Monday, March 20, 2006

Wash Post Says GOP Is In Disarray

I had to blink twice while reading this story in the Post saying the GOP is struggling to define a cohesive election message for the 2006 midterms and make sure it wasn't about Democrats.

But it wasn't:

Republican efforts to craft a policy and political agenda to carry the party into the midterm elections have stumbled repeatedly as GOP leaders face widespread disaffection and disagreement within the ranks.

Anxiety over President Bush's Iraq policy, internal clashes over such divisive issues as immigration, and rising complaints that the party has abandoned conservative principles on spending restraint have all hobbled the effort to devise an election-year message, said several lawmakers involved in the effort.

While it is a Republican refrain that Democrats criticize Bush but have no positive vision, for now the governing party also has no national platform around which lawmakers are prepared to rally.

Every effort so far to produce such a platform has stumbled.

Seriously, doesn't that sound like an Adam Nagourney article from the Times, only with the word "Republicans" substituting for the phrase "stupid, stupid Democrats"?

But of course Republicans really are struggling for a message this midterm election year.

What can they run on exactly?

The economy? It's a good economy by the numbers for a few people, but the vast majority of Americans have deep concerns over their jobs, stagnant wages, disappearing pensions, inflation, housing prices, college costs, energy costs, etc.

And given that Preznit Bush has 28%-32% approval ratings on his handling of the economy and GOP members of both the House and Senate have supported his policies 90% of the time, the economy doesn't sound like a winning issue come November for Republicans.

How about the Iraq war?

Ron Brownstein notes in today's LA Times that fully 60% of Americans in the latest Gallup poll believe the Iraq war has not been worth the cost and 55% believed that chaos and civil war were the most likely outcomes in Iraq.

Chick Hagel (R-Nebraska) agreed with former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi's assertion to the BBC that Iraq is already in a civil war, telling George Stephanopolous on ABC's This Week

I think we've had a low grade civil war going on in Iraq for the last six months maybe the last year-our own generals have told me that privately George, so that's a fact.
Hagel went on to say that the Iraq war is bankrupting our country and making the region in the Middle East "more unstable" now than three years ago before the war.

Even George Will told Stephanopolous that the Iraq war "is not working."

Of course Will's right that the Bush Iraq war policy is not working. Obviously hawking the Iraq war as a reelection strategy isn't going to work either and Republicans know it. They also know it is going to become harder to demagogue critics of the war since that accounts for about 60%-65% of the country.

So that strategy's out.

The GOP can always run on national security, I suppose, though the Dubai ports deal George Bush tried to ram through the Congress makes it harder for the GOP to run as the sole protectors of the homeland. I know that Tweety Bird, Dana Milbank and Pat Buchanan all said last week that a terrorist attack in the United States or an attack against Iran could possibly help the GOP in the short run shore up its poll numbers and hold control of the House and Senate.

Leaving aside the sick notion that wagging the dog against Iran or hoping for a terorrist attack here in the U.S. is a good reelection strategy for the GOP, let's ask ourselves if the 60%-65% of the people who think the Bush administration is incompetent in its handling of the Iraq war are going to be any more sanguine about Bush starting a new war in Iran? Or the 60%-65% of the people who think Bush mishandled the Katrina disaster aren't going to blame George Bush if terrorists strike against the United States again and the outcome is as chaotic as the Katrina aftermath?

Sorry, I don't see a war with Iran or a sudden terrorist attack in the U.S. as a winner for the GOP. Not anymore. Not after Iraq, Katrina, Dubai ports deal, etc.

There's always the good old GOP wedge issue to run on, like gay marriage or flag burning, but with the concerns over the war and the economy so strong these days, I don't think wedge issues will have the same resonance they've had in the past.

I guess Republicans can always pull out the "Democrats are tax and spend liberals who will steal your money and give it to welfare mothers" meme for the campaign, as RNC chair and confirmed bachelor Ken Mehlman suggests may happen in the Washington Post article:

"If you are someone who favors small government," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said, "you're going to have a clear choice between someone who has cut taxes every year in office, who believes you ought to own your own health care . . . and who plans to cut the deficit over five years versus people who have consistently supported more spending, have opposed tax cuts and who oppose patients owning their own health care. The question is, who's on your side for reducing the size of government?"

Of course, the one problem with this strategy is that the majority party in power for the last six years - the GOP - has taken a budget surplus of $178 billion and turned it into a deficit of $354 billion and grown the government more than any other time since LBJ. Plus recent polls show Americans trusting Democrats to better handle the deficit and government spending.

No, I think the "we're small-government conservatives" campaign theme isn't going to work so well.

Perhaps the best GOP midterm strategy is one Karl Rove and company have pursued for the last eight years. Let's call it the "Diebold strategy." I think you know what I mean. In this strategy, the GOP sweeps all races across the nation even though poll numbers show Democrats being favored by 16 points in a generic ballot and exit polls show Democrats winning on election day. Then you call anybody who questions the election results "a crazy person" or a "conspiracy nut" and ride off into the sunset with your Republican majority.

Let's not kid ourselves. That's probably the strategy they're going to pursue this November.

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