US Diary: Republican Party gobsmacked, bitch-slapped & butt-bonked on a daily basis -- can it survive its penchant for fuck-uppery?
1. Republicans Fear 2008 Meltdown
By: Jonathan Martin and Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei /Politico.com
Republicans across the country are warning that increasing public discontent toward President Bush, the Iraq war and the GOP brand in general threatens to send the party's 2008 campaign planning into a tailspin.
Already, the problems are having tangible effects. Some of the party's top recruits in key races from Colorado to Florida are refusing to run for Congress. Business executives -- the financial backbone of the GOP -- are sending more and more money to Democrats. Overall Republican fundraising is down sharply from the same time frame during the past two presidential elections.
Then there are the voters.
Polling data released this month confirm what GOP officials are picking up anecdotally: Swing voters are swinging away from Republicans at high velocity. Most alarming to GOP strategists is a new survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center that found 50 percent of those interviewed consider themselves a Democrat or leaning that way; only 35 percent tilt Republican.
"People are concerned and worried about the party's prospects," said Steve Duprey, former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP and a backer of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the White House race.
"There's a certain nervousness I hear that if the war is going badly and we're still in this intractable fight between a Democratic Congress and President Bush about the course of the war, we may have a tough time."
Duprey's comment echoes the concern among many Republican operatives: Each of the multiple bad trends facing the party tends to reinforce the others, potentially creating a dynamic in which it will be nearly impossible for the party to improve its position before next year's elections.
How to restore the GOP brand? "That's what we're struggling with, honestly," said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). "Do you positively brand yourself, or do you negatively brand the other side?"
Bush's low approval ratings are an illustration. Some experienced GOP campaign strategists believe that there is virtually no chance that a Republican can succeed Bush if his approval ratings remain mired in the 30s. The Democratic strategy of investigating administration scandals and policy blunders is calculated to achieve exactly that goal -- and the burgeoning controversy over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys has given Democrats in Congress yet another inviting target.
To make matters worse, as long as Bush is unpopular, Republicans on the Hill -- already frustrated at what they perceive as White House indifference to lawmakers' political problems -- are less inclined to defend Bush from attacks.
This painful cycle has some high-level Republicans braced for the likelihood that last fall's rout, in which Democrats won the House and the Senate, may be a prelude to a 2008 knockout that would leave the GOP without control of Congress or the White House for the first time since 1994.
To underscore how tough things are for the GOP, Bill Pascoe, a Chicago-based Republican consultant with Urquhart Media, said "there are Republican consultants scouting state legislators for 2014. That's how far the long-range planning is going."
Why 2014? Because that would be the second midterm of a Democratic president.
Political fortunes, of course, can change rapidly based on events and the candidates picked for the presidential ticket. Yet even the most relentlessly optimistic of Republicans sound skeptical.
Ken Mehlman, the former Republican National Committee chairman who now gathers political intelligence for the Akin Gump lobbying firm, said the GOP is in need of urgent rehabilitation, which won't come unless it can defy long-term voting patterns.
"We have to win back the confidence we lost in '06 from swing voters and ticket splitters," said Mehlman. "The way you do that, in part, is by being a party that is less reliant on white guys and expands its support among Hispanics, among African-Americans."
Congressional Republicans, however, are not focused on expanding minority support. In fact, they are pursuing an immigration deal that Mehlman has warned could poison the GOP with Hispanic voters.
History offers even more reason for worry. Only once in the past half century has a party won the White House three times in a row (Reagan-Reagan-Bush). And when a party loses the White House, it often loses congressional seats, too. "That is obviously a formidable challenge for us," said Mehlman.
Already, there are some troubling trends on the money front, according to GOP fundraisers and Federal Election Commission documents. First, corporate PACs gave almost 60 percent of their money to Democrats in the first two months this year, a striking shift away from Republicans, according to the nonpartisan Political Money Line. Republicans snagged about two-thirds of corporate PAC money over the previous four years.
Overall GOP fundraising for the three major campaign committees was also down during January and February. The RNC, National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee raised a combined $30 million this year, compared with $40 million during the same period in 2005 and $38 million in 2003.
At the same time, Democratic fundraising surged, narrowing the GOP's money advantage.
Two GOP lobbyists said Capitol Hill Republicans, fearful of another bloody election cycle, are pushing hard to get donations from companies before month's end to discourage Democrats from expanding the battlefield.
"There has been some frustration out there, but as the consequences of a Democratic majority sink in to the base, they will respond, I think, with fervor," said Florida Rep. Adam Putnam, a member of the GOP leadership team.
What's not clear is whether frustration among GOP activists, especially religious conservatives, will translate into less grass-roots assistance for Republican candidates in next year's campaigns.
"Our activists are disappointed with federal spending, disappointed we lost Congress," said South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson.
Like Dawson, Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis argues that some conservatives are trying to put the 2006 debacle and the Bush presidency behind them. "There are a lot of people turning to the future already," Anuzis said
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said, however, that the painful lessons of 2006 have yet to be learned. "I don't think there has yet been a full appreciation for what just happened" in the November elections, Pawlenty said. "There remains an element of denial about the message that was just sent and the reality we face."
Even in a neutral political environment, 2008 would be a very tough year for Republicans, especially in the Senate.
Simply put, the Republicans are defending more seats than the Democrats -- 21 Republican seats are up this cycle, while only 12 Democrats plan to seek reelection. So the playing field automatically is in the Democrats' favor. Only one of those Democrats, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, is likely to face a serious challenge at this point.
Republicans could face a tough challenge in New Hampshire, Minnesota, Maine and Oregon, where a recent poll showed incumbent Gordon Smith (R) trailing by several points.
The Senate outlook could get worse for the GOP in coming months. Party officials said they are concerned Sens. Pat Roberts (Kan.), Pete V. Domenici (N.M.) and John Warner (Va.) all might retire. In all three states, Democrats could pick up seats that have been securely in GOP hands for years. (UPDATE: Despite such concerns, Roberts said Jan. 26 that he'll run again and his staff reiterated that again Thursday.)
Republicans are also having trouble landing the strongest candidates in key House races. In Florida's 22nd Congressional District, for instance, the top three prospects have all refused overtures to challenge first-term Rep. Ron Klein, a top GOP target.
In New York's 19th District, the GOP is having trouble luring a blue-chip candidate to challenge Rep. John Hall in the Republican-tilting district.
"Obviously, we'd prefer the environment to be a little different, but the things that count are the votes we're having" to motivate voters, said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.). He said the presidential contest could turn things around for the GOP and help attract more top-shelf candidates.
Said former New Hampshire representative Charlie Bass, now president of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership: "I don't think Republicans would do any better today than we did last November, but we have another year and a half."
(Josh Kraushaar, Patrick O'Connor and Kenneth P. Vogel contributed to this report.)
2. Conservatism is Dead. Long Live Fictional Conservatism!
by Ted Rall/ Uxpress.com
NEW YORK--It happens after every election: one side wins, the other side loses. The winner declares the results to be solid proof that the people have endorsed its agenda--and repudiated the loser. The losing side conducts a purge in the guise of soul-searching, blaming bad candidates who failed to live up to its good ideas.
It happened to Democrats and their allies of desperation on the Left in 1980 and 1984 and 1994, when they suffered defeat at the hands of not merely the Right, but the hard, extreme, God-created-the-universe-6,000-years-ago Right. "The tide of history is moving irresistibly in our direction," declared Hard Right standard-bearer and future patron saint Ronald Reagan in 1985. "Why? Because the other side is virtually bankrupt of ideas. It has nothing more to say, nothing to add to the debate."
Now it's the Right's turn to wallow in masochistic angst and self-loathing. George W. Bush's approval rating has plunged from 91 percent in 2001 to 35 percent--the same as Watergate-era Nixon. Impeachment, though still improbable, is now within the realm of the possible. The future, at least the short-term version, seems grim for righties.
Republican presidential frontrunners are particularly unappetizing to conservatives: John McCain has gotten old and out-of-touch, Rudy Giuliani is too liberal and Mitt Romney is too Mormon. Conservatives, reports Time magazine in a cover story titled "How the Right Went Wrong," are handcuffed to a political party that looks unsettlingly like the Democrats did in the 1980s, one that is more a collection of interest groups than ideas, recognizable more for its campaign tactics than its philosophy. The principles that propelled the movement have either run their course, or run aground, or been abandoned by Reagan's legatees."
My political duty is to join the pile-on, to loudly pronounce the death of the GOP, the bankruptcy of conservatism and all things to the left of Howard Dean now and forever, never to rise again, amen. But I prefer reality to wishful thinking.
Yes, I wrote a book called "Wake Up! You're Liberal." And I haven't changed my mind. Peel away the BS and poll after poll proves that most Americans have fundamentally left-of-center beliefs on economic issues (healthcare, the minimum wage, taxation), social values (gay marriage, school prayer, abortion) and even foreign policy (they can be stampeded into starting wars for fun and profit, but not into seeing them through).
Nevertheless, the Right will never die. As long as Americans remain susceptible to easily provoked fears--of losing their jobs to immigrants, their kids to perverts, their lives to terrorists--and as long as there are wealthy corporations and religious control freaks eager to exploit them--the Republican Party and its allies have a bright future.
The Right's secret weapon is "fictional conservatism"--a post-1964 Goldwater brand of bumper-sticker libertarianism to which most Americans, Democrat and Republican alike, subscribe. Fictional conservatives favor cutting taxes, reducing the size and power of government, and avoiding foreign entanglements. America first, and keep the guvmint outta my goddamn bedroom!
Fictional conservatives have never held power in the United States. Irony: the closest they've come to a kindred spirit was Bill Clinton. (Balanced the budget! Kept us out of war! Shrunk the government!) By objective standards Reagan and the two Bushes were neoliberal radicals, spearheading the biggest expansion of government and its intrusive powers in modern history.
Republican voters know they're suckers. "I believe in low taxes, smaller government, and minding our own business internationally," a pal tells me.
"I know, I know," he interrupts. I just can't bring myself to vote for a Democrat."
American politics epitomize the triumph of image--weak, accommodationist liberals versus strong-willed no-nonsense conservatives--over experience. American voters, therefore, do not belong to the reality-based community.
Gay haters and anti-abortion types--"values conservatives"--are starting to get it. "If so-called values voters couldn't get meaningful action on the two issues that have most animated our side this decade--abortion and gay marriage--with an evangelical president and both congressional chambers in Republicans' hands, it's not going to happen," columnist Rod Dreher writes in The Dallas Morning News . "With the fading of GOP rule in Washington, it's becoming clearer how much it has cost culture-cons to be a subsidiary of a party that's taken our votes but not delivered." He goes on to argue that Christian fundamentalists ought to align themselves with Democrats on such issues as the environment and reigning in consumerism.
But Genevieve Wood, director of strategic operations for the rightist Heritage Foundation Genevieve Wood of The Heritage Foundation says there's no need for a political realignment--just more energetic promotion of fictional conservatism. "What worked for Reagan, what worked back in 1994 that helped them take over the Congress after 40 years, were the principles that defined them as a party--which was limited government, traditional values, a strong national defense," she says.
Self-delusion, fed by a steady diet of brilliantly focus-grouped attack ads and an endless stream of broadcast propaganda masquerading as news, isn't about to vanish as an effective tool. Fictional conservatives, after all, are used to voting in direct opposition to their beliefs.
Sixty-four percent of Republican voters say they wouldn't vote for a gay man; 62 percent say they'd refuse to support a candidate who'd cheated on his wife. Yet Rudy Giuliani, the thrice-married ex-New York mayor who humiliated his wife by inviting his mistress to official events--and has been repeatedly photographed wearing a dress--is running 25 points ahead of his nearest rival in the latest poll of the very same Republican voters.
(Ted Rall is the author of "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next foreign policy challenge.)
3. End-game of a tormented presidency has begun
By JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY/McClatchy Newspapers
Not since the latter days of Richard M. Nixon have we had so clear a spectacle of arrogant politicians bumbling into fatal mistakes and poorly planned and executed cover-ups as George W. Bush administration is now providing, day by day.
How strange that an administration that took such pride in putting up a seamless wall around the White House and marching in lock-step, all reading from the same script and spinning in one direction, has come to this.
What should have been a simple matter of replacing a handful of U.S. attorneys - seven of 93 political appointees - now threatens to devour a presidential buddy of long standing, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
So far it is not so much about what was done but what was said by Gonzales and others in an attempt to hide the real political reasons for firing the prosecutors.
Gonzales, who has lawyered for Bush since he was governor of Texas, seems unlikely to survive long enough to keep his mid-April date with the congressional committees to explain his actions and his Justice Department aides' misstatements, misinformation, denials and flat-out lies on the issue of the dismissal of those prosecutors.
One of those aides has hired a veteran Watergate lawyer to defend her and promptly announced that she'll be hiding behind the 5th Amendment to avoid self-incrimination when she returns to Capitol Hill.
Gonzales' own chief of staff resigned when the scandal began brewing and will testify Thursday before Congress, perhaps to the sorrow of his former boss and former colleagues at both Justice and the White House.
Justice has released three batches of e-mails on the discussions leading up to firing the prosecutors, but, in another Nixonian coincidence, there is an unexplained 16-day gap in the e-mail traffic. Nixon, by contrast, left only an 18-minute gap in his secret tapes.
The Democrats who control Senate and House Judiciary Committees have voted authority to their chairmen to subpoena key White House aides including political wizard Karl Rove to testify under oath about the prosecutor firings and the reasons for the action. President Bush offered them up for private, closed-door "conversations" with the nosy Democrats. No transcript and no one sworn to tell the truth.
The president threatens a court fight over executive privilege while telling the country that no administration has ever allowed White House aides to testify under oath before congressional investigators, which is, itself, another large misstatement.
The wheels began falling off the Republican wagon with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, which put one GOP congressman and a high-ranking Interior Department political appointee behind bars.
Then came the bribery case of Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham and his resignation and imprisonment. One of the fired prosecutors was pursuing an indictment of a high-ranking Central Intelligence Agency official in that case.
Then there was the trial of Scooter Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and his conviction on perjury charges arising from sworn testimony before a grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame CIA leak case. Libby's appealing his conviction and praying for a presidential pardon.
All of this is a token of much more still to come as President Bush and his closest aides endure the death of a thousand cuts in their final 21 months in power.
For six long years the Republicans had it all their way, with control of the White House and both houses of Congress. There was no oversight to speak of; no one asking pesky questions about the routine incompetence and breath-taking mismanagement of everything from the war in Iraq to the rebuilding of New Orleans.
Now, with the Democrats in control of Congress and the president's approval ratings down around his shoe tops, the end-game of a tormented presidency has begun.
George Bush can draw lines in the sand, make imperious declarations of defiance and issue orders to Congress but he better be buying Band-Aids by the carload.
4. Ignore the Pundits and Bark Louder
By Joe Conason / NY Observer
Someday the Democrats may learn an important lesson about the collective wisdom of the media in the nation's capital: On important questions of policy and politics, the Washington press corps is almost always wrong. They are full of firm opinions about everything from clothing, haircuts and marital problems to political tactics, but the safest course is to ignore their advice.
At the moment, the most popular line among the certified pundits is that the congressional Democrats are too zealous in probing Bush administration corruption -- and specifically the apparent politicization of the federal law-enforcement system by the White House and the Justice Department.
On television and in print, Washington's wise folk warn that if the Democrats insist on dragging Bush deputy Karl Rove up to Capitol Hill to testify about the purging of eight United States attorneys, the public will turn on them. These finger-wagging journalists insist that Democrats must "legislate" rather than "investigate."
On "The Chris Matthews Show" of March 25, for instance, host and guests agreed that the Democrats were demanding Rove's testimony only to punish him. Time magazine managing editor Richard Stengel dismissed the unfolding scandal as "small-bore politics" and declared himself annoyed: "I am so uninterested in the Democrats wanting Karl Rove, because it is so bad for them. Because it shows business as usual, tit-for-tat vengeance. . . . That's not what voters want to see." MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell chimed in: "The Democrats have to be very careful that they look like they're not the party of investigation rather than legislation in trying to change things."
None of those insights were original, as nearly identical warnings were issued by the likes of David Broder of The Washington Post and John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal . According to Broder -- the "dean" of the Washington press corps, whose magnificently consistent wrongness dates back to the Nixon era -- Democrats should beware of "tearing down an already discredited Republican administration with more investigations, such as the current attack on the Justice Department and White House over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys." Adam Nagourney informed New York Times readers that "the biggest question is, how far can Democrats go in opposing this president? The biggest risk is going so far that they feel the sting of a backlash -- of being transformed from the fresh new face of change to the latest cast of Washington players enmeshed in partisan wrangling."
How far the Democrats can go in opposing President Bush is assuredly not the "biggest question" in the U.S. attorneys scandal. The biggest questions at the moment revolve around the Fifth Amendment claim of Monica Goodling, a top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who served as the liaison between him and his masters in the White House. Her fear of incriminating herself before the Senate Judiciary Committee should be embarrassing news for the pundits and editors who have dismissed this burgeoning crisis.
But then the Washington punditry has been reliably wrong about everything of consequence for many years, from Whitewater to weapons of mass destruction. For any sane politician, the "biggest risk" is listening to these people.
Since the substantive issues raised by the U.S. attorney purge -- such as the political abuse of law enforcement by the White House and the false testimony of Attorney General Gonzales, among others -- are of such scant interest to so many commentators, let's focus instead on public opinion.
Every poll shows that American voters want Congress to fulfill its constitutional mandate to oversee the executive branch, which ran amok under the flaccid reign of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Most Americans are sick of this unaccountable presidency and show no signs of impatience with Democratic efforts to rein in the White House.
While the cable sages were castigating the Democrats for trying to "flog" Mr. Rove, the pollsters at CNN- USA Today were questioning voters. Their answers were decisive: By a margin of three to one, the respondents supported the issuance of those supposedly controversial subpoenas. Polls taken by other media organizations show that support for the president, Gonzales and, indeed, the Republican Party as an institution are very, very low.
The Washington press corps is just as remote from American views and values as when it was howling for President Clinton's head. By now, the Democrats should know that when these soothsayers warn against your present course, it is best to keep going straight ahead. And when they complain that you're barking up the wrong tree, it is time to bark louder.