How Democrats Will And Should Capitalize On Tuesday's Bush/GOP Defeats
Muhammad Ali, making the “crazy” sign to Bush, after Skippy tries to play-box with the Greatest at the Medal of Freedom ceremony yesterday
(Thanks to Atrios and Holden)
So what exactly is the fallout from Tuesday’s off-year election for the GOP next year? We have several observations today, as well as the usual cavalcade of GOP landmines still to blow up in Bush’s face.
From Dan Balz’s piece in today’s Washington Post:
Republicans grumbled privately about the losing Virginia gubernatorial campaign of Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, but some GOP strategists said the real problem is finding an agenda that can rally the party and shake up the political environment. One strategist said that, given the mood of voters, Republicans escaped a much worse outcome Tuesday, but he was gloomy about what the GOP can do next.
"We're tapped out on taxes," he said, asking not to be identified to offer a more candid analysis. "We failed on Social Security. We're nowhere on health care. Medicare didn't do it. The war's not going well. The economy's in fact going well, but we're not getting credit for it."
From John Harwood in today’s Wall Street Journal:
Republicans, wincing from losses in two governors' races this week and President Bush's current political weakness, face a broader problem as well: Some of the party's most potent traditional advantages appear to be eroding.
Amid their failure Tuesday to take back governor's seats in either Virginia or New Jersey, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll shows that Republicans have lost the upper hand on a series of issues they've counted on to preserve their congressional majorities in 2006.
Among other findings, the poll indicates that voters no longer prefer Republicans to Democrats on handling taxes, cutting government spending, dealing with immigration and directing foreign policy.
And Bob Novak of all people, who supposedly is finished at CNN, says that as a result of Tuesday night, GOP candidates will distance themselves from Bush next year.
The victory of Democrat Tim Kaine over Republican Jerry Kilgore was the only contest in scattered off-year elections that was carefully monitored on Capitol Hill. For a liberal Virginian to win a Southern red state signaled that cherished Republican majorities in both House and Senate, plus all the perquisites they entail, could be lost in 2006. Eyeing the Democratic landslide in suburban northern Virginia just over the Potomac from Washington that gave Lt. Gov. Kaine the governorship, Republicans in Congress envision their own doom.
The antidote to avoid that fate is to keep as far away from President Bush as possible, a lesson underlined by the President’s failed election rescue mission for former state Attorney General Kilgore. The consequences may be profound. As his approval rating dipped, Bush increasingly has been treated in Congress as a lame duck. Tuesday’s Virginia outcome increases the propensity of Republican senators and House members not only to avoid their President on the campaign trail but also to ignore his legislative proposals.
Bush gets the blame. In the days immediately preceding Tuesday’s elections, Republican committee chairmen in Congress grew increasingly contemptuous of their President. Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, dismissed Bush’s Social Security plan as something to be shelved until after the 2008 Presidential election. Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, opposed Bush’s requested $7 billion to fight bird flu. Thanks to Virginia, the President can expect more of the same.
As evidence of this, despite White House opposition, note that the House GOP dropped ANWR from its pending budget cut bill late last night because they are trying to get enough votes from moderates to get the bill out of the House. But the budget cuts themselves are still unpopular with the moderates in the GOP, who see a united front of Democratic opposition, and Tuesday’s results loom large over the GOP’s efforts to hold it’s caucuses together while Democrats suddenly find it more advantageous for them to recruit candidates next year and to pressure GOP moderates.
Naturally, the White House scoffs at these assessments and feels that Bush can regain control of the agenda with a strong 2006 SOTU message that will focus on tax reform, fear, half-baked ideas on energy, fear, newfound spending restraint, and fear. But I have a few suggestions for Democrats on how to drive a stake into the GOP’s heart in advance of the SOTU so that Bush doesn’t get a chance to get out of the blocks.
On tax reform, before Bush even trots out the issue in the SOTU, Democrats should begin running commercials on the cable news networks between now and late January with the simple message “After seeing George W. Bush give large tax cuts these last five years to corporations and the very wealthy, why would you trust him now to ‘reform’ our tax system?”
On energy, before Bush trots out any idea in January, Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid should start running commercials in key states on cable news channels using the Ted Stevens’ refusal to swear oil company executives under oath yesterday. The commercials can be very simple, starting out with a quick visual summary of how much money oil companies have give to GOP members of Stevens’ committee, then morphing into the video of Stevens’ smack down of Maria Cantwell and Barbara Boxer’s attempt to get the industry under oath, and close with the simple message “Why are Republicans more concerned about protecting oil company executives than they are with protecting us from oil company price gouging?” This message should work very well in states with high heating oil costs, and in states with vulnerable GOP incumbents.
And again, it’s not like Bush won’t be facing ongoing problems between now and the SOTU, with Jack Abramoff being the gift that keeps on giving. Plus, Dianne Feinstein took the lead and got GOP approval for a wider and more comprehensive look into how the Administration used and misused pre-war intelligence yesterday, while the Senate GOP caucus now has cold feet about investigating what will turn out to be their own leak.
And these problems for the GOP and Bush will come against the backdrop of an energized and more coordinated Democratic assault, which will focus on driving a wedge between Bush and Cheney, between Bush and GOP incumbents in 2006, and between Bush and Rove.
Payback is sweet. And victory in 2006 will be even sweeter.