As the votes rolled in on Tuesday evening and the networks' maps took on overwhelmingly Republican colors, it was clear that George Bush was on his way to a decisive victory. His mini-landslide seemed an only slightly diluted version of the two previous Republican triumphs, just as Bush's philosophy seemed an only slightly diluted version of Ronald Reagan's. The triumph was a personal validation for Bush, who had managed during the 1988 campaign to transform his gawky and feckless image into a warm persona that voters found comfortable. It was also an expression of general contentment with the nation's current patina of prosperity and peace and with the Republican Party, which has ruled the White House for 16 of the past 20 years.
Unlike the Reagan triumphs of 1980 and '84, however, Bush's win represented no endorsement of a specific set of policies. Nor was there any consolidation of the fundamental realignment in party loyalties that had seemed possible after Reagan's successes. Instead, Bush's was a split-ticket victory won by a candidate who raised many peripheral issues but neither sought nor received a mandate to make the tough choices necessary to rescue the nation from its mountain of debt.
As a result, the buoyant sense of new possibilities for the nation that is supposed to accompany a landslide was all but absent. Even the victor, standing before cheering supporters in Houston on election night, seemed mildly subdued after winning the office he has coveted all his political life. "To those who supported me, I will try to be worthy of your trust," he said, "and to those that did not, I will try to earn it, and my hand is out to you, and I want to be your President too."
Bush's victory was national in scope: he won 54% of the popular vote, which translated into a likely 426 electoral votes of a possible 538. He ran strongest in the South and the Rocky Mountain states, two regions that have become a rock-solid electoral base for Republicans. In addition, he held on to some of Reagan's key voting blocs, running even with Dukakis among the middle class, winning the majority of independents and most baby boomers. But Bush was hurt by the gender gap. Dukakis won 52% of the votes cast by women, in contrast to 47% for Bush.
It was the first time a sitting Vice President has been promoted by the electorate since Martin Van Buren succeeded his mentor, Andrew Jackson, in 1836. It was also the first time since 1928 that voters granted the Republican Party a third consecutive term in the White House. But to the Republicans' chagrin, this year also marked the first time since 1960 that the party winning the presidential race lost ground in Congress. Because Bush's campaign was largely lacking in substantive issues, it did not help propel like-minded Republicans into office with him. The G.O.P. could lose two spots in the Senate, giving the Democrats a majority of 56, and a handful of seats in the House, giving the Democrats a majority of 262.