Everything is not well with the Republican party. Despite the fact that the GOP controls both the House and the Senate, despite the fact that the President was elected by a larger margin than in 2000, and despite the fact that the judiciary at all levels is being remade in a conservative mold and the President has a pretty historic opportunity to appoint anywhere from two to possibly from Supreme Court Justices, things are not well.
The President’s approval ratings remain, well, terrible, and any further dip in his ratings would put them at what can only be described as Alphonsian depths (a reference to former Senator Alfonse D’Amato). Congress, meanwhile, populated by Republican majorities, suffers from a similar lack of public approval, and if the numbers can be believed, are even less popular than President Bush (althought the Tip O’Neill axiom remains accurate– individual members remain varying degrees of support far above the overall rating of Congree).
The popularity of the War in Iraq has plummeted, with Bush’s handling of the war even lower. So low is domestic support that despite repeated assurances that we will stay until the job is done, rumors of massive troop withdrawals are far more believable than they should be.
Social Security reform, at least for now, is dead. Only 39% of poll respondents approve of Bush’s handling of the economy. Democrats and their grass roots campaigns are raising extraordinary sums of money to fight the Supreme Court nominantions, and for now, at least, Howard Dean has learned how to keep his mouth shut.
The media, which until recently had been nitpicky but generally rather docile, is growing tired of the mendacity of the current administration, and they are subsequently waking from their slumber and are hungrily looking around for a meal. The President’s right-hand man, Karl Rove, is himself recently immersed in a particularly nasty scandal (just keep scrolling), with no sign of relief in the immediate future. Add to all of this the following:
Just nine months after giving George W. Bush the crucial swing votes he needed to best John Kerry, political independents are bolting out of the Republican Big Tent. Angered by GOP meddling in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case, reeling from record gasoline prices, and depressed by the escalating cycle of violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, unaligned voters are suddenly lining up with Democrats to give Bush the lowest ratings of his Presidency. The disenchantment extends beyond the White House to the GOP Congress: Only 31% of independents say Congress is in touch with their concerns, according to a June 14-15 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll. Amid such dismal data, the only good news for Republicans is that the chronically disorganized Democrats have not convinced swing voters that they are any better — at least not yet.
But that’s cold comfort to the GOP. A June 24-26 Gallup Poll shows independents turning thumbs down to much of the President’s second-term agenda, including his stay-the-course stance on Iraq, partial privatization of Social Security, and a pro-drilling energy policy. Equally worrisome: Just 15% of indies approve of Bush’s handling of the economy, a June 19-22 American Research Group Poll found — down from 44% last November.
To gauge the depth of independent anger, talk to Alan Rego Jr., an assistant supermarket manager in Cleveland. Rego, 23, twice voted for George W. Bush. The unaligned voter viewed Bush as a champion of small business and a stalwart in the war on terror. But he now sees a President bogged down in a Mideast quagmire and a Congress obsessed with a Religious Right agenda he does not share. “Congress is involved in too many social issues that it shouldn’t be, like Terri Schiavo,” he says. “It doesn’t want to tackle the issues that it should be fixing, like tax reform, unemployment, and job creation.”
For Republicans, an exodus of voters like Rego could have profound repercussions. Because 67% of independents think Bush will appoint a Supreme Court justice whose religious beliefs will inappropriately influence judicial rulings, according to Gallup, Dems may be emboldened to dig in for a long showdown .
Add together all the individual issues, tie in the fact that Bush has by all appearances lost the middle, and it appears clear what the strategy for the immediate future entails. Attack, attack, attack.
From top White House operative Karl Rove to two of the party campaign committees, Republicans have launched a full-scale attack on MoveOn.org, questioning the liberal group’s patriotism and worldview. These attacks appear to have two purposes: One is to put the group and its Democratic allies on the defensive over support for the war on terror. And the second is to drive a wedge between Democratic candidates and the millions of dollars that MoveOn’s supporters have pumped into their campaigns. With MoveOn fast becoming one of the Democratic Party’s most important fundraising sources, the second goal may end up being the more important one.”
Take the case of GOP Senator Rick Santorum, darling of the Christer right. The almost-certain Democratic nominee against Santorum next year is Bob Casey Jr., the Pennsylvania State Treasurer, son of a former Democratic governor, and a noted social conservative who opposes abortion. Despite Casey’s conservative views, MoveOn sent out a major e-mailing soliciting funds for Casey’s campaign as a way of defeating Santorum — and with great success, raising over $150,000 for Casey in the first 24 hours after the fundraising appeal.
“But,” reports Roll Call, the National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately went on the offensive with a release titled, ‘Casey Moves In With MoveOn,’ alleging that the group’s e-mail on behalf of Casey shows how closely he is aligned with the ‘ultra-liberal left.’ John Brabender, Santorum’s media consultant, predicted that if Casey continues to accept MoveOn money, he will have to answer for the group’s controversial policies, which include opposing military intervention in Afghanistan. ‘You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep,’ Brabender said. A group like MoveOn ‘will have a lot of trouble in Pennsylvania, particularly in the middle part of the state. The group will be hung around Bobby Casey’s neck.’ The rhetoric from Brabender and the NRSC is aimed at forcing Casey into a no-win choice: He could pass up a generous source of campaign cash, or he could accept MoveOn’s ample resources, yet face an assault over the group’s issue stances.”
This shouldn’t be surprising for anyone who has watched Rove, as his modus operandi is to always attack.
A typical instance occurred in the hard-fought 1996 race for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court between Rove’s client, Harold See, then a University of Alabama law professor, and the Democratic incumbent, Kenneth Ingram. According to someone who worked for him, Rove, dissatisfied with the campaign’s progress, had flyers printed up