Saturday, October 14, 2006


Not-Right, Said Fred

Fred "The Beetle" Barnes has always been the wide-eyed optimist and emotional "booster" to Republican political hopes (as opposed to colleague Bill Kristol's macho intellectualism. His worshipful book on President Bush had even some of the strongest Republicans reaching for their insulin tablets.

Well, the newest Weekly Standard demonstrates how dark the the times are for Republicans.

"How Bad Will It Be?" asks Barnes ("The GOP debacle to come" is the subtitle).

The Foley scandal did two things, both harmful to Republicans. It stopped Republican momentum in its tracks. (Also contributing to this were the negative spin on Iraq from Bob Woodward's book State of Denial and the faulty reporting on the National Intelligence Estimate.) And it changed the narrative of the campaign from one emphasizing national security, a Republican strength, to one emphasizing Republican malfeasance in Washington and dysfunction in Iraq.

Democrats were lucky, as they have been all year. They had fallen into a trap set by Republicans on the interrogation of high-level terrorist detainees. They voted against the compromise reached by the White House and Senator John McCain, choosing to protect civil liberties for terrorists over national security. That issue, a powerful one for Republicans, was pushed aside in the Foley frenzy.

Earlier in 2006, events had intervened to snuff out a recovery by Bush and Republicans in its embryonic stage. After a bumpy 2005 (Katrina, rising Iraq violence, failure of Social Security reform, Harriet Miers), Bush's approval was inching upward, pointing to an end to his second-term slump. Instead, Vice President Cheney's accidental shooting of a hunting pal, the Dubai ports fiasco, and the bombing of the Golden Dome mosque in Iraq combined to prolong the slump--until the short-lived September surge.

If politics were fair, Democrats would be in as much trouble as Republicans. And they'd be just as vulnerable. They've been obstructionist, anti-tax-cut, soft on terrorism, and generally obnoxious. On top of that, Pelosi is the most unpopular national politician in America. But in the sixth year of the Bush presidency, with a GOP-run Congress, Democrats aren't the issue. Republicans are.

On another point that has come up in commentary threads here at RT, Barnes also notes that big problem facing Republicans is that the "base" is no longer listening to that old-time religion:

The most overlooked election indicator is the level of voter enthusiasm. In every election from 1994 through 2004, Republicans were more enthusiastic than Democrats. That was a decade of Republican growth. This year Democrats are more excited. And it's measurable. In 2002, 42 percent of Republicans said they were more enthusiastic than usual about the election. Thirty-eight percent of Democrats said the same. In 2006, the numbers have flipped. Republican enthusiasm has dipped to 39 percent and Democratic enthusiasm has jumped to 48 percent. Enthusiasm affects turnout. Gloomy voters are less inclined to vote.

The only quibble I have is the "every election from 1994 through 2004, Republicans were more enthusiastic..." line. If that were true, why did Republicans lose five seats in 1998? The drive to impeach Bill Clinton ironically aroused the Democrats base -- and helped cost Newt Gingrich the speakership.

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