three years ago. That means Republicans can prevent Obama from implementing any radical reform. Americans do not really grasp concepts like "filibuster proof Senate," and so Obama and his party will be held liable for all the failures of federal policy, much like Bush and Republicans were held liable for problems which Democrat filibusters stopped from being solved. This does not mean causing mischief: It rather means preventing the sort of mischief which could turn America into Chicago writ large.
House races will be held in this election in congressional districts which were drawn without Democrat gerrymandering. Many Democrats are freshmen. The shift of two or three percentage points nationally may not be enough to elect John McCain, but it would almost certainly be enough to turn around a dozen or more House races. If this is a standstill election, in which Nancy Pelosi has many House Democrats from essentially conservative congressional districts, she will be very wary about supporting changes that could cost her the Speakership in 2010. The combined effect of holding losses to less than nine seats in the Senate and to a few House seats will mean that Obama and the Democrats will have responsibility, in the eyes of America, for everything that happens the next two years, but that they will lack the power to make a massive power grab or pass legislation that creates giant new dependent voter groups.
State legislative races are just about as important as congressional races or presidential popularity votes. These state legislative districts, like House congressional districts, were not drawn this decade to elect as many Democrats as possible. Holding legislative chambers in big states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan will translate directly into congressional seats in the next decade. Think how important Republican Senate Majority Leader Bruno was in New York to former Governor Spitzer: If Bruno could be destroyed, Spitzer could have almost run New York.
Things look dismal now. Republicans have a candidate that seems intent on losing and, at the same time, taking potshots at conservative principles. But over the horizon are principled conservatives who can pick up the challenge of facing Democrats in 2010 and in 2012. If Republicans are able, after this election, to prevent a virtual takeover of the federal government then all the lies of Obama "I will withdraw from Iraq" and all the reckless assertions "The economy is the result of Bush policies" or other incarnations of the Leftist blame game will lose their impact.
All will be well if the basics of a multiparty democracy survive. Ideally, that would mean a McCain victory, but if it does not, holding the Obama popular plurality to a low level, preserving the filibuster in the Senate, keeping control of the House uncertain, and maintaining a check on gerrymandering will be enough. That means conservatives must take this election, from the top of the ticket to the bottom, seriously.